Mathematics has always been a punish.
Combinatorics, the math of counting and arranging, is most punishing of all. The binomial theorem, recursion, permutations and combinations — all that yuck — alien hieroglyphics which disqualified me from a career in STEM and maybe a chess ranking greater than 800.
Yet while I will never be nominated for the Fields Medal, lack of a numbers-brain doesn’t preclude me from asking numbers-related questions which I (and perhaps nobody) has an answer for just yet.
For example: SARS-CoV-2 mutates at a rate of one in ten replications, or about twice a month, per person. If every infected human hosts ten billion copies of the virus, when will the mutation emerge that cripples humanity?
Every coloured dot represents a detected mutation.
So what do we do about it? We end mask mandates. We tell people with mild flu-like symptoms not to get tested, and just go back to work. Here’s where I quote a physics genius nobody has heard of:
‘We’re like people on a huge submarine who don’t know they’re in a submarine. They think they’re in a motorboat, and they’re going to open the hatches because they want a nicer view.’
Every infected human is a petri dish.
Because Omicron has overwhelmed the political will of our elected leaders, there may soon be billions of petri dishes racing to answer my question. And by answer I don’t mean zombie apocalypse or your usual doomsday plague trope, but something more insidious.
What if the next variant reduces human fertility, lowers IQ, or reduces VO₂ max? The greatest achievements of the human race could be behind us. In 1347, three Genoese ships docked in a Sicilian port after crossing the Black Sea, and we all know what happened next…
Who says there can’t be another Dark Ages?
The 1918-19 flu pandemic infected 500 million, one-third of the human race, and killed at least 50 million. Survivors of that flu bore a severe health burden for the rest of their lives, including those exposed in utero.
The 2019- flu pandemic has infected 291 million so far, and killed conservatively 5.5 million. We’ll never know the real numbers, because governments are witholding them. If I were so minded, I’d almost think there’s a conspiracy going on.
With these cruel and cowardly political capitulations, “We may have a century of COVID damage” ahead of us. Mathematics for all it’s wizardry has no answers, and numbers are meaningless until you become one.
Maybe this is the way the world ends, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a wheeze.