February 27, 2013

"Are there any atoms in my body that used to belong to Abe Lincoln? What about Hitler?"

"In other words, do particles of matter on earth get mixed so well by natural processes that when we die, our particles are evenly distributed over the whole world, a little bit everywhere? Are we made of everyone?"

70 comments:

kentuckyliz said...

I am you and you are me and all are we and we are all together

Koo koo ka choo

edutcher said...

I think the odds of anyone famous is probably small, but, yeah, why not?

I've thought about it, off and on.

Synova said...

I think that the answer to the question is "no".

Rocks don't get mixed up over the whole world in billions of years... neither will you.

If you were entirely atomized into the atmosphere... but you're not.

Synova said...

The one "science" answer they got that said 50% chance of a molecule involved in Cesar's last breath... pointed out that they were told not to consider a laundry list of other factors.

I would never go to Gawker for science. Even Io9's motto is "We come from the future and the lights are out." Gawker? Oy.

traditionalguy said...

The size of atoms and their number in a body makes that scenario very likely.

I suspect that a part of Abraham Lincoln's nose atoms got into mine.

Nonapod said...

Another weird thing to think about is all the living things the human body supports. We're made up of an estimated 10 trillion cells, but there could be 10 times as many organisms living on us and within us. There's bacteria, yeast, and archia in our guts, skin, and orafices; not to mention all the dust mites.

We probably inadvertantly kill thousands of dust mites and millions of microrganisms every day washing and cleaning. Our immune systems also probably eradicate millions of potential pathogens on a daily bases.

We are living breathing killing machines. But we also provide a home for lots of critters who in return help us digest our food and help protect us against pathogens by outcompeting them.

chickelit said...

If you were entirely atomized into the atmosphere... but you're not.

Hitler was burned. His volatiles drifted over Berlin. Plants no doubt took him up as carbon or as nature's fecund aqueous blessings. People ate those plants or ate the animals who ate them. The mechanisms are there to get Hitler's carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen "out there." His phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, potassium, calcium, & the gold in his teeth etc. are still in Russia or wherever his corpse ended up.

Still, I doubt there was enough of Hitler to measurably spread around.

chickelit said...

OK, on second thought Hitler's sulfur would probably burn to volatile (and stinky) SO2.

AlanKH said...

I must have a few of Erwin Schrödinger's atoms, because cats fear me.

chickelit said...

Still, I doubt there was enough of Hitler to measurably spread around.

Besides, it was Hitler's words and not flesh & bones which really spread and apparently still do find incarnation. That's what that author should worry about.

Sorun said...

You've breathed in molecules that Hitler farted.

Gary Rosen said...

We're probably all mixed up with everybody else. But I bet Cedarford got 1 or 2 extra Hitler molecules.

Palladian said...

We're probably all mixed up with everybody else. But I bet Cedarford got 1 or 2 extra Hitler molecules.

And those 2 molecules became his brain.

chickelit said...

Sorun said...
You've breathed in molecules that Hitler farted.

And he was exceedingly flatulent! Not to mention little brown piles of molecules strewn hither and thither throughout his lifetime & invisible clouds of passioned exhalations. These are atoms which intimately touched Hitler over a lifetime. "Hitler" really could be everywhere.

phx said...

How can you know? Maybe physicists could prove it - all the President's opponents would demand to see the President's atomic content.

I don't think it would make a difference if we could know. Maybe someone would find some meaning in that, they might believe it means something about them.

It is kind of mindboggling to think that your atoms came from cosmic events eons ago. It's not more impressive to me that the same ones might have passed through Hitler or Lincoln, or St. Paul. I don't see any practical applications.

chickelit said...

Every breath Hitler drew contained about 80% nitrogen which entered his lungs and then left in the next exhalation. Yet those same N2 molecules had collisional intimacy with his pink aveolar tissue (he was a non smoker). That's a lot of nitrogen touching...billions and billions of moles...and consider that the world's nitrogen is constantly mixing via winds.

I haven't even mentioned the fate of all the fluids he passed.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Short answer is probably yeah.

I know it rankles connies to acknowledge that kind of biochemical interdependence, (or science in general), but there you have it.

After all, it's been credibly said that there isn't a breath of oxygen you inhale that lacks an atom that also went through Jesus' lungs, so I take it that the proposition in the post is most likely true as well.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Lol @11:16.

Cedarford said...

And some of the atoms of the crap Judas Iscariot shitted out later became part of Gary Rosens spine.

Truth is that if we add the air and water and food that are part of each persons metabolic processes and the dead cells and hair shed or excreted....the chance of some numerical count of atoms coming from someone famous or infamous is quite high.

Especially if you add in the well mixed air and water molecules used by each person.

