Numbers and Ontology

So, as usual, I’m watching Doctor Who.

There’s an episode (7×07 for anyone who cares) called the Rings of Akhaten, in which a little girl of eight or nine is given the hefty responsibility of singing the song of an entire civilization from beginning to present, and somewhere along the line gets very insecure about this job. Understandably.

In a moment when the Doctor is reassuring her, he talks first about the fact that the atoms which created her came from the belly of a star, and that they combined totally uniquely. “There has never been a Merry Gejelh before now,” he says, “and there will never be another.”

This is cool.

Because I am a name nerd, it has often occurred to me that other people will have the same name as I have. Even my middle name. Think about it. How many Ashley Marie Smiths do you suppose are out there?

(Ashley Marie Smith is not my name, ftr.)

But seriously, in the world, there have been multiple Erika Cooks, and there are multiple ones now. All over the place. Think about it. How many Matt Smiths beside the brilliant one we all just thought of must there be? How many Hannah Clarks besides the one who is my very best friend?

ISU uses a system of assigning university emails in which it takes the first four letters of your last name, then your first, to create your address. If there is more than one person with your combination, you get a number instead. My humanities professor’s name was Alan Johnson. Because there had been another Alan Johnson, his was johnala2.

Through some lenses this might feel a bit like oh, you’re second rate, someone else has already been there, done that, you’re just the next in line, sucks to be you.

But it isn’t like that at all.

First of all think about the fact that EVERYONE IS COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY UNIQUE. It’s a generally accepted premise.

Secondly, and this is a favorite soapbox of mine, NO ONE THING MAKES ANY ONE PERSON UNIQUE. There was a girl in my government class senior year who liked to start every input into class discussion with, “Well, I work in fast food, so I know…” something about this, that or the other thing, and usually it was disturbingly uninformed. The problem with that? At least two other people in that room had worked in fast food at some point, but she decided that her fast food job qualified her as unique from everyone else. No.

Thirdly, as the conclusion drawn from second, IT IS THE COMBINATION OF EVERYTHING WHICH ACTUALLY MAKES YOU UNIQUE. In my case, there have been, are and will be plenty – yachtloads – of people who have edited high school newspapers, who have gone to Sjolunden, who have taken piano lessons for years, who have two younger sisters, who were born on the fourth of July, who attend ISU, who blog, who think they can write, who collect sweatshirts, who have a severe weakness for fry sauce, who are from Idaho, who love wearing Converse, who speak three languages, who have very fond memories of their rampantly Republican grandfathers. But the number of people who have done and are all of those things is significantly smaller. And the number of people who have done and are all of those things plus everything else that I have ever been and done – what do you figure that is? One. THERE HAS BEEN ONLY ONE ME. There have been plenty of Erika Cooks, probably a good-sized handful of Erika Leigh Cooks, BUT THERE HAS NEVER BEEN ONE QUITE LIKE ME.

Fourthly, taking quite a different-and-very-difficult-to-argue tack, NUMBERS ARE INFINITE.

Fifthly, assuming that there have been, are and will be plenty of other Erika Cooks, I am presumably somewhere in a list. First there was the one who was born in New Hampshire in 1962, then there was the one who was born in Manchester in 1984, then there was that real nutjob one from Idaho who thought she ran a decent blog. There is sort of a chronology, and I am somewhere in it.

So say that I am the 377th Erika Cook to have ever lived.


That is what makes you unique. All of you.


One thought on “Numbers and Ontology

  1. Pingback: Econ Avoidance | Along the Milky Way

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