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prime

Synonym: 
prime integer, prime number, rational prime
Type of Math Object: 
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11A41 no label found82-00 no label found83-00 no label found81-00 no label found46L05 no label found

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This morning on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," George Will pondered how abortion laws would be different if the number of months of gestation of a human baby was a prime number. Sam Donaldson laughed, saying he doesn't know what prime numbers are, to which George Will gave the classic definition "a number divisible only by 1 and itself." (Not that I take George's opinion to be the final say on any topic, political or otherwise).

Too bad George was wrong, but that doesn't matter. The cool think is the prime number gestation question. I've heard certain insects like cycadas (spelling?) do so in primes. The idea being that perhaps nature selected for these because parasite that attacked them would emerge on a different cycle and so the optimal survial condition is that the two groups emerge at the same time as few times as possible, so a Chineses remainder theorem problem which of course favors survival of groups with gestation lengths whose GCD is small -- thus primes are best.

However, the flaw with humans is that we don't procreate at exactly the same time of year so prime gestation times wouldn't have a survival angle for us.

> I've heard
> certain insects like cycadas (spelling?) do so in primes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada#Lifecycle

If it was a prime number, we humans would still find a way to make some neat division of the gestation cycle. Let's say 7 months: that would be 28 weeks, which we could then divide into four phases of seven weeks each, or 210 days, which we could divide in three phases of 70 days each (little more than two months). Or say 11 months: that would be about 330 days, which we could divide in three phases of 110 days each (almost four months).

Regardless, there would come a time when the fetus looked so much like a human only the staunchest pro-choicers would still support abortion at that point.

> Too bad George was wrong,

I wouldn't be so fast to say George was wrong. Given his profession, the "classic" definition is good enough. Stating the comtemporary definition could have cost him 5 seconds and made the difference between whether or not he got the last word of the roundtable discussion. Though I doubt Sam Donaldson's combover-addled brain could make much sense of either definition.

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