Projective City has set out to have the largest prime number known to humans read out loud by all and sundry. The result will be equal parts of enormous folly and poetic triumph. We might also succeed in making the world’s longest “art video”!
If you are interested in participating, we will send you one page of text and instructions on how to submit your video. Read as many as you like! We have lots. As in tens of thousands. Why not throw a prime number party? Get a crowd of your closest pals together, maybe make some popcorn, find yourself a webcam, and see what it feels like to stretch out into numerical immensity.
Please contact email@example.com to request your page!
To learn a bit more about the rationale for this project, have a look at this statement by gallery director and project manager Benjamin Evans:
The loneliest number we know
I quickly realized that I, a non-mathematician, had no tangible way of getting my head around this number. One can scroll through a great deal of it online (at this great website!), but, for the sake of convenience, the hosts have decided to leave out a large section in the middle unless you download it all. When I downloaded the complete version and tried to look at it, it caused my computer to crash. I thought maybe I might be able to print it out and have a look at it, to get a sense of the size of this number through a large pile of paper. But having done some math, I realized I would need to clear cut a small forest even to do that. Then I thought I might read the number aloud and experience its enormity by actually saying it. But then I discovered it would take me years of reading, even if I read nonstop. This made the number even more amazing; it is (practically) unspeakable. Like something from some kabalist practice, it represents something that can be known but never said, an unpronounceable truth.
Furthermore, it is not merely its colossal size that makes it interesting. After all, the number right after it is even bigger! But this is a number about which we know an interesting and important fact, namely that it is PRIME. This characteristic is much more interesting than our average math classes would have us believe. In a sense, prime numbers are the building blocks of the numerical universe. So saying that this number is prime isn’t the same as saying “this number is odd”, or “this number is one larger than the one before it”. Those are facts too, but by comparison totally unremarkable. The fact that this number is prime means that it cannot be evenly divided, that there are no other factors other than one and itself, that it stands alone, not composed of anything other than itself. Floating far, far out there on the numberline, it is an absolute, uncomplex immensity all by itself, a mountain among molehills. And now, human beings have reached this far away place, even as they strive to find a still bigger prime. Some estimates predict the next one will be discovered in 2015, a mere three years away.
Bear in mind that we are not here talking about infinity. The idea that we cannot get our heads around the infinite is something of a cliche, a truism of our human condition at least since the time of Kant. And, as a cliche, it is quite easily dismissed or somehow ignored as the mere pathos of romantics. Well, this number has no claims to any sort of airy-fairy infinity shmaltz. This is a real-deal, honest-to-goodness NUMBER. It is a number composed of over twelve million digits, but definitely still well short of infinity. So it isn’t just the infinite we cannot face. We can’t even get as far as the stupendously gigantic.