Mama Mona: Baby loves <I>La Gioconda



Q. Which of the following paintings would a baby likely find most stimulating? a) Andy Warhol's pop art "Campbell's Soup Can," with its vivid colors and sharply etched patterns b) Monet's impressionistic "Water Lilies," endlessly textured and toned, c) Da Vinci's classic "Mona Lisa"? –F. Rogers

A. Infants are born with relatively good vision, including color vision, which matures rapidly to adult-like levels of sharpness and depth perception by age 6 months, says Lawrence Tychsen, professor of ophthalmology, pediatrics, anatomy, and neurology at Washington University Medical Center.

But the winner would be Mona Lisa, hands down, because it is a face, and an interesting one to boot. Babies are drawn innately to faces, especially their Mom's. "The Soup Can" and the "Water Lilies" would place a distant second, and it would be a toss-up between the two.

Q. You're in a room of 183 people– all strangers– when an odd thought hits: 183 is half of 366, the number of days in a (leap) year. If there were 366 people, every possible birthday could be represented. Therefore, adding a 367th person would guarantee at least one doubling up of birthdays, with two people sharing the same month and day. So with only the 183 people, wouldn't the chance of finding a matched pair of birthdays be about 50-50? –T. Geisel

A. Surprise! In a random gathering, all it takes is 23 people to reach a 50-50 chance of finding birthday "twins," say Edward Burger and Michael Starbird in The Heart of Mathematics. The 183 people is closer to what you would need for a 50-50 chance of someone matching your birthday (or any other specific person)– actually it would take 253 people due to many birthday overlaps.

"But in a room with 183 people, the chance of finding a pair of people with the same birthday is over 99.999999 percent!"

Q. On the scale of things from less than a mite to mighty big, where do you fit in? –Jason

A. A speck of dust under your bed weighs roughly .000000002 (2 billionths) of a pound, and it takes 4,300,000 of these specks to equal the weight of one grape, says David Halliday in Fundamentals of Physics.

Scaling up, 1,600,000 grapes equal an elephant, 14,000 elephants equal an ocean liner, 14,000 ocean liners amount to a small mountain, 5,000 mountains add up to the weight of the Asteroid Eros. Fourteen million such asteroids equal the moon's weight, 28,000,000 moons the Sun.

Your place in all this? Assuming 150 pounds, you weigh roughly as much as 100,000,000,000 dust specks, 25,000 grapes, 1/100th of a pachyderm. Heavy thoughts.

Q. If all of a human female's ova could be matured, fertilized, and brought to fruition, how many women would it take to populate a large city? –M. Sanger

A. It could all begin with one healthy baby girl. Her ovaries have been estimated to contain a lifetime allotment of some 800,000 ova, though at the normal release rate of one per month from puberty to menopause, 400-500 all told, she would require thousands of lifetimes to fill the bill, says Jan Bondeson in The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels.

The ova being present from birth is a likely reason for the increase in fetal abnormalities among older mothers, says Chris McGowan in Diatoms to Dinosaurs, since unlike the reproductive situation for a male, a woman's lifetime supply of ova age right along with her.

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