God Give Me Benf’

In “Wake the Snake”, I looked at the digits of powers of 2 and mentioned a fascinating mathematical phenomenon known as Benford’s law, which governs — in a not-yet-fully-explained way — the leading digits of a wide variety of natural and human statistics, from the lengths of rivers to the votes cast in elections. Benford’s law also governs a lot of mathematical data. It states, for example, that the first digit, d, of a power of 2 in base b (except b = 2, 4, 8, 16…) will occur with the frequency logb(1 + 1/d). In base 10, therefore, Benford’s law states that the digits 1..9 will occur with the following frequencies at the beginning of 2^p:

1: 30.102999%
2: 17.609125%
3: 12.493873%
4: 09.691001%
5: 07.918124%
6: 06.694678%
7: 05.799194%
8: 05.115252%
9: 04.575749%

Here’s a graph of the actual relative frequencies of 1..9 as the leading digit of 2^p (open images in a new window if they appear distorted):


And here’s a graph for the predicted frequencies of 1..9 as the leading digit of 2^p, as calculated by the log(1+1/d) of Benford’s law:


The two graphs agree very well. But Benford’s law applies to more than one leading digit. Here are actual and predicted graphs for the first two leading digits of 2^p, 10..99:



And actual and predicted graphs for the first three leading digits of 2^p, 100..999:



But you can represent the leading digit of 2^p in another way: using an adaptation of the famous Ulam spiral. Suppose powers of 2 are represented as a spiral of squares that begins like this, with 2^0 in the center, 2^1 to the right of center, 2^2 above 2^1, and so on:

←←←⮲
432↑
501↑
6789

If the digits of 2^p start with 1, fill the square in question; if the digits of 2^p don’t start with 1, leave the square empty. When you do this, you get this interesting pattern (the purple square at the very center represents 2^0):

Ulam-like power-spiral for 2^p where 1 is the leading digit


Here’s a higher-resolution power-spiral for 1 as the leading digit:

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 1 (higher resolution)


And here, at higher resolution still, are power-spirals for all the possible leading digits of 2^p, 1..9 (some spirals look very similar, so you have to compare those ones carefully):

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 1 (very high resolution)


Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 2


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 3


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 4


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 5


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 6


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 7


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 8


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 9


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 1..9 (animated)


Now try the power-spiral of 2^p, ld = 1, in some other bases:

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 1, base = 9


Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 1, b = 15


You can also try power-spirals for other n^p. Here’s 3^p:

Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 10


Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 2, b = 10


Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 4


Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 7


Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 18


Elsewhere Other-Accessible…

Wake the Snake — an earlier look at the digits of 2^p

Wake the Snake

In my story “Kopfwurmkundalini”, I imagined the square root of 2 as an infinitely long worm or snake whose endlessly varying digit-segments contained all stories ever (and never) written:

• √2 = 1·414213562373095048801688724209698078569671875376948073…

But there’s another way to get all stories ever written from the number 2. You don’t look at the root(s) of 2, but at the powers of 2:

• 2 = 2^1 = 2
• 4 = 2^2 = 2*2
• 8 = 2^3 = 2*2*2
• 16 = 2^4 = 2*2*2*2
• 32 = 2^5 = 2*2*2*2*2
• 64 = 2^6 = 2*2*2*2*2*2
• 128 = 2^7 = 2*2*2*2*2*2*2
• 256 = 2^8 = 2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2
• 512 = 2^9 = 2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2
• 1024 = 2^10
• 2048 = 2^11
• 4096 = 2^12
• 8192 = 2^13
• 16384 = 2^14
• 32768 = 2^15
• 65536 = 2^16
• 131072 = 2^17
• 262144 = 2^18
• 524288 = 2^19
• 1048576 = 2^20
• 2097152 = 2^21
• 4194304 = 2^22
• 8388608 = 2^23
• 16777216 = 2^24
• 33554432 = 2^25
• 67108864 = 2^26
• 134217728 = 2^27
• 268435456 = 2^28
• 536870912 = 2^29
• 1073741824 = 2^30
[...]

The powers of 2 are like an ever-lengthening snake swimming across a pool. The snake has an endlessly mutating head and a rhythmically waving tail with a regular but ever-more complex wake. That is, the leading digits of 2^p don’t repeat but the trailing digits do. Look at the single final digit of 2^p, for example:

• 02 = 2^1
• 04 = 2^2
• 08 = 2^3
• 16 = 2^4
• 32 = 2^5
• 64 = 2^6
• 128 = 2^7
• 256 = 2^8
• 512 = 2^9
• 1024 = 2^10
• 2048 = 2^11
• 4096 = 2^12
• 8192 = 2^13
• 16384 = 2^14
• 32768 = 2^15
• 65536 = 2^16
• 131072 = 2^17
• 262144 = 2^18
• 524288 = 2^19
• 1048576 = 2^20
• 2097152 = 2^21
• 4194304 = 2^22
[...]

The final digit of 2^p falls into a loop: 2 → 4 → 8 → 6 → 2 → 4→ 8…

Now try the final two digits of 2^p:

02 = 2^1
04 = 2^2
08 = 2^3
16 = 2^4
32 = 2^5
64 = 2^6
• 128 = 2^7
• 256 = 2^8
• 512 = 2^9
• 1024 = 2^10
• 2048 = 2^11
• 4096 = 2^12
• 8192 = 2^13
• 16384 = 2^14
• 32768 = 2^15
• 65536 = 2^16
• 131072 = 2^17
• 262144 = 2^18
• 524288 = 2^19
• 1048576 = 2^20
• 2097152 = 2^21
• 4194304 = 2^22
• 8388608 = 2^23
• 16777216 = 2^24
• 33554432 = 2^25
• 67108864 = 2^26
• 134217728 = 2^27
• 268435456 = 2^28
• 536870912 = 2^29
• 1073741824 = 2^30
[...]