So Palladian, for example, is not only gifted with having contact with some atom that was a long term or short term resident in OScar Wilde, but also those of each young "rent boy" he buggered or sucked off.

bgates said...

If you were entirely atomized into the atmosphere... but you're not.

12 breaths / minute;
0.5L / breath;
CO2 content of exhalation ~4%(v/v);
~26L / mol of an ideal gas @ atmospheric pressure and body temp;
carbon is 12g / mol.

That's about 110mg of you atomized into the atmosphere, per minute. Not even breathing heavy. 110mg/min is almost 160 grams per day. Nearly two and a half pounds a week. Bear in mind you're only about 18% carbon by weight, that's maybe 25 pounds; it's likely that any given carbon molecule that was in your body a year ago has been atomized into the atmosphere already.

chickelit said...

@bgates: A while back I calculated how much carbon an average person sequesters. Please check my math: link

chickelit said...

it's likely that any given carbon molecule that was in your body a year ago has been atomized into the atmosphere already.

What about glial tissue (pink matter) in the brain? Are you saying that memories are periodically flushed?

Palladian said...

So Palladian, for example, is not only gifted with having contact with some atom that was a long term or short term resident in OScar Wilde, but also those of each young "rent boy" he buggered or sucked off.

A few atoms? Come on! We're talking chains of atoms, complex proteins, amino acids — untold billions of atoms in each nourishing load! I contain multitudes...

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Yes and no.

More yes than no, but only sometimes, as it were.

Thanks.

wyo sis said...

Isn't this covered in "matter can be neither created nor destroyed"?

Lem said...

This is so creepy.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was walking past a house I could tell they were doing laundry inside... cooking past another.

My thoughts drifted into what would ultimately happen to those molecules as concentrations dissolved.

If people cut back on cooking and laundry would Obama be able to send a carrier to the middle east.

Lem said...

Every little bit counts a lot... or something.

Lem said...

Clouds

Nini said...

I think it's infinitesimal, incalculably small.

Is the total number of atoms from a person from birth to death enough to go around the world?

Hitler was born 120 years ago and Lincoln 200 years ago. Are those enough time for their atoms to go around the world?

Also what is the effect of the rate of decay of an atom on the total number of atoms from those personalities that gets recycled?

Lem said...

I watched recently a Nature show, I don't remember the title, where recent satellite data purported to show that most, over 90%, of the oxygen produced by the Amazon rain forest is reabsorbed right back into the forest where it came from and it is not widely dispersed, as once thought.

Revenant said...

bgates has the right idea; if you count all the molecules that were part of Lincoln or Hitler at some point during their lives, the odds are pretty good that at least one passed through you at some point as well.

edutcher said...

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Short answer is probably yeah.

For somebody who keeps telling everybody he knows soooo much more about science than they do (not unlike our President of Vice), Ritmo seems to understand noting of permutations and combinations.

I know it rankles connies to acknowledge that kind of biochemical interdependence, (or science in general), but there you have it.

Connies? Is that the hip new epithet over at Kos?

So if we call them libbies, does this mean Althouse and the She Devil of the SS (or more likely Ritmo when his estrogen is running) are going to have a hair-pulling match out in back of the gym after class Friday?

And, if Ritmo sees a flake of dandruff off Julie Caesar's head as "biochemical interdependence", he needs a thesaurus and a couple years in Freudian analysis

After all, it's been credibly said that there isn't a breath of oxygen you inhale that lacks an atom that also went through Jesus' lungs, so I take it that the proposition in the post is most likely true as well.

It has?

Can't wait to see the source on that one.

Aridog said...

Science? Really? Please.

Amusing that people are actually assigning "ownership" of elementary particles, that are essentially devoid of possession or personality. What's next, giving hydrogen and carbon atoms personal surnames?

Anybody ever hear the cliche' dust to dust? That oh so special "YOU" merely squats on atomic particles temporarily....you don't even rent them.

rsb said...

Yes.

DEEBEE said...

Hi Ho Hi Ho
We come from Gaia
and to Gaia we go

Aridog said...

DEEBEE ... oh, yeah, I'll b e stealing that one from ya'. Gaia giveth and Gaia taketh away.

Now if this proposition was concerned with molecular biology, there might be some reality to it...preposterous probabilities, far far beyond any relevance or confidence, not-with-standing.

Robert Cook said...

"Rocks don't get mixed up over the whole world in billions of years... neither will you."

Rocks don't decay as biological matter does. Rocks may be worn away or pulverized by geological processes but biological decay happens much more rapidly...instantaneously in geological measuring.

Colonel Angus said...

If you know how the earth, as well as the universe was formed, the answer is yes. We are all star stuff.

traditionalguy said...

