March 3, 2008

Here's a question I just heard a cute little 6-year-old girl ask.

"Do people die every second?"

I'm guessing the age of the girl, whom I passed as I was walking in Brooklyn Heights today. She did not look anxious about it. She seemed to be interested in the facts. I didn't hear the answer she got from the mother/nanny who accompanied her. In case you're wondering, the answer is yes.


Too many jims said...

I am not at all certain the answer is yes. I did a wiki search and did not find the incontrovertible truth that people do die every second.

My daughter (who is now 8 and damn cute) has been asking questions like this of me for at least 2 years, though never in Brooklyn Heights. I always feel more anxious about answering them than she feels asking them.

ricpic said...

According to the World Health Organization there are 1.45 deaths worldwide per second.

dbp said...

A back of a napkin estimate gives about 3 deaths/second world-wide.

I estimate 6 billion souls with a lifespan of (conveniently) 60 years, which gives 100 million deaths/year.

A year is 60 sec/min times 60 min/hour times 24 hours/day times 365 days/year= about 31.5 million seconds.

100 million/31.5 million is about 3.

dbp said...

Of course I assume here a steady state, which is not the case: Population is growing and this would make the final result less.

OTOH population is higher than 6 Billion and (I would guess) the average lifespan is less than 60 years. These factors would raise my estimate, so they should to some extent cancel-out.

I chose easy numbers since I am lazy and don't have my HP handy.

ricpic said...

I had an aunt who told me she wasn't going to die and, of course, she died. But it worked, in the sense that the denial kept the terror at bay. Me too. I'm not gonna die. That's my decision and I'm sticking to it.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dbp said...

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying."
Woody Allen
US movie actor, comedian, & director (1935 - )

So far, so good.

sandyshoes said...

That's exactly the kind of question my five year-old asks all the time.

The answer is yes, but not Mommy.

Ron said...

""Is it true that God is everywhere?", a little girl asked her mother. "I think that that's indecent." A lesson for philosophers!"

-- Nietzsche

Eli Blake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eli Blake said...

Whether it is 1.45 or 3 per second the mathematically correct answer would be 'no.' She asked whether people did EVERY second. Certainly they die during most seconds, but if the rate is 1.45 or 3 per second this represents an average that is low enough that it is certain that there are several second that go by during each hour in which nobody dies.

rhhardin said...

The two round facts for dealing with news grief over this or that story : on a day with no particular tragedies, 100,000 people die in the world, and 10,000 in the US.

Each one is important to somebody, just not to the same somebodies. The tragedies are spread out, and probably make life meaningful.

Unless one death is a national news story, and then all the women in the country are weeping about it. Young blonde girls are best for this. Who can forget Jessica in the well, or Jessica in the airplane. Jessica is the preferred name, incidentally.

Guys are not touched unless a dog dies.

Julia Moore, ``The Sweet Singer of Michigan,'' wrote poems exclusively about beautiful children killed in horrible tragedies, and was a hit with Mark Twain among others. This genre is now TV news.

dbp said...

That is a good point Eli. I think you could even go further since certain times of day seem to be more fatal--first thing in the morning really is a bear.

There are people in every time zone, but some time zones have more than others--think of all those time zones that cover the Pacific and the middle of the Atlantic Oceans v. the one which contains most of China's population or the one which contains most of India's.

If we pay carefull attention to what the 6 year old said, it was "do people die", this implies more than one person per second. Having a 6 year old, and two others who used to be 6. I doubt the kid would understand any of the distinctions we are making.

Palladian said...

What a blessed age to be, when death is only an abstraction, no different than all the other confusing abstractions that seem to worry adults.

Pogo said...

I, ever the prankster, tended to answer such questions from our daughter by saying:
Yes, honey, they d...UGH
[pratfall to ground, eyes closed, tongue out]
Wife yells: Stop that, you bonehead. Honey, just ignore him.

My daughter may have been seven, but I was maybe ten mentally..

Middle Class Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middle Class Guy said...

Last week you overheard someone say they were going to kill someone. It seems that people see you and immediately want to discuss death with a third party. LOL.

My problem is trying to figure out why people die in alphabetical order on a daily basis. It is maddening

Chip Ahoy said...

Yes, Darling, they do. Faster than that, actually, probably every millisecond BOO! Just watch out.

My mum was cold that way. My sister said, "I didn't ask to be born you know." I thought, "Wow, that chick's got the cajones." Without pausing to think Mum goes, "I didn't ask you to either."

rhhardin said...

Julia Moore, of course, I should have checked, is online , here with death-dealing beef.

Trumpit said...

Well, on average people die every second. But, why can't a second go by without someone dying? That is a statistical problem with a % of likelihood answer. If there is, for example a .oo1 chance of no one in a particular second dying that means every thousand seconds (on average) death takes a holiday.

rhhardin said...

