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Remembering Large Numbers

  1. May 22, 2010 #1


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    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..

    Instead of remembering:
    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.*
    Last edited: May 22, 2010
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  3. May 22, 2010 #2


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    Comments on your proposed scheme

    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.
  4. May 22, 2010 #3


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    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 any one 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...
    in addition to the number..
    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.
    Last edited: May 22, 2010
  5. May 22, 2010 #4


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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.
    Last edited: May 22, 2010
  6. May 22, 2010 #5
    I noticed that problem when a girl asked my number :rofl:.

    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).
  7. May 22, 2010 #6


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    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. :smile:
  8. May 22, 2010 #7
    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 :)
  9. May 22, 2010 #8
    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.
  10. May 22, 2010 #9


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    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 tktdgbj

    But 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.
    Last edited: May 22, 2010
  11. May 22, 2010 #10
    What exactly is the old fashioned way again?

    Also why do you need to memorize these numbers in your head instead of on paper?
  12. May 22, 2010 #11
    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.
  13. May 22, 2010 #12


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

    Did you read all of the posts magpies?
  14. May 22, 2010 #13
    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 peice 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.
  15. May 22, 2010 #14


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    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".
  16. May 22, 2010 #15


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    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.
  17. May 22, 2010 #16
    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?
  18. May 22, 2010 #17
    On the contrary, I have actually found this to be quite fun. This is not at all meant to be at your expense. :smile:

    Not sure I understand. The letter and number are interchangeable. No undue importance.

    So what would 88 "sound" like?
    OK, that was in poor taste.
  19. May 22, 2010 #18
    Ya some numbers with his system wouldn't be allowed to be shown on Tv.
  20. May 22, 2010 #19
    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.
  21. May 22, 2010 #20
    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?
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