Sunday, February 01, 2009

Separated at Birth?

This afternoon while watching the Superbowl on television, something about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was strikingly familiar. It seemed like I had seen him before. I mentioned it to the lovely spouse, who said she thought the same thing. Then it came to her. Tomlin is almost a dead ringer for Omar Epps, co-star of the television series House. Epps portrays Doctor Eric Foreman on the Fox Network's hit series about a team of physicians who are half detective, half healer.

Indeed, that was it. Tomlin could be Epps' long lost twin. The resemblance is so strong that it seemed I was more familiar with Tomlin than I really was. But once we figured it out, it was obvious to us what caused the impression.

I am sure we are not the first to recognize the resemblance, but it is indeed there.

Polydactyl Baby

Most people think that their babies are pretty special, but a Daly City, California couple have one really special infant. Their newborn boy was born with a condition known as polydactyly, a condition where a person has extra digits. This little boy came factory equipped with twelve fingers and twelve toes. While polydactyly is not an extremely rare condition, the usual incidence is not fully-formed, fully-functional superfluous digits.

The baby's parents are wrestling with whether or not to have "corrective" surgery on the baby's hands and feet. It is a difficult decision, because the child is not having any malfunctions from it, but it would be to have the child conform to the expected norm. It reminds me of the episode of The Twilight Zone titled The Eye of the Beholder, where a young woman (played by Donna "Elly Mae Clampett" Douglas) was undergoing surgery to repair her "ugly" face. As it turns out, the surgery didn't take, and she was sent of to a colony to live with others who shared her condition. The twist was that she was beautiful when our standards are used, but the norm was that everyone else had misshapen, pig-snouted visages. What is normal can differ depending on expectations.

In this case, the decision needs to be made soon. The removal of extra fingers and toes yields the best results if done early, plus it would spare the child the trauma of being different in school. Still, I would be hard pressed to have such a thing done on perfectly fine digits.

Now there would be pluses and minuses to having at least an extra couple of fingers. Imagine how one could play the piano or perform typing with two extra fingers. However, buying gloves would be a bitch. I guess it would be mittens for sure.

The most interesting ponderable about this however, at least to me, is this...what if 12 fingers had been the standard, rather than ten? Would humans have established a duodecimal number system as the everyday base of mathematics rather than our current base-10 decimal system? When we use written notation for duodecimal numbers, it is customary to use the letter "A" for the nuber we call ten, and the letter "B" for our eleven. OF course, the notation "10" in duodecimal represents our "12?. But if we had naturally used a base-12 system, we would have established digits that uniquely represent those quantities. What would the extra two numeric representations have looked like?