Last month, when I wrote about some of the changes I was making to my blog this year, I stated how I likely wouldn’t do a post on the final week of each month unless I had something really good or really interesting that I wanted to write about. Thanks to noted physics and cat expert Gregory Gbur on Twitter, I’ve been provided an idea that fits exactly that premise. Before I get to the idea, I’d like to mention that you should pick up his book, Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics, as it combines cats and science. You literally don’t need anything else in a book.
Currently listen to Stone Temple Pilot’s “Creep” and trying to decide what fraction of a man he is at the end of the song. #HalfTheManIUsedToBe
— skullsinthestars – Black lives matter (@drskyskull) February 21, 2020
I’ve been a big fan of Stone Temple Pilots — and more specifically, the work of their late lead singer, Scott Weiland — for as long as I can remember. One of the few songs guaranteed to make me happy in most any circumstances is STP’s song “Big Bang Baby“. Another one of Weiland’s projects, Velvet Revolver, provided the background music for the final segment of my college radio show in the form of “Sucker Train Blues“. And the STP ballad “Atlanta” is one of my favorite songs ever, full stop.
In the above tweet though, we’re meant to explore the mathematical implications of the narrator of the song “Creep“, the third single released off of the band’s 1992 album, Core. For those unfamilar with the lyrics, I’ll link out to them here. That said, the line in the song that caused this question goes as follows.
“Well I’m half the man I used to be.”
The line itself is repeated 16 times in the song which should, in theory, make this a pretty simple answer. That said, I believe that there are several potential answers here, thanks in large part to how you choose to view the song from a philosophical standpoint. In this post, I’m going to examine both the mathematical and philosophical answers to drskyskull’s question in an effort to determine what the actual answer to this question is. I’d like to thank math nerd Katie Nevitt for her assistance in double checking my math in this post, as well as her help in firming up some of the scenarios laid out below. With that, we must ask —
What fraction of a man is Scott Weiland by the end of “Creep”?
Straight Forward Answers
Let’s begin with one of the two obvious mathematical answers to this question. Within the song, Weiland says he’s half the man he used to be a total of 16 times. Treating this like radioactive half-life, we assume that the first time he says it, Weiland is literally one-half of the man he used to be. The next time, he’s one-quarter of the man he used to be. This continues until the 16th time of decay, at which point he would be 1/65536 the man he used to be. A CDC study conducted from 2011-2014 found that the average American male weighs 195.8 pounds. 1/65536th of that would be approximately .0029 pounds, or about 1.315 grams. That’s about one and one-third paper clips worth of human left.
Let’s go with another fairly obvious answer as the first of our semantics-based answers. As a teen and early-twenty something who was a bit too emo for his own good, I think there’s a chance Weiland is lamenting the same loss of the same half of himself over and over. If this is the case, there’s not a ton of math to be done here. Weiland is merely half the man he used to be. We can easily depict this by the magicians’ trick where they saw a man or woman in half (vertically in this case), and then not put them back together afterward.
1/128 to 1/65536 (variable)
Though Weiland states he’s half the man he used to be sixteen times in the song, there is a bit of a difference as to how each of those times is presented. For seven of those times, there’s no follow up directly to that line. This leads me to believe that he has become half of the man he used to be seven times for sure, which would make him 1/128th the man he used to be. Going once again off of the assumption that the average human male weighs 195.8 pounds, this would mean that Weiland weighs approximately 1.5 pounds at this stage — roughly the equivalent to three-quarters of a pineapple.
As for the other nine times Weiland delivers the line, it is stated thusly.
I’m half the man I used to be
This I feel as the dawn
It fades to gray
The way the lyrics are worded lead me to believe that in these nine instances, the feeling of being half of a man that he once was is temporary (and regular) as a sunrise. If this feeling is treated as an additional half-life to Weiland’s loss of manhood, he’d be down to 1/256 of the man he used to be. That said, the lyrics don’t tell us enough to be confident as to whether this is a one-off loss and reconstitution or whether we must treat each of the losses as individual, cumulative half-lives. As such, I think there’s a possibility that at his best Weiland is 1/128th the man he used to be, though at his lower points, you could argue he’s anywhere from 1/256th to 1/65536th the man he used to be.
As Katie and I were combing through the lyrics of “Creep”, there was a line that stuck out to both of us that could potentially throw a wrench into these calculations.
Take time with a wounded hand
‘Cause it likes to heal
Unfortunately, Weiland doesn’t give any additional clarification on the severity of the hand injury in question here. For ease of calculation, we’re going to make a worst-case scenario assumption and say that the wounded hand is actually the full loss of that hand. And it is just one hand, as it’s singular in the lyrics. One study conducted found that the average surface area of the hand can be best estimated to be approximately 1% of the total body. Meanwhile, a different study found that a hand weighs a little over 0.57% of the average human’s body weight…though I found that particular study dubious because every time I tried to access the place that wrote it directly, my computer kept throwing security risk errors. So let’s go with the 1% number for ease of math and not giving my computer a virus.
Let’s take our initial mathematical calculation and say that Weiland is 1/65536th the man he used to be by the end of the song. We’ll then take away 1% of his body weight further from there, which leaves us with the incredibly unwieldy fraction of 99/6553600ths of the man he used to be. At this point, things are just getting silly. We must go further.
Other Possible Answers
At no point in the song does Weiland state that he isn’t a whole man at the end of the song. All he says is that he’s half of the man he used to be. We cannot prove that Weiland wasn’t singing about Voltron, as Weiland sadly passed away in 2015 from a drug overdose. That said, unless the song is being sung by a sentient portion of pineapple or floating vocal cords, I feel pretty good in saying that the singer of the song is, in fact, a whole person.
This begs the question then — just how many men was Weiland at the beginning of the song? If we go the lamenting of loss route I mentioned before, this would imply that he was two people at the start of the song. Despite my searching the internet, I couldn’t find any record of Scott Weiland having absorbed a twin in the womb, so I think this option is safe to rule out.
By this logic, you would think that the implication that Weiland was 65,536 men at the beginning of the song is equally unlikely, math, biology, and the universe as we currently understand it would all seem to agree with that statement. But my counterargument to that is this: I don’t care. We cannot disprove that Weiland was not part of a hive mind.
That said, I believe the most likely way to end the song as a whole man for Weiland goes back to the point we addressed in the last section of this post, that of the wounded hand. We’ll again assume that the loss of the wounded hand is literal, if only because of the imagery surrounding it. Though the loss of a hand would cause a loss of mass from the human body, as well as one percent of the surface area, it would be incorrect to assume that the loss of a limb would make anyone less of a human. We can then assume that Weiland is mourning the loss of his hand, but I want to assure him that he’s still a whole man to us.
With all of these factors considered, exactly what fraction of a man is Scott Weiland by the end of “Creep”? Mathematically, I think the answer is pretty simple. He’s 1/65536th the man he used to be. But if you dissect the lyrics and consider exactly what’s being said throughout the song, I think the answer is much less clear. I’m personally in the hive mind camp, but your mileage may vary. Regardless of how you look at it, just go listen to some STP.