Thursday, April 23, 2015

Math and the Simpsons

What could be further apart than high math and The Simpsons? LOTS of things, as this article explains; there are several high-math big brains on the Simpsons writing team. (And more yet on the Futurama team.)

For example, "Colonel Homer" (1992) features the first appearance of the local movie theatre, and eagle-eyed viewers would have glimpsed that it is called the Springfield Googolplex. In order to appreciate this reference, it is necessary to go back to 1938, when the American mathematician Edward Kasner was in conversation with his nephew Milton Sirotta. Kasner casually mentioned that it would be useful to have a label to describe the number 10100 (or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). The nine-year-old Milton suggested the word googol. 
 In his book Mathematics and the Imagination, Kasner recalled how the conversation with his nephew continued: "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 get tired." 
 The uncle rightly felt that the googolplex would then be a somewhat arbitrary and subjective number, so he redefined the googolplex as 10googol. This represents a number that is 1 followed by a googol zeros, which is far more zeros that you could fit on a piece of paper the size of the observable universe, even if you used the smallest font imaginable.

1 comment:

Bruce W. said...

There are several videos by Prof. Singh on the YouTube channel “Numberphile” that discuss Math (or Maths) in-jokes on the Simpsons and Futurama. Just a couple are: