baudrunner's space: You are the nth person
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Monday, January 21, 2008

You are the nth person

According to the Discover magazine column "20 things you didn't know about...death", about 100 billion people have died since humans began. A more scientific analysis is found in a paper titled How many people have ever lived? Keyfitz's calculation updated, in which it is declared that 96,100,000,000 people have lived on the earth. For the average reader, the difference between the numbers is moot. The mathematics holds the wild card and frankly I don't understand it. I take issue with the math...

The world's population in the year 1,000 AD is estimated to have been about 310,000,000. But if we were to trace back our lineage from the present time and added up all the people who contributed to our DNA, our parents, their parents, our great grandparents (all 8 of them), and so on and continued back for a thousand years we would arrive at a number which far exceeds the number of people alive then. And yet we can't deny that we are here, as a product of their consecutive combined fecundity. Go back another thousand years and the number of people who have contributed to your DNA is astronomical. If we assume for the sake of argument that a generation is 25 years then we can conclude that over the course of a century four generations of parents and over a thousand years 40 generations of parents have yielded our DNA. The formula for calculating the total number in our parental line over a period of one thousand years is 2+2^2+2^3..+2^40. Over two thousand years we simply continue adding ..+2^40+2^41..+2^80. The number is huge. Since 1,000,000 B.C. the number cannot occupy the average calculator's display, EXP function notwithstanding. Much larger than the total number of people estimated to have ever lived. In fact, much larger than the number of atoms in the observable universe.

Some things can not be explained. No matter to what faith or secular realm of agnosticism or atheism that one adheres to, one cannot deny in all honesty that the creation of this Universe is a miraculous event. That makes us the product of that miraculous event. This reality, this world, the life upon it, all miraculous products of a miraculous event. All those progenitors - just another miracle.

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