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What Does 1,000,000,000,000 Look Like?

"Don’t have any real sense..."

Image via YouTube

It's a million millions.

It's a stack of thousand-dollar bills nearly 70 miles high.

A trillion dollars is an awful lot of money, but humans have trouble wrapping their brains around the sheer magnitude of the number — and when political leaders sign countries up for massive debts, it's a disaster waiting to happen, as last week's "Crash Course" video noted.

As the video notes, American (and Japanese) national debt outstrips the mind's ability to comprehend just how big it is — or what could happen if the debt goes unpaid:

We are living in an era where our leaders are making decisions at orders of magnitude that they simply can’t truly understand. And many politicians have less expertise in math, economics or business than most people watching this video. When they vote for the next trillion-dollar bailout, raise the debt level by another trillion, or pressure the Federal Reserve for another trillion-dollar stimulus program – they don’t have any real sense of what the implications will be.

No one can.

We have reached the point where we’re operating in territory that's beyond our neural programming.

As a result, unintended consequences to our current policies are guaranteed — and we need to be ready for that.

As mathematician Spencer Greenberg told io9 earlier this year, the basic problem with human perception of large numbers is rooted in evolution: Our distant ancestors had no need to count very high.

"We can easily visualize five things. We can even roughly visualize approximately 100 things — by, say, picturing a large crowd gathered," Greenberg said. "But when we're talking about millions of things our ability to visualize completely fails."

One trillion dollars — a million millions?

Forget about it.

The U.S. national debt topped $17 trillion last year, and according to USDebtClock.org, the figure is rapidly approaching $18 trillion.

(H/T: Zero Hedge)

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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