The story of vaccines starts with a new child (is it you?) arriving into our strange quantum world; where particles come into and out of existence, by charm, spin or whim.
Each of the seven billion, or so, human beings alive at this space-time have this shared story. It starts, when one (1) sperm joins one (1) egg & become (1) you. Did I just prove that 1+1 = 1?
But, 1+1=2. Can both be true? Yes, 1+1=2, has to result if the 1 refers to the same thing. If not, it can also be 1+1= 3: (1) Mum + (1) Dad become a family of three, when you are born. And more as the family grows.
It all depends on both numbers counting the same thing. In the case of sperm and egg, this is a special relation where both become a new thing: you! There is also matter and anti-matter that together become nothing (1+1=0). (Strangely, this means that from nothing we can get something in the reverse process that is constantly happening in the sub-atomic world of this strange quantum physics…
Why all this? To torture numbers? The number is only valid, if the logic is correct. If the logic is incorrect, the number is either meaningless, or can even mean the opposite. It helps to understand numbers, if you want to understand vaccines. Numbers can be used to confuse as well as illuminate.
In Propositional Logic, a statement of fact, or proposition, has Truth Value of ‘1’ if ‘True’, and ‘0’ if ‘False’ . In Fuzzy Logic, numbers can also between 0 and 1, as this can better describe the world than the sharp categories that our minds make up.
So, what does number ‘1’ mean? It defines the unit, the thing. It is also the space between numbers – a unique role. I hope you know all your numbers, but if you keep adding 1 you will never get to infinity, just a bigger number. If you like big numbers let be introduce you to the Googol (10^100 or 1 with 100 zeroes after it) and Googolplex (10^Googol). The Googol alone is so unimaginably large that it exceeds the dimension of the known universe, nearly whatever units one uses.
So, you are 1 in 7 billion and more living breathing human beings on planet Earth-today. One billion is a huge number: (10^9 1,000,000,000). It is biologically unprecedented for a single species to cover the entire planet. All of us from a small family that arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago, and survived climate change to emerge smarter. Prof. Harari suggests that the Cognitive Revolution, about 70,000 years ago, led us to outcompete the other human species: at least half a dozen (which is 12; i.e., 6) that existed around that time. From Africa, our ancestors left about 50,000 years to progressively cover the planet, making countless species extinct as we rose to the top of the food chain through the organising capacity of language.
These are some numbers that can give you a perspective of your life, which is so short compared to these numbers, even smaller compared to the estimated age of Earth at 4.5 billion years. The Bible gives us ‘three score and ten’ or 70 years (so how much is a ‘score’ – an old English measure?) But increasing numbers of people are living over 80 or even 100 years; many in good health. How long have you been here for? And how long would you like to stay? I often wonder if we go back to the place we came from, or this life is some small part of something that we cannot even comprehend.
Now, back to the start of your story. A child is conceived (from the sperm and egg), grows in its mother’s womb for about 38 weeks and is then born on this planet. The womb nourishes and protects you as that first cell divides and divides to become the trillions (10^12 or 1 with 12 zeroes). Once born into the world, you are now exposed to the risk of bugs: microbial infections: bacteria, viruses and other parasites. You are born with natural defences against these, and also an immune system that can be ‘trained’ to protect against specific bugs.
This is what vaccines do. But first we must understand a bit more about bugs, and the germ theory of disease.