Strange but true

Opinions - May 1st, 1998

by Bill Sones & Rich Sones, Ph.D.

Q: Aren’t we humans all one big family—and not just meta­phorically speaking?

A: If you trace your family tree back just 30 generations, and assume 25 years for a gen­eration, your ancestry over this 750 years encompasses first two parents, then four grandpar­ents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, 32 great-great-great grandparents, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, 2,048… finally, 1,073,741,824 people!

But 750 years ago it was the 13th century and there were fewer than a billion people in the world. Which means that more recently than a scant 30 generations ago, your mother’s and father’s gene lines were merged, with ancestors com­mon to both.

Follow your lineage back 50 generations and the number of common parental ancestors grows enormous. In fact, esti­mates Guy Murchie in The Seven Mysteries of Life, the entire human species can be encompassed “within the scope of 50th cousinhood.”

If this estimate is correct, it would mean that “your own ancestors, whoever you are, in­clude not only some blacks, some Chinese and some Ar­abs, but all the blacks, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, Latins, Eskimos and every other possible ances­tor who lived on Earth around A.D. 700. It is virtually certain, therefore, that you are a direct descendant of Muhammad and every fertile predecessor of his, including Krishna, Confucius, Abraham, Buddha, Caesar, Ishmael and Judas Iscariot.”

Q: You’re going for surgery that requires general anesthe­sia. Any chance you’ll be able to overhear what the operating team says while you’re uncon­scious?

A: Don’t rule it out. A woman named Karen had an oral cyst removed, then was told in the recovery room that everything was just fine, report Philip Zimbardo and Ann Weber in Psychology. But for days afterward, she felt depressed and at night had bad dreams.

Hypnotized by a therapist who asked her what was wrong, she blurted out, “The cyst may be cancerous!” This, it turned out, was exactly what the surgeon had said minutes into the operation, before a bi­opsy proved  him wrong.

Karen’s depres­sion lifted after she received as­surances the cyst was, in­deed, benign. Karen’s case is not unusual. “Our hearing sensitivity ap­pears to remain on alert even under adequate anesthesia… Because of this sensitivity, even casual remarks in the operat­ing room can be dangerous.” On the positive side, “therapeu­tic suggestions during anesthe­sia may improve patients’ post­operative recovery, as shown by reduced use of morphine and earlier discharge from the hospital.”

Q: The Earth is estimated at four-and-a-half billion years old. If geologic time were some­how compressed into a single calendar year, on what date would human beings appear?

A: On Jan. 1, Earth formed out of matter surrounding the sun, then in mid-March the old­est known rocks formed, sea life sprang up in May, plants and animals emerged in late No­vember, dinosaurs ruled in mid-December but bowed out by Dec. 26, say Paul Hewitt et al in Conceptual Physical Sci­ence.

Our species Homo Sapiens wouldn’t make its debut until Dec. 31 at around 11 p.m. All of recorded history would take place in the last few seconds of New Year’s Eve!