Speaking of atoms, that are mostly space themselves, their arrangement into 6 miles of a DNA Double Helix code contained in each human cell makes it obvious that there is an intelligent designer at work in His universe. DNA is not alive in itself anymore than atoms are. Yet all life is controlled by DNA code say the materialists posit that DNA predetermines our lives apart from free will.

This newly discovered organ-ization of complex life on this quite specially designed earth, its climate and solar winds now seen by infrared satellites screams out the artist creator's name every morning.

I suspect that Darwin would be very interested in what we know today.

Dante said...

What about glial tissue (pink matter) in the brain? Are you saying that memories are periodically flushed?

Only for the Press and Democrats.

Bender said...

Think About Your Troubles

Sit beside the breakfast table
Think about your troubles
Pour yourself a cup of tea
And think about the bubbles
You can take your teardrops
And drop them in a teacup
Take them down to the riverside
And throw them over the side
To be swept up by a current
And taken to the ocean
To be eaten by some fishes
Who were eaten by some fishes
And swallowed by a whale
Who grew so old
He decomposed
He died and left his body
To the bottom of the ocean
Now evverybody knows
That when a body decomposes
The basic elements
Are given back to the ocean
And the sea does what it oughta
And soon there's salty water
(That's not too good for drinking)
'Cause it tastes just like a teardrop
(So they run it through a filter)
And it comes out from a faucet
(And is poured into a teapot)
Which is just about to bubble
Now think about your troubles

Bender said...

The cells in our bodies are constantly being replaced, and molecules within the cells being replaced.

Thus, the body that we had when we are born no longer exists. We have a different body than we did a year ago.

And yet, the person is the same.

Completely different and also the same.

Bender said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bender said...

KING CLAUDIUS
Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?

HAMLET
At supper.

KING CLAUDIUS
At supper! where?

HAMLET
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that's the end.

KING CLAUDIUS
Alas, alas!

HAMLET
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

KING CLAUDIUS
What dost you mean by this?

HAMLET
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

AllenS said...

Are we made of everyone?"

No.

AllenS said...

Are we made of everyone?"

If you believe the Adam and Eve story, then, yes, we are made of everyone.

Gabriel Hanna said...

It's a certainty that some atoms in your body were in Abraham Lincoln's, or Hitler's or anyone else you can think of.

It's because the number of atoms in a kilogram of human body (order of 10^26) is so much larger than the number of kilograms of biomass (order of 10^17).

Those on the thread expressing skepticism of this result have not bothered to do their own calculation to see if any of their objections hold up. You can argue about what numbers go into the calculation and how many of them, but given the way powers of ten work you're only tweaking the probabilities by a vanishingly small amount.

The only valid objection I've seen so far is that we don't know how long it takes one human's atoms to mix through the biomass. This time is not days, but it's not going to be millenia either. If someone died recently enough and far enough away from you there wouldn't have been time, but to fix that you just wait.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Allen S:If you believe the Adam and Eve story, then, yes, we are made of everyone.

Interesting take on it. But few people except cannibals would say they are "made of" their parents, and even cannibals wouldn't say it while their parents are still alive.

Descent is a separate issue.

Fritz said...

"Synova said...I think that the answer to the question is "no".

Rocks don't get mixed up over the whole world in billions of years... neither will you.

If you were entirely atomized into the atmosphere... but you're not."

Wrong.

Your body is mostly made of water and carbon. The water in your body is turned over at a pretty good clip, probably once every few weeks (I could look it up but I won't). Just consider how much liquid you drink compared to how much you weigh. Where do you think all that liquid goes?

Carbon turns over slower, but even so, you're constantly taking in food, converting it to part of you, and then burning it off as CO2. The CO2 goes back to the atmosphere where plants use it to make more plants.

In a lifetime, you have gone through many more mass than your maximum body mass. And atoms (and molecules) are really small, so when that really large number of atoms and molecules get spread out in the biosphere, it's a statistical near certainty that you contain atoms that were once part of any historical person you care to name.

Just one of those big number problems.

Inga said...



"Connies? Is that the hip new epithet over at Kos?

So if we call them libbies, does this mean Althouse and the She Devil of the SS (or more likely Ritmo when his estrogen is running) are going to have a hair-pulling match out in back of the gym after class Friday?"

2/28/13, 3:43 AM

Edutcher, you dope. Ritmo has not inhabited my panties and Althouse and I have no reason to fight, plus Madison is a bit of a drive just to yank her hair.

edutcher said...

Not only is the She Devil so easy, she can't even read.

Patrick said...

Hitler was born 120 years ago and Lincoln 200 years ago. Are those enough time for their atoms to go around the world?

This was discussed in Bill Bryson's book. His information was that there was enough time for Hitler, not for Elvis to have cycled through a good portion of the population. Who knows. atoms are atoms, and they all started out a long time ago.

rhhardin said...

