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December 06, 2004

On Dactylonomy

Matt Webb's got an interesting post on methods of counting using your fingers.

Being of a frivolous bent, I got to this bit:

If I want a number to be totally represented by the position of my fingers, then I estimate the absolute top limit on this to be 10 billion, or around that order of magnitude. That's the maximum number of states that can be represented by my fingers, assuming 10 states per dimension, and 10 dimensions (10 fingers, 10 points per finger). That's assuming no physical limits on, say, the stretchiness of my fingers, or limits on the complexity of the algorithm, or robustness to mistakes.

and then started imagining it as the finger version of "you can't fold any piece of paper more than 8 times".

The 'totally represented' bit fascinated me too - I remembered Avogadro's Constant, the number of molecules in a mole of any compound, 6.023(?)x10^23. Given the immensity of the scale that contemporary finger counting would have to represent, compared to the Chinese system he considers, is Matt's next challenge to develop the Scientific Notation of Fingers?

Posted by Tom Dolan at December 6, 2004 10:30 PM

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