The 13 most famous Numbers and their stories

The number zero was the the number that enabled the denominational number system and therefore the basis on which modern mathematics was built. Numerous old cultures did not have an equivalent for the zero like for instance the Romans.
Its origin and thus the origin of the decimal system dates back to India in the 3rd century before Christ. Back then the numeric symbol however was different for every order of magnitude.

The number zero has quite a few specific attributes. It is a “neutral” element of the addition, as a zero added to any sum does not change the value of the sum. It is also called an “absorbing” element in a multiplication as everything multiplied by zero is zero. The division by zero is not yet described and thus stays undefined in mathematics.

This number ϕ is also known as the golden section and is commonly accepted as an expression that describes the perfect proportions in architecture or anatomy. In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio between the sum of those quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller. The golden ratio is a mathematical constant, approximately 1.6180339887.

e the Euler’s number is named after the Mathematician Leonhard Euler who lived in the 18th century. It is foremost used to describe growth processes like for example the growth of bacterial cultures.

The mathematical constant e is the unique real number such that the function ex has the same value as the slope of the tangent line, for all values of x. More generally, the only functions equal to their own derivatives are of the form Cex, where C is a constant.
The numerical value of e truncated to 20 decimal places is 2.71828 18284 59045 23536….

In the preparation of the Google IPO the company announced it wants to raise $2,718,281,828.

PI is the most famous quotient in Mathematics and often described as the most beautiful number in the universe.

Pi or π is a mathematical constant that represents the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter in Euclidean geometry, which is the same as the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius. It is approximately equal to 3.14159. Pi is one of the most important mathematical constants: many formulae from mathematics, science, and engineering involve π.

A team of Japanese mathematicians headed by Yasumasa Kanada in 2003 rendered the number to the record of 1.241 billion digits a number so big that it would fill a book 135 times as thick as the Eiffel tower is high. It would take 40.000 years to read it out loud.

Since Pythagoras the number 5 is called the perfect number of the human microcosm. Symbol of this harmony is the Pentagram. Aristotle added a fifth element to the 4 elements of ancient Greek nature studies – the Ether. From this derived “quintessential” in its origin the life generating spirit amongst Alchemists and later in the meaning of the central part of most importance.

The number five is also the holy number of of discordianism a jocular pseudo religion made popular through Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminates books. The followers of this religion pray to Eris, the Greek goddess of dissension.

The discordian law states that everything that happens in the universe has a connection to 5 or a multiple of five.

The number 7 has a special place in various cultures based on its relative frequency. Scientific experiments have shown how favorable this number is chosen by participating humans. It is the most frequently selection if people are asked to name their favorite number. As blue is as often chosen as the favorite color the phenomenon is also called “blue-seven” phenomenon.

Another finding by the cognition psychologist John Locke in the 17th century shows that in human perceptivity most people could remember 7 objects after a brief look at them.

Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything – see the bible – ehrm the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

“Six by nine. Forty two.”

“That’s it. That’s all there is.”

The number 47 appears in unnaturally high frequency in almost every episode of Star Trek: The next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. The reason being that Joe Menosky one of the series authors was a member of the 47 Society at the Pomona College in California – its members believed that the number 47 does appear much more frequently in nature than any other natural number.

The origin of this theory is believed to date back to 1964 when a mathematical theory by Professor Donald Bentley showed that all numbers equal 47.

According to Rick Berman, a co inventor of Star Trek 47 is 42 corrected by the inflation rate.

666 does play a special role in mystic and the occult that are well known and documented. But one of the meanings that recently came to more attention is the one related to the internet. In Hebrew the number 6 equals the letter W. So 666 could be seen as WWW – and thus the internet would be the last emperor. Other more recent interpretations include the name of “Wiliam Gates III”, “MS-DOS” or “Windows 95″ where you can get to 666 with divers numerical operations.

43252003274489856000 is the total number of configurations of the Rubik cube.

This number is called a Googol. The terminus was established by Edward Kasner. He did allegedly ask his nephew to come up with a name. The number did not only help Google to its name but also the cinema is Springfiled – the Simpsons one – called Googolplex.

