Math vs. vampires: vampires lose
Just in time for Halloween and trick or treats, science makes us safe from vampires, ghosts and zombies. Still, what's that black-robed creature with fangs at my door begging for candy? Ah, science apparently cannot answer all the mysteries in the world. And as for ghosts, I'd say the jury is still out on this one. I have known people who have had personal experiences with ghostly apparitions, and the folklore is too strong with them to suggest that they are impossible. The world of spirit is still beyond the current ken of science. However, the mysteries of quantum physics teach us that there are many unbelievable things that exist in the universe. Now, I'm still a bit worried about the Wolf Man, so I'm waiting for a scientific verdict on those!
Math vs. vampires: vampires lose
If vampires—corpses that rise up to suck the blood of the living—sound biologically implausible to you, you’re not alone. They exist purely in legend, as virtually all scientists agree.
But for any vampire believers undissuaded by biological facts, a professor has come up with a second proof of their unreality, using math.
If vampires ever existed in the forms in which movies and books portray them, they would have quickly wiped out humanity long ago, according to physics professor Costas Efthimiou of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla.
Popular lore passed down through centuries holds that vampire victims become vampires themselves, and launch their own blood-hunts on hapless humans.
To rule out vampires, Efthimiou relied on a basic principle known as geometric progression.
“If vampires truly feed with even a tiny fraction of the frequency that they are depicted to in the movies and folklore, then the human race would have been wiped out quite quickly after the first vampire appeared,” Efthimiou and a graduate student colleague wrote in a paper posted online.
Efthimiou supposed that the first vampire arose Jan. 1, 1600, around the beginning of a century during which some of the first important modern writings on vampires appeared. The researchers estimated the global population at that time, based on historical records, as 537 million.
Assuming that the vampire fed once a month and the victim turned into a vampire, there would be two vampires on Feb. 1, four the next month, and eight the month after that. All humans would be vampires within 2½ years. “Humans cannot survive under these conditions, even if our population were doubling each month,” which is well beyond human capacities, Efthimiou said.
Efthimiou and the graduate student, Sohang Gandhi, also took on ghosts and zombie legends.
Using laws of motion discovered by Isaac Newton in the late 1600s, they noted that ghosts wouldn’t be able to walk and pass through walls, and not just because walls are solid.
In movies such as “Ghost,” starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, ghosts often walk like humans, pass through walls and pick up objects. However, Efthimiou argues, for ghosts to walk like humans, they would have to put pressure on the floor. The floor would exert an equal and opposite force in return. But ghosts’ ability to pass through walls and have humans walk right through them demonstrates that they can’t apply force, the researchers wrote.
They also provided an explanation for “voodoo zombiefication,” a product of Haitian folklore that suggests that zombies arise when a sorcerer places an evil spell on an enemy. The researchers reviewed the case of a Haitian adolescent who was pronounced dead by a local doctor after a week of great convulsions.
After the boy was buried, he returned in an incoherent state, and Haitians said a sorcerer had resurrected him as a zombie.
Efthimiou and Gandhi attribute the incident to a toxic substance called tetrodotoxin, found in a pufferfish breed native to Haitian waters. Contact with the substance generally results in rapid death. However, in some cases, the right dose produces a state that mimics death and slows vital signs to unmeasurable levels. Eventually, the victim snaps out of the death-like coma.
Analysis has shown that oxygen deprivation could explain the boy’s brain damage and incoherent state, Efthimiou said: thus, “it would seem that zombiefication is nothing more than a skillful act of poisoning.”