The Scientific Indian

The count of my ancestors

I thoroughly enjoy the Last Word feature of New Scientist where the readers pose and answer questions amongst themselves. The questions are hilarious sometimes and always informative. Case in point: The question about the awful smell of human droppings.

Another question asked and yet unanswered is this. I am paraphrasing here. “If I try to calculate the number of my ancestors starting with my parents, the numbers don’t add up. [My parents + their parents + their parents + .. ] is: [2 + 4 + 16 + … and so on]. If I continue adding, very soon – within a few generations – I end up with an insanely large number of ancestors. I couldn’t have possibly had so many ancestors. Heck, there never existed so many people to satisfy my ancestoral math. What’s wrong with this calculation?” (Some of you may have read a similar question in one of Dawkins books. I remember reading this but forgot which book it was).


  1. #1 eviledv
    August 29, 2006


  2. #2 sowmya
    August 29, 2006

    I think it was “River out of Eden” by dawkins that had the question.

  3. #3 Colst
    August 29, 2006

    Inbreeding is exactly right. If you (meaning anyone) trace your family tree back far enough, you’ll see the same people occuring more than once.

  4. #4 Chris
    August 29, 2006

    Happy Father’s Day, Uncle Dad!

  5. #5 raghav
    August 31, 2006

    what you have here is an upper bound on no. of ancestors at each level. and offcourse some of your ancestors from both sides overlap.

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