Googolplex is the number 10^Googol. The Google offices are called Googleplex based on this.

Named after the American mathematician Ronald L. Graham born in 1936. According to the Guinness Book of Records the Grahams Number is the biggest number ever used in a mathematic proof.

Fantasticatillion is the number needed to calculate the assets of SCROOGE McDuck. (Sorry for the Donald Duck)

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114 thoughts on “The 13 most famous Numbers and their stories

  1. Any list that does not include the “Golden ratio” This equation has as its unique positive solution the algebraic irrational number

    \approx 1.61803\

    Is very incomplete. In fact compared to idiot numbers like 42 and 47 this list was not even properly thought out!
    It appears in physics, biology etc etc and had had whole books written about it

  2. “Its origin and thus the origin of the decimal system dates back to India in the 3rd century before Christ. Back then the numeric symbol however was different for every order of magnitud”

    Without punctuation, this makes zero sense.

    Also, the golden ratio was referenced.

    But no number 3? No 8?

  3. Googol 10 ^ 100 is also the total number of atoms in the universe and is the practical limit of the size of a number that any anyone would want to use.

  4. @spacedoc
    The golden ratio was there, ϕ, you should probably read all of something before you trash it

    Very interesting, my favourite number wasn’t there though, 36

  5. Only one person mentions that it’s Scrooge and not Donald? Mis-aligned priorities mumble mumble… Kids today…

  6. 666 only has biblical significance as six hundred sixty six. Breaking it up into individual sixes is missing the point.

  7. Am I the only person who has a serious problem with the end of Douglas Adams’s “The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe”?

    Six times nine is NOT 42!

    Six times SEVEN is 42.

    I read all the books a few years ago… some of them, twice. Loved ‘em. And there must be a joke that I’m not getting that everyone else must understand. Am I completely missing the joke? Did I miss the point?

    Was the punchline of the joke that Life, The Universe, and Everything is just silly and meaningless? That’s the only explanation I can come up with.

  8. The point was that the computer (earth) had been tampered with and thus the question that it found, in response to the answer (42) was incorrect. I don’t remember which book we find that out in, but you should finish the series.

  9. 42 is the answer to the ultimate question: to life? to the universe? to everything? go and read/watch hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and it will all make sense. good list but where is 37?

  10. If it wasn’t for all the spelling and grammar mistakes, this would have been a really good posting.

  11. Great list! Always nice to learn a bit more about math.

    I would like to point out to the commenters that they’ve misunderstood the 42 joke. The ultimate question is, “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?” and the ultimate answer is “42″. In the book the characters puzzle over it until one says, “I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.”

  12. The number zero appeared independently once more among the Maya. Theirs was a base 20 system (warm enough in the Yucatan to have finger and toes available?) Mayan astronomer-priests made observations of their divine Venus more accurate than those available in the West at the same time.

  13. ** Sometimes useful, always a game **

    Of course a distinction between math and number games resides in modern minds, the ancients made no such distinction. Pythagoras, for example, didn’t distinguish ratio / music / cosmic structure. Kepler more than 1,800 years later first modeled the inner planets as a concentric set of regular solids. Even after his hypothesis of an ellipse for the orbit of Mars — he held that the Sun produced a force to move the planets called “anima motrix,” the soul that moves things.

    Besides, what is mathematics? — it’s only a game played by different sets of given rules. Do you think that it has anything to do with the truth? No, indeed. The price one pays for certainty is empirical falsity.

    Here’s an appropriate quote (rather than a vanity quote) from Einstein: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

    bipolar2 ©2008

  14. Oh.

    (I did finish the series, but it was several years ago as I said. I didn’t remember the “fundamentally wrong with the universe” part, I just remember not understanding the joke.)


  15. There is no letter W in either Hebrew or Arabic there is the consonant “waw–pronounced as wow in English” which does not translate into W but the sound “ou” (french for “where” or “oo” as in too”.
    Also division by zero is well described and understood: it is not allowed. The concept of zero has appeared independently in different cultures: Mayan, Babylonian and Indian. A good book exploring the history of zero is Zero The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife. It is a fascinating read.

