Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lies, Darned Lies, and Dashed Statistics.

I heard a variation on an old joke, you know the one about someone being knocked down by a car every ninety seconds in the UK and he’s getting sick and tired of it? Doesn’t improve with age but it did get me thinking about longevity. Even assuming all illnesses had been eradicated and that everyone reached maturity but never aged a day thereafter, there would still be accidents and people would die. I started wondering, based purely on averages and statistics, just how long the ageless human should expect to live if he/she was immune to all disease?

In order to answer the question it will take some creative mathematics. Furthermore I limited myself to the United Kingdom for the figures as otherwise the numbers become meaningless. The statistics represent a rough snapshot of about now(ish).

So there are 64 million people alive in the UK today. In 2010 there were 17,200 deaths not related to disease or old age. This equates to a one in 3,720 chance of suffering a fatal accident each year and thus on average everyone will live to be 3,720 years old.

Yet as per the title – pinched from either Benjamin Disraeli’s autobiography or a quote from Mark Twain, take your pick – you can use statistics to prove or disprove anything, one simply has to load the question in such a way as to get the answer you want. For example I could prove any sample of the population were confused by the concept of gender. To do this I ask a simple question: “Are you male or female?” At least 90% (and probably over 98%) will say “male” or will answer “female”. Both are wrong for the correct answer is “Yes” (ie I am male or female). Agreed, pedantry personified but it proves the point you can prove anything with statistics.

So getting back to this average lifespan I now theoretically have of 3,720 years. This is, of course, an average and some unfortunates will never live long enough to vote, legally drink alcohol, or even breed. To balance this there will be those who live twice as long, voting over 7,000 times, drinking copious amounts of alcohol (without associated health problems, of course), and becoming celibate as soon as they see the downside to breeding for seven millennia.

Again, statistically speaking there will be others who live ten, twenty, a hundred, or a thousand times longer than the average. There will even be a handful or two who, statistically speaking, will theoretically outlive the universe (always assuming the universe has a finite existence but that is an entirely different problem). As the universe, by its very definition, is everything and anyone of thing in it is a part of that universe, nothing can survive when the universe ends. Thus statistically, the non-aging, ever-healthy human could live to be as little as a year old or, if luck is with them, they could see the end of the universe.

It did occur to me that to witness the momentous occasion that is the end of the universe would be quite something – certainly more exciting than the millennium celebrations (which I still maintain was a year early). And think of all the other landmark events which could be experienced. The final episodes of the Archers and Coronation Street. Ant and Dec’s thankfully short-lived solo careers. The first meeting with an alien race, always assuming there are other intelligent beings in the universe and we do meet them (if there isn’t the rest of existence is going to be a tad tedious). The invention and subsequent banning of time travel when we work out that, at least statistically, someone will outlive the universe an infinite number of times over by never quite reaching the end of it (would they ever be able to resist finding out what they’re missing?)

But between these and millions more momentous events there is nothing but boredom. Mind-numbing ennui experienced many times before. Thankfully such won’t prove a problem as statistics always lie – as shown by the sample poll.

1 comment:

  1. I was just wondering why I hadn't seen Methuselah recently. ;)