How Many People Have Ever Lived?

Population growth

Back in the 1970s, an unknown writer said that most of the people who had ever lived were alive then [1]. The idea persists, even though it’s not true.

From what I can find, estimates of the number of people ever born range from 50 to 120 billion, with 6 billion now living.

The number intrigues me on two fronts. First, if people are reincarnated, everyone now alive might have had somewhere between 9 and 20 past lives. That’s a useful number to throw out when gong the rounds with believers.

Second, and more interesting for me, this is a fundamental concept when trying to understand “pedigree collapse” — go back far enough and each of us has more theoretical ancestors than there were people living at the time. Therefore, we must, each of us, descend many thousands and millions of times from the same relatively small number of people. We are each our own cousin many times over.

I was pleased to find an article by Carl Haub at the Population Reference Bureau, How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth? He thinks the number must be about 106 billion, with 6.2 billion living in 2002.

1. Some reports say it was Annie Dillard. Some reports say the number was 50%, some say it was 75%.

Genome Quilts

Genome QuiltsTurn your DNA sequence into a quilt pattern? I was skeptical, but now I get it. Beverly St. Clair at Genome Quilts had the idea of turning the repeating bases in a DNA molecule into a quilt pattern. She created four different quilt blocks, representing adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). By repeating the blocks in the same order the bases appear on any given DNA sequence, she creates a personalized quilt. Pretty nifty. Prices for commissioned work range from $1,000 to $5,000. I predict the pattern will become as classic as Wedding Ring and Jacob’s Ladder.

Personal Genetics

23andmeThe big news in the genetic world this month is personal genomic testing. With an infusion of cash from Google, a Silicon Valley company, 23andMe, has launched a genetic testing service. Customers pay $999 and give a DNA sample in the form of saliva. The company genotypes 580,000 SNPs across the 46 human chromosomes. After testing, customers can log in to a personal account and explore their genetic makeup. Because SNPs are the source of inherited traits, the result is personal access to a wealth of medical information.

New York Times article article

Two other companies offer a similar service. deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik genotypes 1 million SNPs for $985. Navigenics in California will genotype 1 million SNPs for $2,500. Expect to see prices plummet over the next few years. Also expect some major battles with insurance companies over access to the information.

County Seals

Do a Google image search on “county seals” and you’ll see that they (and state seals) are usually poorly designed. I would venture to guess that most were thrown together over lunch by some of the folks in the back office. Every now and then one stands out, either because it uses legitimate heraldry or because the efforts of a graphic designer shine through. Denver’s county seal straddles the two categories, for a nice effect.

As government grows in complexity and professionalism, bad designs are bound to fall by the wayside. Allan Showalter has been fighting the good fight in McHenry County, Illinois. Here are two of his entries:

  • How To Create An Official Seal – Part 1: The Mechanics
  • How To Create An Official Seal – Part 2: Credentials

Update Jan. 11, 2019: These links have been deleted by the owner. Too bad.

Historical Appellate Review

federal-circuitCraig Manson at GeneaBlogie has a new and interesting project, the Historical Appellate Review Project:

You’ve heard the story that Great-Uncle Festus was a no-good horse thief. But was he really? Did he get a fair trial? Did he have a good lawyer or even a lawyer at all? Can his name be cleared all these decades later? We might be able to help!

HARP, the Historical Appellate Review Project, is dedicated to setting the record straight. Using state-of-the-art genealogical and legal research procedures, HARP will investigate your family’s alleged black sheep and let you know if their names might be cleared! In certain cases, we even may be able to go to court and get the official record changed!

I think immediately of great great grandpa Wilford Luce, sentenced in 1862 to a year in prison for his part in an assault of Utah Territorial Governor John Dawson, and Wilford’s brother Jason Luce, executed in 1864 for killing a man in a knife fight. I’ve been told by various folks that both of them were eventually pardoned. I got a copy of the executive order releasing Wilford Luce from prison in December 1862, but I haven’t verified Uncle Jason’s pardon. Maybe it’s time to wrap up that detail.

Scientific Illiteracy—Sad

Only about a third of Americans believe that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well supported by the evidence, while just as many say that it is just one of many theories and has not been supported by the evidence. The rest say they don’t know enough to say. Forty-five percent of Americans also believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago. A third of Americans are biblical literalists who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.

The Good Life

Good Life

From the website of the Positive Psychology Center comes some interesting insights on the Good Life:

Some of the findings of positive psychology seem like common sense. Does this add anything to what we already know about the good life? It is easy to claim something is obvious after the evidence is in. It is the job of science to empirically prove or disprove what we consider as the common wisdom. Sometimes this common “wisdom” is true, sometimes it is not. One person’s wisdom can be another person’s folly. Positive psychology research is discovering some things that might not be considered wisdom to all.

To name just a few:

  1. Wealth is only weakly related to happiness both within and across nations, particularly when income is above the poverty level (Diener & Diener, 1996).
  2. Activities that make people happy in small doses – such as shopping, good food and making money – do not lead to fulfillment in the long term, indicating that these have quickly diminishing returns (Myers, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
  3. Engaging in an experience that produces ‘flow’ is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what they will get out of it. The activity is its own reward. Flow is experienced when one’s skills are sufficient for a challenging activity, in the pursuit of a clear goal, with immediate feedback on progress toward the goal. In such an activity, concentration is fully engaged in the moment, self-awareness disappears, and sense of time is distorted (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
  4. People who express gratitude on a regular basis have better physical health, optimism, progress toward goals, well-being, and help others more (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000).
  5. Trying to maximize happiness can lead to unhappiness (Schwartz et al., 2002).
  6. People who witness others perform good deeds experience an emotion called ‘elevation’ and this motivates them to perform their own good deeds (Haidt, 2000).
  7. Optimism can protect people from mental and physical illness (Taylor et al., 2000).
  8. People who are optimistic or happy have better performance in work, school and sports, are less depressed, have fewer physical health problems, and have better relationships with other people. Further, optimism can be measured and it can be learned (Seligman, 1991; Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005).
  9. People who report more positive emotions in young adulthood live longer and healthier lives (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001).
  10. Physicians experiencing positive emotion tend to make more accurate diagnoses (Isen, 1993).
  11. Healthy human development can take place under conditions of even great adversity due to a process of resilience that is common and completely ordinary (Masten, 2001).
  12. There are benefits associated with disclosive writing. Individuals who write about traumatic events are physically healthier than control groups that do not. Individuals who write about the perceived benefits of traumatic events achieve the same physical health benefits as those who write only about the trauma (King & Miner, 2000). Individuals who write about their life goals and their best imagined future achieve similar physical health benefits to those who write only about traumatic events. Further, writing about life goals is significantly less distressing than writing about trauma, and is associated with enhanced well-being (King, 2001).
  13. People are unable to predict how long they will be happy or sad following an important event (Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg & Wheatley, 1998; Wilson, Meyers, & Gilbert, 2001). These researchers found that people typically overestimate how long they will be sad following a bad event, such as a romantic breakup, yet fail to learn from repeated experiences that their predictions are wrong.


Vivian Luce Swanstrom

My grandmother Vivian Luce Swanstrom would have been 106 today. I remember her fondly every year on her birthday.