Right now, across the Web, a mysterious declaration is leaping back and forth. It’s not April Fool’s Day, and yet, for reasons initially unbeknownst to us, it’s being stated that there exists a number so unfathomably large that if you attempted to imagine it, your head would collapse into a black hole.
Just think for a minute what that would mean if it were true. If there was a piece of information that was so mindboggling that just merely trying to ponder on it would cause a black hole to literally form in your head. It would make Math Olympiads and scientific conferences weapons of apocalyptic destruction.
No, you can’t think your way into a black hole. If it was possible, Earth wouldn’t exist at this point with such a fatal limit on the upper bounds of human intellect.
What’s happened here is that a colorful extension of logic linked to black holes has been taken out of context by some nefarious types. So let’s clear a few things up.
The number in question is Graham’s Number, one originally conceived as an upper bound solution to a mathematical riddle. As noted by LiveScience back in 2013, this number is so enormous that you can’t use standard form to express it.
A video by Numberphile, posted a year earlier, explained in colorful detail just how gigantic this (still finite) number is. It’s then added that if you “tried to picture Graham’s number in your head, then your head would collapse to form a black hole,” apparently in all seriousness.
It’s more complex than this, but the general idea is that attempting to calculate such a huge number in your brain would generate a vast amount of information. This information can be equated to energy, and storing this much energy in such a tiny space – no offense – would cause your brain to collapse in on itself and trigger the formation of a black hole.
This, however, is a hypothetical concept that won’t ever take place in reality.
The general understanding of a black hole (although there are multiple types) is that when an incredibly massive star collapses in on itself at the end of its lifetime and triggers a supernova, it also forms a ludicrously dense black hole.
That, indeed, is the point: In order to form a black hole, you realistically need to compress matter down into a tiny space. Short of having a fantastical compression device at hand, you’d need a considerable amount of mass there in the first place to spontaneously initiate a collapse event and seriously amp up the density.
In fact, you need to compress an object down below its Schwarzschild radius, below which irreversible gravitational collapse takes place. Earth’s Schwarzschild radius is around 9 millimeters (0.35 inches), minuscule compared to its current radius of 6,371 kilometers (roughly 3,600 miles).
If you want a black hole in your brain, you’ll need to compress it below its Schwarzschild radius. This is the only “realistic” way in which your brain will lead to the formation of a black hole – and, obviously, you’d die trying.
Sure, trying to process Graham’s number in your brain would lead to the aforementioned overload of information, but there’s no need to fret. You simply won’t be able to think about it in conventional terms.