Aging in Mathematics and in Surgery
The name of Hardy was familiar to me since I remember the Hardy–Weinberg principle, stating that allele and genotype frequencies in a population will remain constant from generation to generation in the absence of other evolutionary influences: [(p + q)2 = p2 + 2pq + q2 = 1, where q = 1 − p].
After coming home, I read Hardy's famous book, A Mathematician's Apology, and learned about some interesting aspects of his character. In 1896, Hardy entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he eventually graduated.
He could not bear to look at his own reflection in a mirror. It is said that, when staying in hotels, he would cover all the mirrors with towels. He engaged in this peculiar behavior because he believed his activity and skill would decline with age and denied that he was aging.
In his book he discussed a phrase attributed to Gauss: “Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics.” He thought that mathematics is a “young man's game,” meaning that anyone with a talent for mathematics should develop and use that talent while they are young, before their ability to create original mathematics starts to decline in middle age.
As a plastic surgeon who turned 60 this year, I have recently thought about aging. I recalled Dr Harold Delf Gillies (1882–1960) (Fig. 1). Dr Gillies, 5 years younger than Prof Hardy, studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. Gillies suffered a slight cerebral thrombosis while undertaking a major operation at the age of 78 on the damaged leg of an 18-year-old girl.
As exemplified by Dr Gillies, aging makes plastic surgeons more experienced and wiser than when they were young. An episode in ancient Chinese history illustrates this point: a king (Qi Huanong) and his troops embarked on a conquest in spring against a nearby nation. On their way home in winter, they lost their path. A general (Guan Zhong) said: “We can use the wisdom of the old horse.” They released an old horse in front of the line of soldiers, the soldiers followed it, and they finally found their way.
Similarly to Gauss, I think that plastic surgery is the queen of surgery, and craniofacial surgery is the queen of plastic surgery.