Saturday, May 16, 2009

Old souls

Has anyone ever estimated how many people have lived on this planet throughout all time?

The late astronomer Carl Sagan used to entertain us with his expression "miiiiillions and biiiiillions of stars," but have there been more humans than even the number of stars? Trillions?

Not according to estimates you can find quickly on the Internet, which I should have guessed when I formed the question in my own mind.

My mother is dying. Contemplating that fact, I realized I am one of many, many millions of people on earth now, and I wondered: Has anyone ever estimated how many people have lived on this planet throughout all time?

I found out, too, that I have come to the population game late in life.

I Googled "historic population of earth" and came up with the top three of
almost 45 million links, the top two being Wikipedia addresses, but the third asking my very question: "How many people have ever lived on Earth?"

The link was to the Population Reference Bureau where the site told me an article titled "How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?" was the most requested article ever published in Population Today, apparently the Reference Bureau's primary publication before it ceased printing with it with the magazine's November/December 2002 issue.

Carl Laub wrote that most requested article -- or an update of an article which first appeared in 1995 -- for that final issue of Population Today in 2002.

So Laub's best estimate of the world's historic population dates to that November/December 2002 time frame.

One hundred and six and a half billion (106.5 billion) people.

If I were still writing for newspapers, an editor would ask me to tell my readers how many times a line of all those humans holding hands would circle the globe, but thank God I'm no longer in newspapers.

One hundred six and one half billion (106.5 B) as of the end of 2002.

That's a lot of souls to have passed through the Earth's atmosphere. I am one of them and so is my mother.

I still wonder where we all hang out after we die. I can imagine a heaven and a hell, and I believe in an afterlife.

I believe Carl Sagan is there, and if you tune to his "portal," you hear some pretty heavenly music.

Counting the stars, I would guess.

And, yes, basking in the biiiilions and biiillions, even triiiillions, of light years left him for eternity.

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