Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

by vyh

Imagine breaking up one second into as many tiny fragments as there are seconds in 30 years. That is how tiny a nanosecond—a billionth of a second—is. To a computer, a second is a lifetime! Of course, the computer is dawdling compared with the events inside the atoms that compose it. Take one atom. A typical electron circling a typical nucleus makes about 1015 orbits per second, which is to say, a million orbits per nanosecond.

Some stars—neutron stars—are so tightly packed that if you could remove from any of them a cube a millimeter on an edge, its mass would be about half a million tons, equal to the mass of the heaviest oil tanker every built, fully loaded!

There are about 25,000 megatons of nuclear weapons in the world [in mid-1982]. … Now if you just say to yourself “one megaton equals Paris’s doom” (or some suitable equivalent), then I think that the phrase “25,000 megatons” will become as vivid as the long string of zeros—in fact, probably more vivid.