Saturday, June 23, 2012

So Many As To Be All

My friend was telling me about a character named Wan Shi Tong, whose name means "He Who Knows Ten Thousand Things". My first thought was, "What kind of things? Because that could be either very large or very small."

I was informed that it is an expression from Daoism. My friend said that the idea was that it was a very large number - "So many as to be all."

I loved that phrase. The more I thought about it, the more perfect it was. For one thing, it is very poetic. It is artfully said, feeling both profound and whimsical (which is not bad for describing a Daoist concept).

Beyond that, I felt a definite connection. Americans use "millions" to describe anything significantly large. We want millions of dollars. We have a million things to do every day. We have a million problems. And the street was filled with a million people. Just because 10,000 seems laughably small compared to a million, it is truly no different than our own idiosyncrasies. There are far larger numbers than a million, and we do use them from time to time, but generally a million is sufficiently large to talk about anything big.

What I loved most, though, was that the concept had a certain logistical truth to it. Think about a circle. A circle can be considered as an infinity-sided polygon. However, if you were to try to make a polygon that was, let's say, 800-sided, the human eye would not be able to distinguish it from a circle (unless it was insanely large). So although an 800-sided polygon is not actually a circle, it is indistinguishable from an infinity-sided polygon. In this case, 800 is so many as to be all.

Being a technically-minded person, I can often get bogged down trying to find out specific, accurate figures in my writing. Tonight, I am pondering to what degree people care about being technically accurate, and to what degree I can give them a number so large as to be accepted as "that sounds about right."

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