Is There a Better Way to Remember Large Numbers?

• Oddbio
In summary: I came up with...In summary, the conversation discusses the difficulty of remembering a 15-digit number and suggests using a letter substitution system for numbers as a more efficient way to remember them. The proposed system would involve assigning letters to numbers and reading the number as a series of words. Some argue that this would require remembering an additional set of letters and meaningless words, making it harder to recall. However, the proponents of the system argue that with practice, it would become easier to read and remember numbers in this way. The conversation also considers the relevance of this technique to mathematics and suggests using known physics constants and concepts to develop a problem with easy parameters that can yield the desired number.
Oddbio
Gold Member
I was just thinking why is it hard to remember a 15 digit number for example?
(some people might not have trouble, but I think the majority would find 15 digits difficult without seeing it more than once).

But I think it's because we assign an entire word to a number. For instance, remembering a 15 digit number is about as difficult as remembering 15 words in order.

But, it is far easier to remember a single 15 letter word, or three 5 letter words..

172,965,849,320,593
if you could learn a letter substitution system for numbers you could instead read it as three words:
"witas nufar tonar" using 0=o 1=w 2=t 3=r 4=f 5=n 6=s 7=i 8=u 9=a
I just picked a few random letters to give an example.

It seems incredibly more efficient then trying to read it as:
"one seven two nine six five eight four nine three two zero five nine three"

Given a few looks I'm sure I could remember the 15 digits.. but in a single reading I would certainly mess up if I tried to reconstruct the number.
But in a single reading I can easily remember those 3 words, which can then be reconstructed into the 15 digit number.

I think we are just crippling ourselves by leaving individual digits as words. Math is a language, numbers should flow more easily than that, and maybe that's what scares people about numbers...
Imagine if we read "85746" as we would any other word in a book, maybe more students wouldn't be afraid of math as much.I'm trying to think of letters that would work well with this just to see where it goes.

Can anyone think of a better system? (does one already exist)?

I'm not only interested in assigning them letters, this thread is also open to any and all number memory techniques.

*Not long term memorization, but techniques that might help you remember (on a short term) a long number after hearing it only once.*

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You are making a mistake often made by people unfamiliar with quantifying information. The phrase "witas nufar tonar" is simply not enough to help you remember that 15-digit number -- you also need to remember the essentially random sequence of letters "owtrfnsiua", otherwise you cannot convert back from letters to numbers.

And furthermore, each of the words "witas" "nufar", "tonar" are meaningless, as is the phrase you built from them. It's harder to remember three gibberish words than it is to remember three meaningful words, and it's harder to remember a meaningless phrase than it is to remember a meaningful phrase.

Relevance to math

It is rare in mathematics that the basic piece of relevant information is the digit. e.g. when manipulating things algebraically, a "word" of information would be something more like an entire number, or possibly even a larger arithmetic expression. If I'm doing abstract algebra, my "words" might consist of entire equations -- or possibly even large sets of equations.

I just see it as a potentially interesting trick, and would not have any relevance to actual calculations.

However, I strongly disagree about the "mistake". I was actually going to put something in there about that, but I left it out.
The 10 letter key would always be used and is not particular to anyone number.
It's not like a secret code where the key has to be included in the message... It is something that is known and memorized.

Using your own logic I can come right back and say that you are having to remember:
1="one" 2="two" 3="three" 4="four" etc...
But that isn't the case. Once these are learned they are always used and that is the same as what I am discussing. Only instead of an entire word they are letters that can be strung together.
It is easier to say "Hello" then it is to say "H" "e" "l" "l" "o".

Yes it is harder to remember 3 gibberish words than 3 meaningful words of course..
But did you try to remember the 15 digit number?

1) Read the number 1 time! and then close your eyes and try to say it.
2) Read the 3 gibberish words 1 time! and close your eyes and try to say them..
which one is easier?

Of course it would be hard to translate each time.. I know that.. But how hard is it for you to translate the number 12345 into "one two three four five"?
It comes naturally doesn't it?
With practice so will the letter system and you will simply read a 15 digit number like it is nothing and it would be far easier to recall it back.Furthermore.. Try to remember the number 381732 WITHOUT saying the words. Difficult? The words are tied to the numbers. I am simply asking what if instead of being raised since birth to treat numbers as individual words, if we could READ them like sentences in a book. We would be much more fluent in numbers IMO.

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Using the particular mapping you mentioned earlier, do keep in mind that the typical five-letter words you'd have to read with this scheme are things like
rsnww, wafaa, inoio, nssnn, aoifs, utift, astan, fawfo, oottu, siwtn.​

I can't think of any issue of numeracy (number "fluency") that requires one to be able to remember (or even notice) more than a couple digits of any particular number.

