Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. On December 17th, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed for murder. He was the first prisoner executed
by the United States after a 10-year suspension of the practice.
When asked if he had any last words, he simply replied
“let’s do it.” Years later, advertising executive Dan Wieden
adapted those words into a slogan, that is now more widely known than Gary Gilmore.
Last words are powerful.
They are the final statement, a person’s entire life has been leading up to. One last chance to go on record
before obliteration. We don’t know Albert Einstein’s last words.
He spoke them in German to a nurse who only knew English, They’re lost. But what will be our first words?
The first words from earth extraterrestrials out there
might hear from us. We have been broadcasting signals
with radio waves wirelessly through the air for more than
one hundred years. Under the right conditions,
those signals can leak into space and keep going outward at the speed of light through our galaxy, through the universe.
Current human technology would struggle to tune into regular TV and radio broadcasts from as near as Mars.
But perhaps other intelligent beings out there would fare better and could point there
instruments at earth and hear us.
If so, what would the earliest thing be that they could receive? Our cosmic first words.
Well, the earliest signal, robust enough to be
picked up light years away, might have come from Hitler. His 1936 broadcasting of the Summer Olympics used powerful
enough radio equipment to reach forty-one countries, making it a contender for what listening
extraterrestrials could receive as, to them, Earth’s first words. Within the last 50 years or so, broadcast signals in general, have become stronger
than Hitler’s Olympics and are better candidates for being intercepted. The earliest of them have traveled
50 light years away from Earth. Altogether they have entertained billions of people and by now about 2,000 stars. The 133 brightest of which are shown here.
So far, Martin Luther King JR’s “I have a dream” speech
has traveled as far as the furthest on the diagram µAra, which has four known planets.
In six years, our first words on the Moon
will pass by µAra’s system.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Those words were spoken by Neil Armstrong,
seen here a few years before his death with Eugene Cernan,
the most recent and currently last man to have walked on the surface of the Moon. On December 14th, 1972, before climbing back into the lunar module,
Cernan spoke our, as of today, last words on the Moon. “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”
Of course, once inside the lunar module, the crew kept talking, meaning that technically
the very last words humans have said on the surface of the Moon were a
countdown spoken by Harrison Jack Schmitt.
“Three, two, one.” We haven’t been back to the Moon since.
But hold on. What were the first words spoken on the surface of the Moon really?
Armstrong’s giant leap statement is a good answer,
but what counts as being on the Moon if touchdown counts? Then the first words spoken on the
Moon go not to Armstrong but to Buzz Aldrin, who, on feeling at least one of the landing pads softly settle onto the lunar soil, spoke this immortal description:
“contact light.” We are pumping broadcasts in the space as an ever expanding sphere of radio waves. But here’s something humbling.
Even while growing at the speed of light, Earth’s radio sphere is puny. This is our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Comparatively, the distance our radio signals, our voice has traveled is this big. The universe is huge. How the heck are you supposed
to be remembered in it? Utter last words that stick around after you die? Well, you may have heard
the famous quote from Banksy “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
But your anonymous influence continues long after that, right?
I mean, people may stop saying your name, but, for instance, if you have kids and they have kids and so on and so on, you continue on, in a way.
Maybe just genetically, not by name. Well, people have tried.
The world record for most children passed
out of one single woman belongs to Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev.
She had 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets and 4 sets of quadruplets for a grand total of 69 children.
As for being a biological father, that takes less time.
The documented record for most children fathered by one man is held by Ismail Ibn Sharif, who is estimated to have had more than 900 children with multiple women. But children—or not—in a feedback system like earth or life, cause-and-effect are complicated and never ending. Remember the double pendulums
from this video? A small difference in the initial conditions of a system
can lead to enormously different outcomes later.
On Tuesday I’m flying from London to Los Angeles.
The plane will be flown by pilots who can steer it toward the correct runway in the United States, but if the airplane needed to be aimed from London and sent on a straight shot, now, things would need to be very specific. Misaiming just one degree to the left at the beginning would send
the plane not to Los Angeles but nearly 160 kilometres south
to Tijuana, Mexico. Your name and your last words might
eventually be forgotten, but your status as an initial condition for the universe’s future is already happening. Bach died before he could complete The Art of Fugue.
The peace ends abruptly during Contrapunctus XIV.
So, composers continue reconstructing it.
For that reason, it is uniquely alive.
Speaking new last words all the time,
as new people meet it and finish it in their own way.
Likewise, no matter how cool or lame and small you feel, you will continue.
Your impact will be remembered, mathematics guarantees it.
Even if like Bach you leave things unfinished. And as always, thanks for wa…