By Dr. Jim Ferguson

No, my title is not a typo, nor am I referring to Google, the internet search engine, or a gargoyle.  These days we are bombarded with information and often by staggering numbers.  I remember when a millionaire was someone like Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island; and I didn’t know anyone like that.

Now the wealthiest have billions of dollars.  I once read that the definition of being rich is when your money works for you rather than you working for your money.  However, billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are pikers when compared to Uncle Sam, who collects and spends trillions of dollars every year.  Unfortunately, our Uncle spends more than we have in our pockets and has run up a ruinous debt of more than 16 trillion dollars.

About ten years ago I located my high school chemistry and physics teacher to thank him for my medical career.  His method for balancing chemical equations and handling large numbers enabled me to do well enough in college to be accepted into medical school.  Most of us recall someone who made a difference in our lives.  It was Mr. Hardin at West High School for me, and I told him so as I shook his hand.

A billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion.  It’s easier to think of these big numbers using powers of 10.  As an example, a trillion is 1 followed by twelve zeros and it’s easier to represent this big number as 1012, where the superscript represents the number of zeros.   It’s a necessity to use this system of representation when you try to conceptualize the data collection system our government is developing in Bluffdale, Utah.

This two billion dollar project will be fully operational in September 2013.  The storage capacity of this facility will be septillion bytes of data.  This staggering number is also known as a yottabyte – not to be confused with Yoda the Jedi Knight.  Computer buffs casually speak of gigabytes of hard drive memory.  The rest of us refer to this amount of storage capacity as a billion.  A terabyte is a trillion (1000 billion) pieces of data that can be carried on a flash drive no larger than you pinky finger, and can be carried in your pocket.  Apparently, NSA’s (National Security Agency) Edward Snowden did just that and eloped to Hong Kong.  However, 1012 pieces of data pale by comparison to an exabyte or 1018 pieces of data.  It has been estimated that all human knowledge can be stored in five exabytes.  The Bluffdale facility run by our NSA will have yottabyte (1024) capacity or a million exabytes.  One wonders why the NSA needs one million times the storage capacity of all human knowledge.  Our “spooks” say that their Metadata-mining project called PRISM is necessary for our safety.  Others feel this dragnet is an infringement of our privacy and a violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment intended to limit the government’s power to search through our lives.

I’ve read that our Milky Way galaxy has approximately 300 billion stars, or thirty times the number of brain cells between our ears.  Some of us get a lot done with those brain cells.  But even this large number is eclipsed by the 30 trillion cells in the human body, which are 1000 times as many stars as there are in the Milky Way.  But don’t focus inwardly.  Look up and out.  There are more than 100 billion galaxies in the Universe, resulting in 1022 stars in the Creation.  God creates beyond exabytes!

A friend of mine maintains that we humans think in templates or patterns.  I already knew a lot of things about my dog, Jack, before we ever brought him home because I knew about dogs.  Perhaps other thoughtful beings on other planets circling other suns think differently.  We may never know because the Universe is so vast and we are constrained by the cosmological speed limit of light.  Imagine riding on the fastest space vehicle man has ever built and traveling to our Sun’s closest neighbor.  You would arrive there in 70,000 (70 X 103) years.

I’ve come to the point in life where I know what’s right.  This may sound like hubris, when actually it’s a statement of fundamental and foundational principles which define my being.  It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening and learning or sifting through the megabytes (millions) of data that swirl around me.  To stop learning would be, for me, to die.  Last week I mentioned the book, “How Should We Then Live?”  This is where I am now in my contemplation.  Schaeffer proffers four directives for these difficult times and I concur: the Bible is the inspired word of God; we need a relationship with the Creator; we must speak the truth; and we must have compassion for the confused and the lost.

We also think in groups or multiples of ten.  Anthropologists think this may be because we have ten fingers.  Actually, using a base eight system would make things easier for computer programmers.  I’ll mention that to the Master when I see Him.  I also want to ask about the limits of knowledge and the hypothetical googol: 10100.