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I noticed that problem when a girl asked my number .

My thoughts:
Use known physics constants and concepts. Develop a problem with easy parameters to remember that can yield the desired number (truncated to integer).

On a side note -- I have three combination locks I sometimes have to deal with at work. I have a much easier time remembering the numbers than I do the mnemonic for them.

Well I thought about it a bit and I guess if I had to memorize this number for some reason I would just end up trying to memorize it as if it was 2 phone numbers with an area code of 1.

So like 1-729-6584 + 932-0593 I tryed for a bit to find a simple way to memorize it but I couldn't come up with any patterns to match that number to. I already have a nifty system for memorizing phone numbers if they are important to me so if I really cared about these numbers I would just use that system remember the area code :)

Ok so I re read what you posted about turning it into a word and I do see what your thinking however it's not that easy. Your mistake is that while your letters for numbers will work ok for this given number it however would not be so great with others. Here is the main problem with what your attempting. If you start out with a given system it will be naturally in the simplest form. As you try to reduce it's complexity you do so by actually adding complexity to it. Some of the time the added complexity will look easyer some of the time it will not. The real leason to learn is that things you deal with daily will be easyer to remember then things you work with yearly and so on. So if there is some number text picture you want to remember all you have to do is deal with it more and it will become a part of you.

I didn't actually propose that particular combination. That's why I said I would have to play around with it a bit to try and find the best combination of letters that won't give you words like tktdgbjBut really I don't see what the big deal is... This isn't a mnemonic or anything. It's not to help remember locker combinations.
I am not someone who has trouble memorizing numbers.I just find it interesting that three characters represented by: 347 (for example) should have to be read as "three hundred and seven" or "three four seven" instead of just a simple word like "ral" or some word that would mean the quantity "347" and is spelled 3-4-7.

This is hard to explain and maybe the way I was going about it seems like I'm suggesting some code or mnemonic.

But to clarify, I'm mostly just remarking on a hypothetical situation in which a looong time ago, when our language was being developed, if they had treated numbers more like letters instead of words for each digit.
Additionally I am interested in possibly developing some substitution for my own use. I have already tried that cruddy system above on a few numbers 13-15 digits and I find that a few times I could actually read the number converting it to the letters in my head (of course this is a little slower than reading it normally) and write it back down in number form. But over time it would be just as natural as saying the number as we do now.
I could never have rememberd numbers that long after seeing it once doing it the old fashioned way.
and that is only after a few minutes of trying this.

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What exactly is the old fashioned way again?

A number has a value which can be altered simply by putting other numbers around it. This isn't so with letters, but...

Let's say one commits to this system:
0= a
1= b
2= e
3= f
4= i
5= j
6= k
7= o
8= t
9= u

If I have 10 atoms, I have 'ba' atoms.
If my friend has 30 atoms, he has 'fa' atoms.
If we add our atoms, 10+30=40 or ba+fa=ia
We have 40 (or 'ia') atoms.

If I have 1,000,000 atoms, I have 'baaaaaa' atoms.
If my friend has 3,000,000 atoms, he has 'faaaaaa' atoms.
If we add our atoms we have 'iaaaaaa' atoms.

This of course demonstrates a linguistic complication of the system.

ugh... I apologize. I should have used a different topic title.

Did you read all of the posts magpies?

Ya I have read or at least skimmed most of the posts. I think what your trying to do is get better at memorizing large numbers correct? If so I don't see how working with them in any way will not help that goal my main question is however why is it that you want to be able to memorize large numbers? I personally would rather leave that work to a piece of paper or a computer. However I do my self work with large numbers at times mostly just for fun. Like trying to figure out how to work with numbers billions of digits is fun but almost completely useless.

thack45 said:
A number has a value which can be altered simply by putting other numbers around it. This isn't so with letters, but...

Let's say one commits to this system:
0= a
1= b
2= e
3= f
4= i
5= j
6= k
7= o
8= t
9= u

If I have 10 atoms, I have 'ba' atoms.
If my friend has 30 atoms, he has 'fa' atoms.
If we add our atoms, 10+30=40 or ba+fa=ia
We have 40 (or 'ia') atoms.

If I have 1,000,000 atoms, I have 'baaaaaa' atoms.
If my friend has 3,000,000 atoms, he has 'faaaaaa' atoms.
If we add our atoms we have 'iaaaaaa' atoms.

This of course demonstrates a linguistic complication of the system.

