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## Wednesday, May 26, 2010

### LIFE and DEATH by Numbers

LIFE and DEATH by Numbers

One of Singapore’s founding fathers, Dr. Goh Keng Swee who was Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s Economics tutor, and later his deputy prime minister, died at the age of 91 on May 14. And one of the best-known popularizers of recreational mathematics, and debunker of paranormal claims, Mr. Martin Gardner died at the age of 95 on May 22. Both men were blessed with a lifespan of more than four scores and ten, and hundreds of thousands of people benefited from those two selfless men’s contributions.

Some two decades ago, I bought a copy of Gardner’s book from an ex-colleague, and since then I had never looked back to enjoying the beauty and power of mathematics. Like thousands of Martin Gardner’s fans around the world, formal schooling often fails to expose us to the joy and beauty of mathematics, so when I first read Gardner’s Mathematical Carnival, it was numerical love at first sight.

Let's popularize and evangelize math

Many of us love math in school, because we simply like solving non-routine or challenging word problems, or we enjoy being challenged by logic games and puzzles, but few things come close to getting a glimpse of the beauty and utility of advanced math, as popularized by Martin Gardner for number addicts of all stripes.

Death is blind

Dr. Goh and Mr. Gardner were men of numbers who contributed much, and many of us reaped the fruits of their labors. As we ponder on their numerous outputs, it’s never too early for us to reflect on our own mortality, and what our 'mathematical legacy' would be when we too reach the end of life’s journey.

You’re just a heartbeat away!

You’d even die before you finish reading this post. I’d die while you’re reading it. Now! At this very moment! It’s easy to be preoccupied with our to-do (or not-to-do) lists, focusing on our teaching, writing, reviewing, or preparing for our next meeting. We go on our normal lives as if we've thousands of days or millions of hours left before our last breath. We don’t want to think that we’re all one heartbeat away, regardless of our position or station in life.

We operate on automatic mode: Today it’s just a normal day to do whatever we feel like doing. We forget that we’re a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes. We don’t want to admit that today we may die. Or, maybe we feel invincible that nothing mortal is going to affect us. We live as though our lives would go on forever. We’re like the foolish rich man who thinks like “Today or tomorrow I’ll travel or fly to that city or country, spend a few weeks there, carry on my business and make money,” not realizing that his life will be taken away the very night.

If we live up to three or four scores and ten, it’s hard to accept that by then no one will care what positions we held, how many titles we collected, how many books or articles we wrote, or which conferences we attended.

Live and work selfishly or selflessly

People die while living and working selfishly. At your funeral, will colleagues and social media friends attend it to stretch the truth in order to make you look good, or to sound as if you’re not that mean, after all? Nobody would dare say an unkind word at that last gathering; there is an obligation or pressure to come up with something positive to say about the person who died. But we secretly think the same thing: He or she really wasn’t that great of a person or boss or politician.

Unless we realize that we’d be the next person in our family or company to die, we wouldn’t see why we needed to treat our colleagues well. We’ve to believe it enough that it changes how to live. To say NO to office politicking and scheming, to start treating our colleagues whom we don’t like decently and fairly, to accept others in spite of their idiosyncrasies, to recognize that we’re not as smart as we think we’re, or that we’re not above-average as we want others to see us.

Think of your obituary and eulogy

Unless we’ve a holy fear of God who holds the key to life and death, we’ll foolishly live our professional or working lives as if we can earn our eternity by merely living decently; yet our hearts and minds are far from Him. We try to do or act good to get His attention, but the condition of our hearts remains deceitful and evil. May the Holy Spirit reveal the sinfulness of our minds and hearts!

Some earthly thoughts on the heavenlies and Hades

Let me close with some life-and-death thoughts, dressed in some quasi-numerical language.

Life is a canvas of if’s.
You are what or how you count!

Life & Death

The probability of one’s living up to 444 years old is 0.
The probability of one’s dying is 1.

Life after death

The probability of going to he** is ½, where ** depends on how lean or mean you’ve been to your fellow mortals.

The probability of being reincarnated is 0.
The probability of being resurrected is 0.0000…1.
The probability of being cremated in crowded Singapore is 1/100,000.

Death after life

The probability of living for eternity [heaven or hell] is 1.
The probability of living in purgatory is zero – it’s a cardinal myth.
The probability of being in a Who’s Who in Hell list is exponentially higher than you think.
The probability of being in a Who’s Who in Heaven list is infinitesimally lower than you think.

Born twice, die once – eternal life
Born once, die twice – eternal death

The probability of dying twice [physical and spiritual deaths] is 1 × 1/x.
The probability of dying once [physical] is 1 × ½.
The probability of being  “born again” is about 1/15 – based on the number of residents-believers in Singapore.

It’s better to be born twice and die once than to be born once and die twice.

The chances of eternal life depend on your faith in His earthly death.

A lifespan of three scores and ten (70) lasts about a billion seconds.
Would you like to be blessed with a four-scores-and-ten lifespan?

The probability of living up to 70 years old is 0.7.

The probability of living up to four scores and ten (90) is 0.1.

The probability of living up to five scores and ten (110) is 0.000,000,000,000,1.

On earth he was grounded to infinity
In heaven he was lifted up to eternity

Life is fair
Death is a great equalizer for rich and poor, smart and dumb, strong and weak, arrogant and humble, etc.

For partial proof
Dig six feet deep

Poor Fermat lied about his proof
So the devil sent it to Prof. Wiles

You and faith = heaven
You and fate = hell

Dead Mathematicians: “Stop counting, we ‘re not getting up.”

In his prime, he worked on primes
In eternity, he rested in solitary

Life is the gross common differentiator (GCD) between rich and poor.
Death is the least common denominator (LCM) for all rich and poor.

A Christian dies twice but lives once.
An atheist dies once and lives once.