I love these naive and great questions, that all the children in the world insist on asking their parents and whose answer is almost impossible to express in simple, non-scientific terms. For example: « Why is the sky blue? » Or: « If God can do everything, can he decide that he does not exist »?
Among those, there is one, which crossed the mind of many children and to which few parents were able to give a correct answer, even approximately: « how many human beings have lived on Earth, since the first one? »
Doubly dreaded question. Because we must first define who is « the first man » (humanity begins when? With Adam and Eve? With Rudolfensis? With sapiens sapiens? With Neanderthal?). Because next it is necessary to add up the total of hundreds or thousands of generations in the developmental history of our planet. In mathematical language, this would be called the summation of series, so long and so complex, (to be accurate, this would require, to take into account precisely every single life) that it is closer instead to the resolution of an integral.
The consensus among scientists today is that this number is around 100 billion. And that, in view of the slow pace of the starting of demographic growth in the human species, the starting point has little incidence.
100 billion human beings thus have lived so far. Whether their life was short or long, whether they were slaves or mighty men, set in their ways or creative, peaceful or violent, they have all, in one way or another, shaped the world in which we live: scientists agree that, based on the power relations and the technical progress, less than 15% of the potential of humanity was developed up till now.
Somehow, today’s world is just the result of these 100 billion lives. To which should be added the role of an infinitely more dizzying number of all living things, plants and animals in the developmental history of our planet.
Coincidence? One hundred billion, it is also the number of neurons in each of our brains. It is through them, that mysteriously is organized, memory, learning, reading, writing, intuition, creation. Another coincidence: 15% is also the number of our neurons that are active.
A way to remember that every human being is a humanity unto himself, that he contains its strengths and weaknesses; all its great things, and all its monstrosities. So that he should be dealt with seriously, and carefully.
We could be even more dramatic: each neuron can have 10000 connections with other neurons. Which is one million billion connections for every human being, who himself can have connections today with some 1000 human beings and even more tomorrow. With a total of ten to the 18th power (1 followed by 18 zeros) relations between human beings since the birth of mankind; and this number will grow ever more quickly, with population growth, the improvement of education and communication networks.
The day will even come, soon, when the number of relations between human beings living on Earth at the same time will exceed the total number of relations that all human beings from previous generations have had between them.
What will they make of it? What will we make of it?
Life is beginning. Let us make the most of it.