My teenage son and I were having a discussion about boredom (his), the infinite nature of our minds and the universe, and the massiveness of the unseen Earth.

Our disagreement centered mostly on how much of the planet he’s seen, his claim being that he’s seen enough to qualify as being more than “none percent”. I saw this as an opportunity to teach him about comparisons and magnitude. So, in an email, I broke it down for him and “did the math”, leaving as his exercise the task of mathematically adjusting for assumptions. (Note: I used WolframAlpha for the land area calculations. I had to use Google to get the area data for specific places.)

Dear son,

Landmass of Utah = 85 thousand square miles

Landmass of Illinois = 58 thousand square miles

Landmass of Florida = 66 thousand square miles

Landmass of Ghana = 88 thousand square miles

Landmass of France = 211 thousand square miles

Adding these up gives us 508 thousand square miles

Earth’s landmass = 58 million square miles

Dividing 508 thousand square miles by 58 million square miles = 0.0087673793103448.

You’ve “seen” approximately 0.009% of the world. The good news is, that’s .008% more than your initial estimate!

Now for the assumptions:

1. I’ve assumed that you’ve seen 100% of the countries and states you’ve been to.

2. I’ve left out some places you’ve been to, like Guaymas, Mexico, because you were too young to remember them.

3. I’ve left out Cozumel, Mexico and Castaway Cay/Nassau in the Bahamas. The combined landmass of what you actually saw is too insignificant in size to make a difference in the calculation.

4. I’ve left out the flights over land and water to get to these places. I don’t think that can count as being “seen”.

5. I’ve left out the water parts of the earth because of your discussion about impossibility of visiting such depths. Plus it makes the math unnecessarily more difficult to compare volume (depth) with area (surface).

6. I’ve left out the cruise because the amount of ocean surface area you saw on our trip was limited to what you physically looked out over the water to see vs. doing other activities.

To correct for assumption #1, we can downgrade the landmass of what you’ve seen of the world to just the cities and towns you’ve been to, even though you’ve not really come close to seeing “all” of those locations. Just specific streets and buildings.

I’m leaving that up to you to look up.

You don’t even have to know any more math than addition and division, and you may use a calculator.:)Just go to http://google.com and type inarea of paris, france. Change the place-name for each city, town, and national park you’ve visited. Note the landmass of the place. Add the landmasses together and divide that total by 58,000,000. Then, subtract that from the 0.0087673793103448 number to get the adjusted amount.That’s how much of the world you’ve seen. 🙂