  16. Great!!! if only now it could all stay in my head and I would be able to use it or apply it to my everyday life? And solve or use it with the universal laws of physics? etc.. ? and help to solve the financial or ecomomic and medical woes that we have on this big muddy wet rock?? Then that would be wonderful!!!!

  17. six times nine is forty two if you work to the base 13.5 (who said you can\’t have fractional bases?) Just think outside the box !

    We\’ve been running the earth on the wrong set of numbers no wonder it\’s in such a state!!!!!!

  18. While completely inept at numerology and mathematics (I can make math mistakes in 12 different languages!), the lore of numbers has always fascinated me, and I both respect and envy those who can really get their heads around the magic.

    Division by zero must be the mathematical equivalent of tilting any quantity 90° out of the space-time of our senses…

  19. 1
    The number used to calculate the assets of SCROOGE McDuck,
    Not Donald.

    Duh ?!!

  20. It’s Discordianism , Eris is the greek goddess of discord and the law of fives is,
    “All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5″.

  21. I believe that you meant Discordianism, who’s primary book of faith is the Principia Discordia.

    Five tons of flax! Remember, King Kong died for your sins! Hail Eris!

  22. Interesting I’m sure to math folks..but in reality”famous numbers” could be those seen commonly such as:
    Motel 6
    Speed 55
    Roadstar 8
    1,5,10,20 $ bills

  23. What’s so special about this number?

    This page lists many numbers from 1 to 10,000 and why they are special. Nicely done. Here’s a snippet.

    574 is the maximum number of pieces a torus can be cut into with 14 cuts.
    575 is a palindrome that is one less than a square.
    576 is the number of 4×4 Latin squares.
    577 is a Proth prime.

  24. In the original radio scripts fro The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy Deep thought is asked:
    What is “The answer to life! the Universe! and Everything!”?

    There are 42 characters in “The answer to life! the Universe! and Everything!”

    Douglas Adams admitted to forgetting exactly why he came up with the number after having written it.
    As a teenager I painstakingly analyzed the scene where the question was proposed to Deep Thought. Stumbling on this I got giddy for a minute and a half. Then I thought “How disappointing.” Then “What would you have come up with?” A pause to think, then “Yep 42. makes sense to a soulless life form asked to come up with an answer to a set of nouns.”

    The 6 by 9 was to show that the process was incomplete in the humans quest as they had replaced the original computer components. However, if it was headed to 6 by 7 then obviously Earth itself would not have given a question that would have satisfied the intention of the question. It would only have satisfied the parameters of its task.

  25. And what about 9. The most fundamental number in base 10. Any number mulitiplied by 9 equals 9 when you add the individual numbers together. eg. 9*23=207 2+0+7=9

    9 is also useful when adding large columns of numbers, because if you get a difference when adding twice then there has to be a transposition error 94+34+65=193 49+34+65=148 193-148=45 4=5=9

  26. @nick,

    That’s not necessarily true. Depending on the manuscripts the text either reads, “χξϛʹ” (666), “ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ” (six hundred sixty six), with a textual variant of, “χιϛʹ” (616).


  27. Douglas Adams was asked many times during his career why he chose the number 42. Many theories were proposed but he rejected them all. On 3 November 1993 he gave an answer on

    “The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story.”

  28. Very nice, but 13 is pretty famous too. And ’1′ is right up there; it’s even called the loneliest number in some circles…

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  30. Avagadro\’s number
    Plank\’s constant
    Alpha (universal constant)
    c, the speed limit.
    i – or the square root of -1, since everything is an iGadget or eWidget, these days.

    There\’s several more in physics and electronics that could have been used.

  31. But how does the computer know that it is supposed to count the exclamation marks too to make it a total of 42 letters? after all the question was presented orally…

    There’s something fundamentally wrong with this theory :)

  32. 5 is not the Perfect number. 6 is the Perfect number. A perfect number must be the sum of it’s factors. e.g. 1 + 2 + 3 = 6.

  33. The size comparisons on pi are way way off. 1.241 billion digits would only fill a book around 72 meters high (not 135 times the height of the Eiffel tower) and take around 20 years to read (not 40,000 years) at the rate of 2 digits per second which is quite slow. I’m always amazed at how wrong comparisons often are.

