How to imagine 52 factorial

I remember being fascinated by a description of eternity in "The Shepard Boy," from the Brothers Grimm:

In lower pomerania is the Diamond mountain, which is two miles high, two miles wide, and two miles deep. Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.

Similarly, Scott Czepiel has a great essay on imagine the immensity of 52!, or 80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000, which is the number of ways an ordinary deck of cards can be shuffled:

This number is beyond astronomically large. I say beyond astronomically large because most numbers that we already consider to be astronomically large are mere infinitesimal fractions of this number. So, just how large is it? Let's try to wrap our puny human brains around the magnitude of this number with a fun little theoretical exercise. Start a timer that will count down the number of seconds from 52! to 0. We're going to see how much fun we can have before the timer counts down all the way.

Start by picking your favorite spot on the equator. You're going to walk around the world along the equator, but take a very leisurely pace of one step every billion years. The equatorial circumference of the Earth is 40,075,017 meters. Make sure to pack a deck of playing cards, so you can get in a few trillion hands of solitaire between steps. After you complete your round the world trip, remove one drop of water from the Pacific Ocean. Now do the same thing again: walk around the world at one billion years per step, removing one drop of water from the Pacific Ocean each time you circle the globe. The Pacific Ocean contains 707.6 million cubic kilometers of water. Continue until the ocean is empty. When it is, take one sheet of paper and place it flat on the ground. Now, fill the ocean back up and start the entire process all over again, adding a sheet of paper to the stack each time you’ve emptied the ocean.

Do this until the stack of paper reaches from the Earth to the Sun. Take a glance at the timer, you will see that the three left-most digits haven’t even changed. You still have 8.063e67 more seconds to go. 1 Astronomical Unit, the distance from the Earth to the Sun, is defined as 149,597,870.691 kilometers. So, take the stack of papers down and do it all over again. One thousand times more. Unfortunately, that still won’t do it. There are still more than 5.385e67 seconds remaining. You’re just about a third of the way done.

To pass the remaining time, start shuffling your deck of cards. Every billion years deal yourself a 5-card poker hand. Each time you get a royal flush, buy yourself a lottery ticket. A royal flush occurs in one out of every 649,740 hands. If that ticket wins the jackpot, throw a grain of sand into the Grand Canyon. Keep going and when you’ve filled up the canyon with sand, remove one ounce of rock from Mt. Everest. Now empty the canyon and start all over again. When you’ve leveled Mt. Everest, look at the timer, you still have 5.364e67 seconds remaining. Mt. Everest weighs about 357 trillion pounds. You barely made a dent. If you were to repeat this 255 times, you would still be looking at 3.024e64 seconds. The timer would finally reach zero sometime during your 256th attempt. Exercise for the reader: at what point exactly would the timer reach zero?

Michael Stevens of Vsauce made a good YouTube video visualization of Czepiel's essay (above).

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