I agree for the most part and that is why I suggested that this wouldn't be good for calculations.. However, that might not be as much of a complication as it seems.
For instance, we don't read out all of the zeros. So I'm sure additional things can be used to make it easier to read long strings of zeros, or "a"'s in your case.

Also.. you guys are putting too much attachment to the actual letter. I am not saying that we change the numbers. I am simply considering how things would be different if instead of reading "8" as "eight" if it was READ as "a" or some sound like "ta".
but it would still be written as "8".

magpies said:
Ya I have read or at least skimmed most of the posts. I think what your trying to do is get better at memorizing large numbers correct? If so I don't see how working with them in any way will not help that goal my main question is however why is it that you want to be able to memorize large numbers? I personally would rather leave that work to a piece of paper or a computer. However I do my self work with large numbers at times mostly just for fun. Like trying to figure out how to work with numbers billions of digits is fun but almost completely useless.

I don't really have a fetish for remembering large numbers or anything lol.

Believe it or not, I intended this to just be a fun little "hypothetical" what if..
It doesn't seem that way anymore though.

Ahhhhh yes the joys of a saturday with nothng good to do :)

Ok how about this hypothetical. Would you want to be able to know the answer to any math question without having to do the work to find the answer?

Oddbio said:
Believe it or not, I intended this to just be a fun little "hypothetical" what if..
It doesn't seem that way anymore though.
On the contrary, I have actually found this to be quite fun. This is not at all meant to be at your expense.

Oddbio said:
Also.. you guys are putting too much attachment to the actual letter. I am not saying that we change the numbers.
Not sure I understand. The letter and number are interchangeable. No undue importance.

Oddbio said:
I am simply considering how things would be different if instead of reading "8" as "eight" if it was READ as "a" or some sound like "ta".
So what would 88 "sound" like?
OK, that was in poor taste.

Ya some numbers with his system wouldn't be allowed to be shown on Tv.

Joking aside, the OP does have an interesting idea (perhaps more interesting before the calculator). Take pi for example. Using the above mentioned system, pi would sound something like 'f-(point)-bib-juf'. If you commit this system to memory, this sound could be more easily recolectable than the string of digits 3.141593

His idea of associating words with numbers at the onset of human language could also have had some worth, though a ten letter alphabet would have been a hinderance.

What do you think of the possiblity of some day not even having a need for numbers at all? I mean numbers are just used to explain ideas so is it possible the ideas could just directly be communicated?

magpies said:
Ahhhhh yes the joys of a saturday with nothng good to do :)
+ the lowered responsibilities due to school ending. lol

magpies said:
Ok how about this hypothetical. Would you want to be able to know the answer to any math question without having to do the work to find the answer?

That is a tough one.. as I do rather enjoy math. I think I would simply prefer to be able to do them faster like a computer, instead of magically knowing the answer.

magpies said:
What do you think of the possiblity of some day not even having a need for numbers at all? I mean numbers are just used to explain ideas so is it possible the ideas could just directly be communicated?

That's a possibility. But I am more inclined to think that numbers are at the core of everything even our thought processes. So even if our brains would interpret it as a pure thought, to an outsider it could probably viewable as a data to some degree, or numerical. It depends on how you look at it I suppose.
Pretty much everything in the world can have numbers applied to it in some way.
But that doesn't necessarily mean numbers are there.. I am just showing that if you want to see numbers there, you probably can find it in some form. and if you don't want to, then you can find other ways to see it.

magpies said:
What do you think of the possiblity of some day not even having a need for numbers at all? I mean numbers are just used to explain ideas so is it possible the ideas could just directly be communicated?
Negative. Numbers are used to to explain mathmatics. That said, you'd be hard pressed to communicate any worthy idea without things like dimensions, time, velocity, and so on. It's sad to say, but if we are to understand ourselves, we must understand maths.
Or, more realistically, pay someone else to understand the math for us.

magpies said:
is it possible the ideas could just directly be communicated?
Yes; we've been doing that for a long time. There's an old joke that there are mathematicians that haven't actually touched a number in decades!

Heh you think your responsibilitys will get lower with the end of school :)

I've always had trouble remembering 3,236,912,825,382. However, it doesn't come up much, so it hasn't been a real problem. My daughter was able to add 13 digit numbers in her head when she was 5. How much is 2 trillion plus 3 trillion?

baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

On a side note, didn't they used to do this a long time ago? (But not to help them remember stuff -- just because they hadn't figured out good numerals yet.)

And then the old (and dumb) numerologists looked at words in their language and attached special importance to their corresponding numbers thinking there was some deep connection. Like (the equivalent in letters of) 666 spelt out the name for the devil (or something like that)?

