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Sandwiches, Russian Roulette
and Divine Tragedies
|by Gaurang Bhatt, MD|
A sandwich consists of two slices of bread with meat, cheese, vegetables or some spread in between. It is named after a British nobleman, the Earl of Sandwich, who was addicted to gambling. He detested the idea of getting up from gaming tables for the formal meal in full dress, that was expected of his station and asked his butler to bring him two slices of bread with meat in between, so that he could continue uninterrupted play even while eating.
Russian roulette is a high-risk chance game where a revolver with six or more chambers is loaded with only one cartridge and then spun blindly till it locks in position. The depressed and desperate daredevil then puts the barrel to his temple and pulls the trigger with a one in six chance of blowing his brains out. If there are six chambers, one does not need to be a game theory expert to realize that if one does this six times, one is bound to succeed in the self-destructive endeavor.
The clay pitcher that goes once too often to the traumatic journey to the well will be shattered. These are called statistical odds. If the odds of being run over by a truck while crossing the road are one in a million and one crosses the road thousand times a year and everyone lives for 80 years, there will be one in 12.5 persons who will die by being run over by a truck. If everyone lived for a thousand years then being run over by a truck would be the single commonest cause of death and people would be mortally scared of crossing a road. Lest some nitpicking professional statistician points out an inconsistency, the above involves some unmentioned assumptions. It only proves that statistics are like a woman's bikini. What they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal is essential and prime objective.
Games of chance are usually zero sum games with losers and winners that do not follow a rational script. 'I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all'. Most religions and belief in God thus talk of the final Day of Judgment and an eternal reward in a life hereafter. They seek refuge in human incomprehensibility of God's ways to condone the sorrows of Job or the suffering of an innocent child. Others indulge in fantasy of punishment for Original Sin of our fathers or speculative metaphysical rationality by attributing injustice to sins of past births.
The real truth is that we are all compelled to buy a ticket in the genetic lottery in which losers are chosen by chance. Fortunately the losers are few; quite the reverse of our state lotteries. They have one thing in common. If all permutations of numbers are sold or all chambers of the gun in Russian roulette fired then there will be a winner or loser. Under normal circumstances during the meiotic division of our germ cells, the chromosomes line up in pairs and exchange homologous pieces with their specific numbered partner to create a new hybrid pair from our maternal and paternal chromosomal contents. This digital copying can lead to rare mistakes and the progeny with good mistakes are amplified due to their increased survival past the bottleneck of natural selection. The bad mistakes lead to disease, suffering and premature death.
A simple failure to separate called non-disjunction is one of the common causes of Mongolism or Trisomy 21. Both pairs of chromosome 21 enter the ovum to be, and by combining with a normal sperm, form a zygote with three copies of chromosome 21. This problem is directly related to the maternal age at conception and leads to the birth of a mentally retarded child with multiple birth defects and early death. In other diseases, in the process of genetic exchange between homologous chromosomes inversion and deletion of fragments is the cause. In a de novo mutation causing Huntington's disease, a set of three nucleotide (CAG) repeats are copied more than 39 times as opposed to less than 35 times. Such CAG repeats are the cause of a host of inherited neurological disorders of childhood to adulthood. The absent-minded trivial error then leads to involuntary movements, dementia and death in middle to late age. This disease can also be inherited by 50% of the children of persons who have the bad gene. The gene manifests itself in later age thus allowing the young person destined to have the disease, to marry, procreate and pass on the bad trait. Sickle cell trait, a disorder common in African Americans, evolved as a defense against malaria and is protective in a single dose from one parent, but fatal in a double dose received from the identical but separate contribution from both parents. Many other disease susceptibilities including heart disease, stroke, cancer etc. are the inheritance of paternal and or maternal genes. Environment too loads the dice against us.
Chance and Necessity are the two factors responsible for our joys and sorrows, as the Nobel Prize winning Monod titled his book. It is futile to pray to the Snake, Monkey, Elephant gods or the goddesses of Measles, Chickenpox and Smallpox. Nor does it help to make god one, a trinity, a myriad, multi-headed, multi-armed or formless. If there were a just and merciful god, there would not be so much suffering and cruelty. If there is a God who is indifferent, impotent or complacent, then who needs HER!
Let her play dice in her casino. I refuse to be her mug patron.
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