May 25, 2005
Two Idle Thoughts
This refusing to comment on current events is working out just swell, isn't it? See, this is why I can't make small talk at parties - I'm only really interested in religion and politics.
I think I'm going to have to significantly lower my threshold of what I consider non-trivial enough to post. This will likely involve me simply posting every nonsense thought that occurs to me. Two examples should suffice to illustrate why I have resisted this approach so far:
I was ruminating, for no reason at all, on the legend of Cassandra. Beloved by Apollo, she was granted by him the gift of prophecy, to see the future with perfect clarity. However, for spurning the god's advances, she was cursed with the proviso that her prophecies would never be believed by anyone.2.
It occurred to me that if Apollo's original gift had been bona fides then his spiteful codicil would have been superfluous, because it follows naturally that a prediction, at least of events other than natural disasters and similar phenomena beyond human control, can only be accurate if it is not believed. Had the people of Troy accepted Cassandra's forecasts of doom, they would have acted to prevent these events from occurring, thereby making her prophecies false. A prophetess can only correctly perceive the future actions of people if these actions remain uninfluenced by that perception.
If I had the necessary theoretical grounding, I could perhaps proceed now to compose some monograph on pre-Homeric conceptions of the Uncertainty Principle, but, thankfully, I don't.
Reading through some neglected back issues of Interzone, I discovered in David Langford's list of brief obituaries that the number of the year of Christopher Reeve's birth (discounting the century) was the same number as his age at death, that is, fifty-five. Morbidly, I began to consider how the number of people of whom this would also be true would fluctuate over the years of any century.And there you have it.
In most centuries, including the 20th, and, for that matter, the 21st, there would be a significant peak at the beginning of the century accounting for the deaths of the very young. I would guess - students of infant mortality statistics should be able to make a better calculation - this peak would sharply decline at about '08 to a very low figure which would remain low throughout the rest of the century before rising again in the decades of the '50s to '80s (earlier centuries would have earlier inclines, but even in the 20th the impact of Third World lifespans on the average would bring the first appearance of a peak quite early). I was born in 1966, and so have only a moderate, and not extreme, chance of fitting into this numerological quirk myself - touchwood. After the '80s, the numbers steeply decline again.
Depressingly, the 20th Century is marked by a prominent peak in the first three years of the 1920s, these being the birth years of those who turned 20, 21 and 22 during the years of, respectively, 1940, 1942 and 1944. This spike is most noticeable for the populations of Europe and the Mediterranean regions, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and North America, before disappearing almost entirely in these areas, although parts of South East Asia would have such a peak also appearing in the 1930s.