Stars and Wishes

On Harper Simon’s charming eponymous 2009 album there’s a song called “Wishes and Stars” in which the last lines are “There are more wishes than stars/More wishes than stars”.

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Now, Harper’s no astrophysicist, and besides there’s some poetic license involved there, but the claim piqued my interest.

How many wishes are there? Well, apparently about 100B people have ever lived on Earth. Conservatively overestimating, each person lived about 50 years (the data from 1960, and a pretty high estimate since people living now haven’t gotten all their wishes in yet. Historically, over the course of human history, the average life expectancy is likely much lower.)

How many wishes does the average person make? Let’s be very generous here. If we assume the average person makes a wish every 10 minutes of every waking hour of every day (yes… we’re whiners), we get

6 wishes/hour * 16 hours/day * 365 days/year * 50 years/life * 100B lives
= approx 175 quadrillion wishes.

Wow, that’s a lot of wishes. Not bad, Harper.

But, as Carl Sagan reminds us, and as Douglas Adams points out to amusing effect, the Universe is a big place. Our own galaxy alone has about 100 billion stars. It looks like there may be between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe, or about a million stars for every wish. So go ahead and wish upon a star; there’s plenty left.

By the way, the album is quite good, catchy folk with a tinge of country. Here’s another star-oriented song:

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