Sunday, June 17, 2018

Arthur Brooks tells a Father’s Day story

Arthur Brooks’ father was a college professor of mathematics who drove a bus in the summer.
“He was a natural born mathematician, though. Here’s a classic dinner conversation:
Dad: “Hey kids, tell me as fast as you can what you get when you sum all the numbers from one to a hundred.”

My brother and I: “We’d need some paper.”

Dad: “Wrong. 1 + 100 = 101. 2 + 99 = 101. 3 + 98 = 101. . . . That’s 50 pairs all summing to 101. 50 x 101 = 5,050!”

Us: “Huh. Please pass the mashed potatoes.”

He died fairly young, at 66, from lymphoma. His doctor said that the median survival age for his diagnosis was at least 10 years, but he died in two. About this he was circumspect. He held a Ph.D. in biostatistics and noted, drily, "Someone has to be on the left tail."

Near the very end of his life, with just a few weeks to live, he was reflecting as a statistician on the life he had been given. “Sometimes I imagine a bargain from God,” he said. “He offers me a choice between dying at 66 with a sure bet that my boys grow up, have happy marriages and good careers, and where I get to meet my grandchildren briefly; or playing the odds on a much longer life but leaving the success of my kids up to chance.”

“I’d take the sure bet every time.”

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