I know what Oddbio means because I had also thought about the same. He thinks of reading a number such as 128437 as a word (see one of his posts on "hello" instead of h e l l o). Whether that is possible I don't know.

As to memorizing numbers:
It is easy to memorize hundreds of digits with a technique called the http://www.academictips.org/memory/majorsys.html"):

0: s, z
1: d, t
2: n
3: m
4: r
5: l
6: j, sh, soft "ch", dg, zh, soft "g"
7: k, hard c, hard g, hard "ch", q, qu
8: f, v
9: b, p
Unassigned Vowel sounds, w,h,y

It's not hard to remember this translation table (see again the Wikipedia article, for example 3 is encoded as m because m has three strokes).

I mentioned the number 128437. This number is split up into two digit numbers:
12 84 37
These are transformed by using the list from above:
12 => dn (alternatively tn)
84 => fr (alternatively vr)
37 => mc (alternatively mk, mg, mch, mq)

Thus, 12 84 37 => dn fr mk
dn could stand for dan (For example Dan Akroyd, the actor)
fr could stand for fire
mc could stand for mc (McDonalds or a Mac Computer)

You then think of a story:
Dan goes into the kitchen, takes the fire extinguisher and sprays some fire fighting foam on top of a Mac hamburger.

This little story is easy to remember. If you memorize hundred and thousands of digits (as done in competitions) you need locations where these little stories take place (also known as http://www.academictips.org/memory/journey.html").

A list of how two digit numbers 00-99 can be encoded is at the bottom of http://litemind.com/major-system/" .

Some guy (forgot his name) even uses three digit numbers. You can imagine this is much harder since you need a table to encode the numbers 000-999.

Just as a side note:
You can even extend this technique to memorize binary number strings:
010111010010101100110010101001010
Split them into three digit numbers 010 111 010 010 ...
Translate (010)2 (111)2 into 2 7 which then becomes "ne ck". Funny if you want to impress friends.

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In this clip the "mathemagician" uses two words (cookie efficient, or something similar) as mnemonics.

For short-term memory, the "pattern" of the numbers may be all one needs. If so, a "global key" is not necessary.

Example: 123,998,733 = [p] latoon at[&]t
921,887,300 = in room 300

123,998,733,921,887,300 = [p] latoon at[&]t, in room 300

I don't know whether that's what Arthur Benjamin is doing, but it would make sense if it was.

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The human mind is pretty good at remembering things in groups of 3 to 4 (best with 3). This is probably why we put commas (or periods, depending on the country) in our numbers every 3 digits, why phone numbers and social security numbers have dashes to break them into groups of 3 and 4 numbers, etc. So, while people might have trouble remembering a string of 15 numbers if they just try to remember it as one big lump, if they break it into 5 groups of 3 numbers, they'll have a much easier time with memorizing it. So, a good way to remember a 15 digit number would be to memorize a group of 3 sets of 3 digits followed by a group of 2 sets of 3 digits.

So, if the number were: 123456789012345 a way to memorize it would be:
123 456 789 - 012 345

Mnemonics don't really help if they 1) aren't themselves very memorable, and 2) require too much effort to "decode" them.

For example, I find that mnemonics are useless to remember new terms, but once you've learned the terms, if you need to remember them in a particular sequence, then mnemonics are helpful to remember the sequence, but only if you can remember the mnemonic itself.

Or you could just cheat and put it down into paper? Is this even allowed?

I really don't like mnemonics. IMO it's always best to just remember anything exactly as it is, in most cases at least.

Maybe it's just me.. but I really think what I am describing is completely different from a mnemonic, but maybe I'm wrong.

1. What is the best method for remembering large numbers?

There is no one "best" method for remembering large numbers, as different techniques may work better for different individuals. Some popular methods include chunking, creating visual images, and using mnemonic devices.

2. How can I improve my memory for large numbers?

There are several strategies that can help improve memory for large numbers. These include practicing regularly, breaking numbers into smaller chunks, creating associations or visual images, and using mnemonic devices.

3. Can anyone remember large numbers or is it a skill that some people are born with?

While some individuals may have a natural ability for remembering large numbers, it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with practice and the use of memory techniques.

4. Are there any specific techniques or tricks for remembering long strings of numbers?

Yes, there are several techniques and tricks that can be used for remembering long strings of numbers. These include using the method of loci, creating visual images, and using acronyms or mnemonic devices.

5. Is it possible to remember large numbers without using any techniques or tricks?

While it may be possible for some individuals to remember large numbers without using specific techniques or tricks, most people can benefit from using memory strategies to improve their ability to remember large numbers.

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