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  35. I heard that 86 started as a mob term, meaning 8 miles out and six feet under.

    Probably started by a murderous quibbling dork.

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  37. 0, 1,666,16,21, 86,42, 69[my age]…yes all very important numbers…But enough ranting… Lets deal with something Have fun!

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  39. Technically the number in the bible is 616 in most reliable translations, and is the numerical representation of Nero.

    There is no basis for saying that 1 googol is the number of atoms in the universe, as scientists have yet to calculate the number of STARS in the universe, let alone numbers.

    by the way, perhaps I\’m completely remiss here, and it was a joke, but how can you list the \”13 most famous numbers\” and not even include 13 on that list?

  40. Let’s not forget that fateful number forever inscribed into our daily life, 9-11. Taken to extreme everywhere.

  41. I understand the joke. But I don’t like seeing the graham number (after traying so hard to get a feel of how big it is) as the second largest number!

  42. pryrr93

    Whoa! is not the most precious number of all time be that which you can only ask others to perceive?

    The number three has to be one of the most inspiring. The sign of completion

  43. Very nice. I learned some new ones. We should not be intimidated by those who are demanding their own favorite, or who read your post wrong.

    So, I have a tip (from a very reliable source): The origin of the name of Type42 fonts is … yes you guessed it.

    You wisely omitted the four or five numbers that govern the shape of our universe: the speed of light, the gravitational constant, etc. Another post maybe?

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  45. I believe that 1 Fantasticatillion is actually the amount that Donald Ducks UNCLE is worth.

  46. Pingback: Stories behind the 13 most famous Numbers

  47. Haven’t had as much fun all this year. Who’d have thunk numbers would generate such a wealth of wisdom, despite those who comment
    without having read earlier, similar posts (like, Avogadro’s #).

    Truth be said, man and woman are inventive and can probably find reasons for ANY number being interesting. After all, even an uninteresting number is interesting in its own right.

  48. 37 is my favorite but I have noticed that 7 apears alot like if you gess anumber between 1 and 10 you seem to win more regularly if you gess 7 very intresting.

  49. Adding to the list of people who say “d’oh, you meant SCROOGE McDUCK!”

    And let us not forget 1 – which is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Though 2 can be as lonely as one. And 3 is a magic number, according to Schoolhouse Rock.

    I agree with an earlier sentiment: Where is i? The square root of negative 1 is highly significant, or was in my junior year math class.

  50. From 1085 to 0486 concerning 111066 and 121066 (hpc) 519 was the most important, memorable number remaining true for 111066 until ∞.

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  52. The assumption that can be such a thing as Zero,0,nothing or whatever is fundamentally flawed.
    There is no such thing as nothing.
    This wouldn’t matter except for the fact that it has invaded all our mathematics,especially our computer system,and in my opinion has led to minor discrepancies in all our calculations,especially with regard to the universe.


    Pretty easy. Real religion. Discordianism. Discordia.

    Hail Eris. And yeah.

  54. People see what they want. You can take any number and make it whatever you need.

  55. Hate to break it to you but pi is a constant, not a quotient. It can be expressed as a quotient.

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  59. I go to Pomona College. Trust me that *no one* ever has, does, or shall believe that the number 47 appears more often in nature than expected.

    Also, the story about the math theory is false. The number started when a math major (I’m a math major, I’ve read the thesis) facetiously attempted to show that the number came up more often in nature than one would expect. Most people think he chose 47 because it was prime and the number of the exit one takes to get to Pomona.

  60. doing 666 in Hebrew wouldn’t make any sense, since Revelation was written in Greek…..

  61. Re: 666

    In the old punch-cards used on early computers, the letter W was comprised of a 0 punch and a 6 punch in the same column.

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  63. 1729 Ramanujan Number
    6174 Kaprekar constant
    etc. should not be forgotten while selecting such a list

  64. Actually, the Greek Isopsephy of 666 is “Chi-Xi-Digamma”, but it could be displayed as “Digamma-Digamma-Digamma”. Digamma is an archaic Greek letter used for a W sound, so it does not contradict the Hebrew Vau mentioned in the text.

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