I thought of this passage from The Phantom Tollbooth while we were

talking about Mindwalk and the idea that the system is always more than

what we know, no matter how much we learn about it. Enjoy!

—

[The Mathemagician says,] “What’s the greatest number you can think of?”

“Nine trillion, nine hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred

ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred

ninety-nine,” replied Milo breathlessly.

“Very good,” said the Mathemagician. “Now add one to it. Now add one

again,” he repeated when Milo had added the previous one. “Now add one

again. Now add one again. Now add one again. Now add one again. Now add

one again. Now add one again. Now add —”

“But when can I stop?” pleaded Milo.

“Never,” said the Mathemagician with a little smile, “for the number

you want is always at least one more than the number you’ve got, and

it’s so large that if you started saying it yesterday you wouldn’t

finish tomorrow.”

“Where could you ever find a number so big?” scoffed the Humbug.

“In the same place they have the smallest number there is,” he answered

helpfully; “and you know what that is.”

“Certainly,” said the bug, suddenly remembering something to do at the

other end of the room.

“One one-millionth?” asked Milo, trying to think of the smallest

fraction possible.

“Almost,” said the Mathemagician. “Now divide it in half. Now divide it

in half again. Now divide it in half again. Now divide it in half again.

Now divide it in half again. Now divide it in half again. Now divide it

in half again. Now divide —”

“Oh dear,” shouted Milo, holding his hands to his ears, “doesn’t that

ever stop either?”

“How can it,” said the Mathemagician, “when you can always take half of

whatever you have left until it’s so small that if you started to say it

right now you’d finish even before you began?”

“Where could you keep anything so tiny?” Milo asked, trying very hard

to imagine such a thing.

The Mathemagician stopped what he was doing and explained simply, “Why,

it’s in a box that’s so small you can’t see it — and that’s kept in a

drawer that’s so small you can’t see it, in a dresser that’s so small

you can’t see it, in a house that’s so small you can’t see it, on a

street that’s so small you can’t see it, in a city that’s so small you

can’t see it, which is part of a country that’s so small you can’t see

it, in a world that’s so small you can’t see it.”

Then he sat down, fanned himself with a handkerchief, and continued.

“Then, of course, we keep the whole thing in another box that’s so small

you can’t see it — and, if you follow me, I’ll show you where you can

find it.”

—

;)