The Enormity of Numbers

Sunday 25th March

Every single human being is wonderful, even those few flawed and broken, or what we might consider not quite whole humans, are wonderful.  The texture of their skin, even when broken and cracked and chapped – soon heals, the gentle fall and curl of eyelashes never fails to amaze, the eyes themselves, each a window to the soul within, the hands which express and show and hold and sometimes harm.  All of it – and each and every one is marvelous.  And when you occasionally are in a crowd, at a concert say, or a football match, or just shuffling along down a tube corridor, you cannot help but wonder that we are all so similar and yet each of us quite quite unique too in this mass of say a few thousand.  Then when you think about a city like London, which I always considered must be the largest in the world but which is rapidly being overtaken especially in the far East, with its teeming how-many-millions of people, all different but all basically the same, how large that number becomes, suddenly we are into the millions.  The human population is estimated at about seven billion, which is about one thousand cities of London full, and again each one much the same and yet vastly different.  At this point one begins to wonder at the enormity of numbers, to try to physically count them would be impossible and we would die before we achieved it.  And human beings are far and away from being the most populous of species, even among the animals; there are far more fish of some types in the sea and most insect species number far more individuals, which we can only assume are similar but each one different too.  Then we have the plants, where billions are incredibly small fry; has anyone ever tried to estimate how many individual grass plants there might be.  When we try to think about bacteria and all microbes numbers are simply no use to us, as there are millions on each individual human let alone in the air around us.  And I ask myself, why this enormity of numbers should exist; is it DNA run riot, or just that there is real safety for a species in numbers? But we look at numbers from the wrong perspective, we each have our single identity, and we therefore look at all numbers as multiples of ourselves, whereas we should maybe be looking at mankind as one, and grass and ant as one too.  Then perhaps we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by the enormity of numbers.