The oldest man in the world

Tabitha (six years old) and Griffin (on the cusp of nine) are attending a three-hour soccer camp in the neighborhood every afternoon this week. Furthermore, she has been begging to come to Tuesday night Ultimate Frisbee with me this summer. This week was the first opportunity for her to come along. It’s about a half hour ride up to Blaine so we had time to chat in the car.

Tabitha (6 years old): My group is 6 and under, but everyone is 6.

Me: Interesting.

T: Yeah. Six and under, so even a zero-year-old could play.

Me: I suppose so. But everyone is six, so there are no “unders”.

T: Daddy, everyone is under something.

Me: Huh?

T: Like you. You’re under 100.

Me: I suppose so. But then everyone you know is under 100.

T: Not the famous guy.

Me: What famous guy?

T: The oldest man in the world. He’s not under 100.

Me: No he’s not. But you don’t know him either.

T: Yes I do. I read about him in a book.

Feeling smug for having won this round, Tabitha sits in silence for a moment.

T: Are his mom and dad still alive?

Me: Whose mom and dad?

T: The oldest man in the world.

Me: Let’s see if you can work this out yourself.

T: Oh! They’re not alive.

Me: How do you know?

T: Well, his mom and dad are older than him. So if they were alive, they would be the oldest people in the world.

Pause.

T: Or, they could be alive, but younger than him.

Postscript

Quick plug: Tony Sanneh is evidently from Minnesota. He has a foundation that, among other things, offers free soccer camps in Minneapolis and St Paul recreation centers. They seem to be really positive, well run affairs drawing kids of diverse economic and cultural backgrounds. From what I can tell, they are doing lovely work that we should applaud.

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2 responses to “The oldest man in the world

  1. Such a fun conversation to have with Tabitha. I loved the progression of the conversation and you allowing her to really think the logic out regarding ages, lifespans, and mortality. Those are some tough concepts for kids and it demonstrates the strength of her number sense.
    I think my favorite quote was, “if they were alive, they would be the oldest people in the world.” Yes, this implies she understands basic knowledge about mortality, but I think she realizes the contradiction is more important here: How could the the famous guy [oldest man in the world] be the oldest if his parents are still alive, meaning they’d be older. And then she extends her thinking to verify and check for reasonableness: “they could be alive, but younger than him.” We all know that’s just plain false.
    Thanks for sharing!
    I’m curious to know her thinking on someone who, when alive, lived to be older than the current “oldest man in the world.”

  2. Next thing you know she’ll be arguing that there is no largest prime number. Look out, world!

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