Adam was made of clay (adamah).

Patrick said...

Speaking of atoms, that are mostly space themselves,

I find that so interesting. I don't know if it's exactly true, but it sounds plausible: if you had an atom with a nucleus the size of an orange, and put the orange on the pitcher's mound of a typical professional baseball stadium, the electrons would circle just outside the stadium. That is a lot of space inside something that we experience as "solid."

Cool.

Inga said...

Edutcher, yes it must be embarrassing to continually see sockpuppets, perhaps therapy would help.

Mitchell the Bat said...

FRIEDA: I can't go on, there's too much dust. It's taking the curl out of my naturally curly hair.

CHARLIE BROWN: Don't think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchudnezzar.

PIG-PEN: Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn't it?

chickelit said...

Connies? Is that the hip new epithet over at Kos?

"Connies" sounds like an attempt to lessen conservatives by appending a diminutive ending. We had this discussion in the context of panties and the closest best thing. Sharpen up people--Ritmo is using language to belittle us.

"Connies" also rhymes with "Sconnies" which is another liberal term of scorn, based on the success of Scott Walker.

tiger said...

I may not be quoting this exactly but in the book 'Innumeracy' - about the general public's lack of mathematical understanding - the author writes that we all breath air molecules that Julius Caesar breathed.

LarsPorsena said...

Don't worry about it. In a couple of billion years the sun will start swelling and incinerate the earth.
In the end we'll all be baked together.

EMD said...

Did someone say Moby?

edutcher said...

Inga said...

Edutcher, yes it must be embarrassing to continually see sockpuppets, perhaps therapy would help.

Christ Almighty, the She Devil really is that dense; we're talking light-bendingly so.

Aridog said...

Gabriel Hanna .... Your are speaking of theoretical probabilities. It is probable, but not proof-able, certainty not-with-standing. Pray tell, at the elementary level, how one carbon or hydrogen atom is distinguished from another and, therefore, their previous position within the mass of life identified.

@Frtiz has it right IMO...

In a lifetime, you have gone through many more [elements of] mass than your maximum body mass. And atoms (and molecules) are really small, so when that really large number of atoms and molecules get spread out in the biosphere, it's a statistical near certainty that you contain atoms that were once part of any historical person you care to name.

Highlights bold are mine...said atoms are not delineated "from" anyone you might name, just the probability they they could have been part of their temporary biomass at some time, with relative certainty.

No positive & distinguishable proof of an atom from historical figure X present in modern person Y exists. If I am wrong, and I very well may be, cite the proof documentation.

I acknowledge being a pedantic asshole on this one...it is just that I've never seen "atoms" as unique between themselves at the chemical elementary level. The certainty here is equivalent to that calculation of how many stars are in the universe, day to day.


chickelit said...

I acknowledge being a pedantic asshole on this one...it is just that I've never seen "atoms" as unique between themselves at the chemical elementary level. The certainty here is equivalent to that calculation of how many stars are in the universe, day to day.

You've heard of isotopes, right? Stable ones--not just radioactive ones.

Pure silver from South America is distinguishable from pure silver obtained from other corners of the earth. The detection methodology depends on isotopic ratios.

Radioactive isotopes are intrinsically easier to detect--for example as fallout from nuclear mishaps.

chickelit said...

Let's take a closer look at those copper atoms.

Fritz said...

"Aridog said...

@Frtiz has it right IMO..."

Thanks. I'm a biogeochemist; I do this shit for a living.

Aridog said...

chickelit said ...

You've heard of isotopes, right?

Of course. I specifically said "elementary level", which is defined, on most periodic charts, by protons initially, to avoid implying no sub-atomic differences. Isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons IIRC.

If you want to *go there* ...e.g., sub-atomic, let's talk about electrons versus hole migration and molecular combination....at that level of distinction there are virtually no atoms anywhere that are identical, even momentarily....due to exchanging electrons moving all about all of the time. We can all assume we have electrons from anyone everywhere momentarily.

Then along come teh quarks.... :-)

EMD said...

Connies were Lockheed Constellations ... built for both civilian use and as a military plane used during the Berlin Airlift.

It was also Ike's Air Force One.

Aridog said...

EMD said...

Connies were Lockheed Constellations ...

Used for many things, including by the Navy for AWACS electronic surveillance and guidance as recently as the Vietnam War.

Fritz said...

Speaking of innumeracy, Maxine Waters today said that the sequester threatened 170 million jobs in the US.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8-d95SO_3g&feature=player_embedded

There are currently about 143 million people employed.

Blue@9 said...

See, sequestration is so bad, 26 million people will lose jobs they don't even have!