# Eli5 why it is difficult for humans to read a lot of 0s, like 2000000, but not words?

19 views

Eli5 why it is difficult for humans to read a lot of 0s, like 2000000, but not words?

In: 0

Well adding zero changes the meaning/value of the number, but adding more ‘i’ to a niiiiiiiiice, still reads the same. At least that’s how i understand it

The zeroes are all in a row, and the specific number of zeroes matters.

Words rarely have more than two of the same letter in a row, and the specific number of letters doesn’t actually matter. Could you, upon sight, tell me how many letters are in the word “encouragement?”

If you miss a zero you miss the meaning by a factor of 10. Words have meaning and context, so you only have to recognize or anticipate the word. You don’t have to count the letters to get the meaning.

Because you need to count the zeroes, if I say heeeeeeey. You don’t need to know how many e there are to know the word, you can just skip them

Humans don’t actually read every letter in a word.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

So by the same token we would not be reading all the 0s in 2000000.
We’d just see a big number that starts in 2 and ends in 0, just like we see a jumble of letters as a big word.

[removed]

I forget the name of it (and I’m sure someone here will chime in on it), but the TL/DR goes something like this:

Basically the brain is lazy (or “efficient” depending on how you look at it) and in most folks, it just sort of stops paying attention to/individualizing identical objects/symbols arranged in a simple pattern (like a line) after a certain point. It basically says “yeah, whatever, seen enough of these, next”. That’s why it’s easier to read and clearly identify 9,999,999,999,999 rather than 9999999999999.

As to why it does that, I don’t think anyone is sure. It could be that in nature, things don’t really line up like that, let alone seemingly identical objects, so it could be the brain simply isn’t wired to quantify individual items in that sort of arrangement without concentrating on it.

It isn’t difficult to read a lot of zeros, it’s difficult to count the number of zeros. You’ll have the same problem with any letter or number when it is repeated more than four or five times in a row.

Becuase you only need the fisrt and last chacarter in a word to be correct and the legnth of the word and its shape matter.

Yes, the first sentence has these misspellings exactly to show off that you can still all read it.

So while a word has a specific shape and length that you can match at a glance, a string of zeros is hard to count because it’s simply not read like a word.

Imagine there’s an English word falalalalalalalala. How many times do you say ‘la?’ I’d guess most people would originally either just guess, or walk through it with their finger slowly, like you would reading a number. The nice thing about words, though, it’s unlikely for there to be both a falalalalalalalala and a falalalalalalala, so after a while, you could find a rhythm that helps you subconsciously count how many syllables. You don’t even read the whole word anymore, you just see the general layout and know what it is.

I don’t think words are inherently any easier to read, it’s just that the longer they get, the less likely there are to be two nearly identical ones with drastically different meanings. The exception to that rule is [organic chemistry ](https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jean-Luc-Cacas/publication/224895876/figure/fig3/AS:[email protected]/Chemical-structures-of-Long-Chain-Bases-found-in-plants-Chemical-names-and-trivial-names.png) (not that those are all nearly identical, but they’re long and difficult to know how many syllables you’re supposed to pronounce. And very minor changes to organic chemistry molecules may not change nomenclature that much, but can have drastic effects on how they interact with the body. There are some molecules where just mirroring the bonds is deadly to humans)

Numbers, unfortunately, come in all shapes and sizes. It’s no more likely for 200000000 to show up than 20000000. And one is ten times more than the other. It’s the same ratio as mistaking 10 and 100. Commas help separate them out. 200,000,000 is definitely more than 20,000,000. However, that only helps for so much. Once you get high enough, you have to go back to counting. For instance, is 6,000,000,000,000,000,000 equal to 6 quadrillion, quintillion, or sextillion?

Luckily, numbers that high are very very rare for most people. But that many carbon atoms would be 0.00000001 grams. is that 1 ten-millionth, hundred-millionth, or billionth? Also luckily, at these scales, we invented something much easier for humans to understand which is scientific notation (and the metric system helps too). That statement above basically says 6*10¹⁸ is 10^(-6) moles.