In an earlier post I discussed genealogy, and the fact that everyone of Western descent is related to every successful child-bearing line of ninth century Europe, on average, some 36,650 times over. Really, by the 10th generation of the rear-view mirror you find 1024 ancestors, by the 20th generation you have more than a million. The takeaway: In the past 600 years it has taken more than a million ancestors… to make YOU. That’s just straightforward math. By the 50th generation you break the one quadrillion mark… and there haven’t been one quadrillion humans in the entire span of our species, so that means there is some serious genealogical overlap! Sometimes I get lost playing on the calculator; I remember doing most of this genealogy math back in 2000, and when I later saw such movies as Underworld, the 2003 vampire/werewolf flick in which there is just one last descendant of the Corvinus clan, I stifled a laugh, knowing what they didn’t. The idea that there could be ONE last descendant of any person who lived 1500 years ago displays an inherent misunderstanding of how genealogy and descent works. It’s like presuming the atoms from one teardrop shed into the ocean 1500 years ago could be drawn out today in-tact with a beaker. Simple physics (and a previous post) shows that every human cell is made up of some 100 trillion atoms, and every teardrop is made up of tens of trillions of such cells. The reality is that the one teardrop’s atoms have dispersed into every depth of the ocean… and not only into the ocean, but into the atmosphere through evaporation… back onto land through rainfall… into growing food in the ground… even into people who’ve eaten that food and breathed that air. That tear shed 1500 years ago has literally seeped into the fabric of the entire world today.
Physicist Lawrence Krauss commonly makes reference to the fact that every breath we take contains a few stray atoms from Julius Caesar’s last breath… similar argument, this. Now the same analogy would not necessarily be true of someone’s dying breath across the globe ten or fifty years ago, but 2000 years is enough time for those atoms to disperse far and wide. The atoms in our solar system are between five billion and 13.7 billion years old; there is no atom on earth or in your body right now that could be under five billion years old; they are simply and endlessly recycled. Whatever an atom is doing at this moment is assuredly not what it has always been doing, nor what it will continue doing. Make no mistake; heavier atoms might become locked up in rocks for millennia, others in the bedrock of the earth for billions of years, but hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen are part of a more interactive recycling chain in the atmosphere/biosphere. These lighter elements are commonly recycled; they bond into molecules, disband, rejoin, become part of water, become part of something organic, travel the earth; in fact, outlive the earth. With these simple dynamics, given enough time the atoms that at one particular moment came together to form a single teardrop will have dispersed over the entire globe and into billions of other objects. Same principle in genetics. To return to the concept of genealogy, Brutus does not seem to have had any successful issue, but any other of those assassins of Caesar that fateful Ides of March who had lineages that survived more than a few hundred years spread a single sperm that 2000 years later has seeped into the DNA of every person who possesses even a genetic toehold of Western heritage today… and not just once but literally millions of times over.
By the way, just to be clear, the same thing is true of pee. Not to undermine the poetic lyricism of all that I just wrote above, but if someone peed into the ocean 1500 years ago…