Sunday, February 14, 2010

Scientific notation in Avatar

Despite complete disregard for their work by leadership, scientists are the heroes of Avatar.  And who better to teach scientific notation?
GRACE: Alright, look -- I don’t have the answers yet, I’m just now starting to even frame the questions. What we think we know -- is that there’s some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of the trees. Like the synapses between neurons. Each tree has ten to the fourth connections to the trees around it, and there are ten to the twelfth trees on Pandora --

SELFRIDGE: That’s a lot I’m guessing.

GRACE: That’s more connections than the human brain. You get it? It’s a network -- a global network. And the Na’vi can access it -- they can upload and download data -- memories -- at sites like the one you destroyed.

So we multiply 104 and 1012 (perhaps dividing by 2 so as not to count connections twice), and get 1016 (within 1 order of magnitude).  A 1988 article in Annual Review of Neuroscience suggests a human brain has  100 billion (1011) neurons and 100 trillion (1014) synapses, so the Avatar claim seems reasonable.

Can we quantify human memory like this?  Yeah, probably.

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