Now there’s a longer loop: 02 → 04 → 08 → 16 → 32 → 64 → 28 → 56 → 12 → 24 → 48 → 96 → 92 → 84 → 68 → 36 → 72 → 44 → 88 → 76 → 52 → 04 → 08 → 16 → 32 → 64 → 28… Any number of trailing digits, 1 or 2 or one trillion, falls into a loop. It just takes longer as the number of trailing digits increases.

That’s the tail of the snake. At the other end, the head of the snake, the digits don’t fall into a loop (because of the carries from the lower digits). So, while you can get only 2, 4, 8 and 6 as the final digits of 2^p, you can get any digit but 0 as the first digit of 2^p. Indeed, I conjecture (but can’t prove) that not only will all integers eventually appear as the leading digits of 2^p, but they will do so infinitely often. Think of a number and it will appear as the leading digits of 2^p. Let’s try the numbers 1, 12, 123, 1234, 12345…:

16 = 2^4
128 = 2^7
12379400392853802748... = 2^90
12340799625835686853... = 2^1545
12345257952011458590... = 2^34555
12345695478410965346... = 2^63293
12345673811591269861... = 2^4869721
12345678260232358911... = 2^5194868
12345678999199154389... = 2^62759188

But what about the numbers 9, 98, 987, 986, 98765… as leading digits of 2^p? They don’t appear as quickly:

9007199254740992 = 2^53
98079714615416886934... = 2^186
98726397006685494828... = 2^1548
98768356967522174395... = 2^21257
98765563827287722773... = 2^63296
98765426081858871289... = 2^5194871
98765430693066680199... = 2^11627034
98765432584491513519... = 2^260855656
98765432109571471006... = 2^1641098748

Why do fragments of 123456789 appear much sooner than fragments of 987654321? Well, even though all integers occur infinitely often as leading digits of 2^p, some integers occur more often than others, as it were. The leading digits of 2^p are actually governed by a fascinating mathematical phenomenon known as Benford’s law, which states, for example, that the single first digit, d, will occur with the frequency log10(1 + 1/d). Here are the actual frequencies of 1..9 for all powers of 2 up to 2^101000, compared with the estimate by Benford’s law:

1: 30% of leading digits ↔ 30.1% estimated
2: 17.55% ↔ 17.6%
3: 12.45% ↔ 12.49%
4: 09.65% ↔ 9.69%
5: 07.89% ↔ 7.92%
6: 06.67% ↔ 6.69%
7: 05.77% ↔ 5.79%
8: 05.09% ↔ 5.11%
9: 04.56% ↔ 4.57%

Because (inter alia) 1 appears as the first digit of 2^p far more often than 9 does, the fragments of 123456789 appear faster than the fragments of 987654321. Mutatis mutandis, the same applies in all other bases (apart from bases that are powers of 2, where there’s a single leading digit, 1, 2, 4, 8…, followed by 0s). But although a number like 123456789 occurs much frequently than 987654321 in 2^p expressed in base 10 (and higher), both integers occur infinitely often.

As do all other integers. And because stories can be expressed as numbers, all stories ever (and never) written appear in the powers of 2. Infinitely often. You’ll just have to trim the tail of the story-snake.

Breeding Bunnies

Front cover of The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio
The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the Extraordinary Number of Nature, Art and Beauty, Mario Livio (Headline Review 2003)

A good short popular guide to perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most irrational, of all numbers: the golden ratio or phi (φ), which is approximately equal to 1·6180339887498948482… Prominent in mathematics since at least the ancient Greeks and Euclid, phi is found in many places in nature too, from pineapples and sunflowers to the flight of hawks. Livio catalogues its appearances in both maths and nature, looking closely at the Fibonacci sequence and rabbit-breeding, before going on to debunk mistaken claims that phi also appears a lot in art, music and poetry. Dalí certainly used it, but da Vinci, Debussy and Virgil almost certainly didn’t. Nor, almost certainly, did the builders of the Parthenon and pyramids. Finally, he examines what has famously been called (by the physicist Eugene Wiegner) the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics: why is this human invention so good at describing the behaviour of the Universe? Livio quotes one of the best short answers I’ve seen:

Human logic was forced on us by the physical world and is therefore consistent with it. Mathematics derives from logic. That is why mathematics is consistent with the physical world. (ch. 9, “Is God a mathematician?”, pg. 252)

It’s not hard to recommend a book that quotes everyone from Johannes Kepler and William Blake to Lewis Carroll, Christopher Marlowe and Jef Raskin, “the creator of the Macintosh computer”, whose answer is given above. Recreational mathematicians should also find lots of ideas for further investigation, from fractal strings to the fascinating number patterns governed by Benford’s law. It isn’t just human beings who look after number one: as a leading figure, 1 turns up much more often in data from the real world, and in mathematical constructs like the Fibonacci sequence, than intuition would lead you to expect. If you’d like to learn more about that and about many other aspects of mathematics, hunt down a copy of this book.


Elsewhere other-posted:

Roses Are Golden – φ and floral homicide