Monday, December 17, 2007

Explaining infinity to a 4-year-old

How do you explain the concept of infinity to a 4-year-old? I've been struggling with this for a few weeks now. Andrew can count to about 100 now, and he loves to shout out numbers that sound huge, like "five hundred thousand". Trying to outdo his friend Quentin in the big numbers game, he asked me, "what is the biggest number of all"? "Infinity," I told him. This leads to interesting conversations, such as:

Dad: "You would have to keep counting forever to count to infinity."
Andrew: "You mean until you die?"
Dad: "Well, uh, even longer than that."
Andrew: "What is infinity plus one?"
Dad: "That's also infinity. Infinity isn't a normal number. No matter how high you count, you can always count 1 number higher, so you'll never count to infinity. It's kinda complicated."

I find myself using that same explanation for other questions, such as "why is the day shorter in the winter?"

So now Andrew has a new phrase he likes to use. "It's kinda complicated..."

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