# Some Amazing Facts about Numbers

Numbers are fascinating and help us understand our weird and wonderful world. Ironically, much of the strangeness has to do with numbers themselves. Bees are intelligent enough to differentiate between certain numbers. On the other hand, there are some people who have trouble understanding numbers greater than four. Perhaps, this is fortunate since numbers that are big enough can create black holes in our brains.

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**Bees Understand Numbers**

It may surprise a lot of people but bees can do basic mathematics. Bees’ ability to recognize certain numbers was discovered in 2009. In an experiment, researchers trained the bees to anticipate boxes, which had dots at the entrance. In order to test the intelligence of bees, they were exposed to some y-shaped boxes with three sets of dots. One of these sets was at the entrance while the other two were on either side of the fork.

The success rate of the bees was 80% when sets of two and three dots were used. This means that they went down the side with the matching number on most occasions. The efficiency dropped a bit (70%) when sets of 3 and 4 were used. However, using numbers larger than 4, confused the bees.

**Cultures with No Numbers**

Numbers are everywhere if one thinks about it, and it’s hard to imagine a life without them. But they’ve actually not been around for most of humanity’s 200,000-year history. Even now, there are certain cultures that lack names for numbers. Tribes from Amazonia are an example of one such “anumeric people”. They denote quantity with words like “few” and “many”.

An experiment was conducted on them, in which nuts were first placed inside and then removed from a can one by one. Adults had difficulty determining when the can was completely empty if there were more than four nuts. These people are not less intelligent than average. The fact is that we are all born anumeric. Although we take the ability to count for granted, this is a difficult skill that comes to us through society.

**Primes Behave like Crystals**

Much like all matter is composed of the chemical elements, all numbers are products of prime numbers. Therefore, the discovery of a new prime number is similarly exciting to that of a new element. Having said that, primes are quite elusive. Their appearance on the number line does not appear to be dictated by any logical principles. That’s the reason why it was assumed to be entirely random for a very long time.

In 2018, it was revealed that this may not be the case. A group of chemists decided to look at primes in a different way. They used the positioning of primes in a string of a million numbers to digitally create a hypothetical crystal. The X-ray analysis of the hypothetical crystal in a computer simulation did create a characteristic pattern. Even though it was unlike the pattern of any known crystal, scientists believe it can be used to predict the positions of new primes.

**AI’s Spontaneous Numbers Sense**

The ability to recognize that sets of different objects can represent the same number, and to grasp what that number is without having to individually count the objects, is known as our number sense. It is an ability that was not observed in computers until 2019. An AI program developed this ability spontaneously while being taught simple object recognition.

Ordinarily, a computer scans objects individually. It can either count them or attempt to recognize them. It cannot do both things simultaneously. In contrast to that, this AI program gained the human-level number sense. It was able to differentiate three apples from three cats while knowing that the number three is common.

What makes this thing even more interesting (and even frightening) is that humans don’t really know how it happened. Scientists observed that certain parts of the network suddenly tuned in to abstract numbers—just like our brain neurons.

**Black Holes inside the Brain**

No matter how big a number gets, one can always make it bigger by adding one. Some numbers are so large that writing or saying them is not only impractical but even impossible. Take Graham’s number for example. The end result of a 64-step calculation that actually can’t be completed. It involves trillions of digits in just the second or the third step.

Numbers like it are hard to imagine. The question arises, what would happen if they were stored inside the human brain in decimal notation? One of the answers is that it might result in the creation of a black hole.

The fact is that there is a definite limit on the amount of information a brain can hold. It is theorized that cramming more information into it may create the same loop that happens with the concentrated mass in a black hole. Numbers much smaller than Graham’s would be more than sufficient to trigger such an effect.

Computer Scientist by qualification who loves to read, write, eat, and travel