No deaths in a particular second .367 probability (1/e)

One death in a particular second .367

Two deaths in a particular second .184

Three deaths in a particular second .062

N deaths in a particular second exp(-1)/N!

I should check I'm remembering that right but who has the time.

Ann Althouse said...

It's true of course that some seconds must go by without at death, but knowing the average is useful to have a picture of reality. It is distorted to picture a single file line of human beings leaving the world at a steady pace. Often enough people die together. That's got to play havoc with the regularity.

Kirby Olson said...

Perhaps Barack Obama could promise to suspend the death rate.

Middle Class Guy said...

Just in:

Hillary Clinton has just announced that if elected she would mandate a universal death rate and she would also redistribute the death rate so more wealthy people die faster than poor people.

If people refused to die according her universal schedule, they would be executed. "People must be forced to participate or the plan will fail. It is the only way to ensure that the death rate is fair across the board. Nominee Clinton believes in a level playing field, even in death." Says Clinton adviser Howie Wolfwhistle.

Eli Blake said...


Each one is important to somebody, just not to the same somebodies.

That would be nice, were it true. But Eleanor Rigby is more than just a Beatles song. A lot of Eleanor Rigbys die every day too, alone, forgotten about, maybe even unknown.

Eli Blake said...


As opposed to, of course, the Bush plan. In which the uninsured get to die sooner because they can't pay for the care they need. But for you folks-- out of sight, out of mind.

dbp said...

Ann said, "Often enough people die together. That's got to play havoc with the regularity."

This is true in one direction only--the high end of deaths/second. Even an atomic bomb incinerating a city will have a tiny effect on the total population of the Earth. So, a big disaster will not have the effect of decreasing the death rate in the future.

The downside, in terms of low numbers of deaths/second or multiple seconds without a death is ruled by statistics. If rhhardin is correct that p= .367 then the chances of 10 consecutive seconds going by without a death is 44 per million.

.367 seems to me about right btw. I would have to drag out the binomial distribution (and re-learn how to use it) to be sure.

Eli Blake said...


Not strictly speaking binomial. Try a Markov distribution.

Paul Zrimsek said...

1.45 per second times 3600 seconds per hour times 24 hours per day makes 125,000 men and women every day, 125,000 men and women every day, come on baby, we can be like they are, come on baby, how did Blue Oyster Cult come to be off by so much?

Ask not for whom the cowbell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Follow-up: The apparently conflicting WHO and BOC estimates can perhaps be reconciled if we assume a very high level of infant and childhood mortality in the former; BOC was apparently only counting adults. However, their exclusion from the BOC study carries the unpleasant implication that children should fear the reaper. In my experience, they're scared of quite enough things already.

Middle Class Guy said...

Eli Blake,

Sheesh, lighten up. It was a joke. Man your ilk takes everything way too seriously. BTW, what are YOUR people going to do to stop people from dying in alphabetical order. HMMMMMMMMMMMMM?

michael farris said...


I somehow (either by carelessness, good luck or will power alone, who's to say?) had managed to never hear of Julia Moore before.

Now that I do know of her, I feel both appalled and spiritually richer in some undefined way.

In the wilds of my restless mind I now long for her to receive the "Hollywood treatment", played perhaps by Sigourney Weaver.

michael farris said...

"Eleanor Rigby is more than just a Beatles song"

There's a great story on this american life about the people who clean up after the eleanor rigby's once they pass on:

rcocean said...

Chances your kid's death will get on TV:

- Boy, Minority -500 points
- Boy, White -250 points
- Girl, Minority - 0 points
- Girl, White +300 points
- Pretty +250 points
- Ugly -150 points
- Blond +250 points
- Poor -150 points
- Sex involved - +500 points

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

Previewed my last attempt and columns don't seem to work.

I know this is late, but I have a completness fetish. I wasn't happy with the probabilities given in other comments and so decided to run them myself. I used the assumption that there really are more like 3 deaths/sec because the the 1.45 just seems way off. All of these are rounded to the nearest half percent. I put the 1.45 numbers in as well, just for comparison.

For my rate of 3/sec, 1.45 rate

Zero deaths 5%, 22%
One Death 15%, 33.5%
Two 22.5%, 25%
Thee 22.5%, 12.5%
Four 17%, 5%
Five 10%, 1.5%
Six 5%, <1%
Seven 2%, 0
Eight < 1%, 0

I just don't see how the below makes any sense:

No deaths in a particular second .367 probability (1/e)

One death in a particular second .367

Two deaths in a particular second .184

Three deaths in a particular second .062

N deaths in a particular second exp(-1)/N!

I should check I'm remembering that right but who has the time.

10:17 AM