In his wonderful new book Zona (“A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room”) Geoff Dyer, who is interested—profoundly interested, I’d say—in the subject of boredom, mentions a voiceover remark that everything’s “hopelessly boring”:

a remark that makes one wonder how quickly a film can become  boring. Which film holds the record in that particular regard? And wouldn’t that film automatically qualify as exciting and fast-moving if it had been able to enfold the viewer so rapidly in the itchy blanket of tedium?

A paradox. If a film becomes boring quickly enough—that’s interesting!

It reminds me of something … but what? Oh, yes. The paradox of the Smallest Uninteresting Number. What is the smallest integer about which there is nothing interesting to say?

I discuss this in The Information, in the chapter called “The Sense of Randomness”; you can see why there would be a connection between the admittedly not very scientific notion of “interest” and the possibly more significant notion of randomness. Does an uninteresting number have to be, in some sense, random? Sixteen is surely interesting, by virtue of being the fourth power of two.

Number theorists name entire classes of interesting numbers: prime numbers, perfect numbers, squares and cubes, Fibonacci numbers, factorials. The number 593 is more interesting than it looks; it happens to be the sum of nine squared and two to the ninth—thus a “Leyland number.” Wikipedia also devotes an article to the number 9,814,072,356. It is the largest holodigital square …

Anyway, thanks to Geoff Dyer, you can already see where this is heading. If you could find a boring number—a number about which there was nothing special to say—it would instantly become the Smallest Uninteresting Number. That would be interesting.


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