Monday, February 4, 2013

The Distant Ancients

The mention of Greek Philosophers and Mathematicians is often accompanied by the word 'Ancient'. Actually, this label is a bit misleading.

To illustrate, let us take Euclid* as an example. He is said to have lived around 300 B.C. If we roughly assume an average lifespan of 40 years**, and that Euclid was the ancestor of a person living today (I like to imagine it is me), there would be merely 56 fathers between them.

If that descendant had a penchant for memory games, or was very proud, it would not be too hard for him to memorize the list of names that links him to Euclid.
From this viewpoint, 'Ancient' is not ancient at all! and with fair luck, the descendant would even possess $1/2^{57} \simeq 10^{-17}$ of the father of geometry's genetic material.

* Some notable people argue that Euclid's person is a fabrication of Christianity.
** Estimate based on this article.