Words of wisdom are spoken by children at least as often as by
scientists. The name 'googol' was invented by a child (Dr Kasner's
nine-year-old nephew) who was asked to think up a name for a very
big number, namely, 1 with a hundred zeros after it. He was very
certain that this number was not infinite, and therefore equally
certain that it had to have a name. At the same time that he
suggested 'googol' he gave a name for a still larger number:
'Googolplex'. A googolplex is much larger than a googol, but is
still finite, as the inventor of the name was quick to point out. It
was first suggested that a googolplex should be 1, followed by
writing zeros until you got tired. This is a description of what
would happen if one actually tried to write a googolplex, but
different people get tired at different times and it would never do
to have Carnera a better mathematician than Dr Einstein, simply
because he had more endurance. The googolplex then, is a specific
finite number, with so many zeros after the 1 that the number of
zeros is a googol. A googolplex is much bigger than a googol, much
bigger even than a googol times a googol. A googol times a googol
would be 1 with 200 zeros, whereas a googolplex is 1 with a googol
of zeros. You will get some idea of the size of this very large but
finite number from the fact that there would not be enough room to
write it, if you went to the farthest star, touring all the nebulae
and putting down zeros every inch of the way.
Mathematics
and the Imagination