Mind blowing ideas

The statistical miraculousness of being

It’s seems to me to be part of human nature to at some stage question the point of one’s life, and even whether or not it is worth living. If and when this time comes for you, there is something I want you to think about.

I want you to consider the virtually infinite number of events that have needed to occur at the precise moment they did for you to be in existence. When you do you’ll realise that, quite frankly, it is statistically a miracle that you are here at all. I call this idea ‘the statistical miraculousness of being’.

Of course, I’m not the first one to have had this idea. There is a Buddhist parable which is based on the same concept. An old blind turtle who lives in the bottom of the ocean surfaces once every hundred years for air. Floating on the ocean is a wooden cattle-yoke, tossed this way and that by the winds and currents. As often as the blind turtle happens to raise his head through the neck hole of the yoke when he comes up for his centenary breath, that’s the likelihood of any single human being being born.

In my case, for me to have been born my parents, fairly obviously perhaps, had to meet. If my father hadn’t been able to go out that weekend to Northern Ireland to stay with a friend and be invited along to the dinner party where he met my mother, I simply wouldn’t be. In fact if my mother’s first husband hadn’t tragically died, leaving her a widow with two small children, then she wouldn’t have met my father in the first place. His death didn’t lead directly to my life – it was just one tiny infinitesimally small, but necessary, piece in the puzzle that, once complete, would create the conditions for it to be possible for me to be.

My parents also needed to conceive me at exactly the moment that they did. For had the child they were trying for been conceived a day, an hour, a minute, a second later, then in all likelihood it would not have been me. Had my father run back downstairs that night to turn the kitchen light off before going to bed, then the chances are they would have another sibling of mine now here in the world, but not me.

In a typical ejaculate of a healthy, physically mature, young adult male of reproductive age with no fertility-related problems there are between 300 and 500 million spermatozoa. But there was only one which, when it combined with one particular egg from my mother, could combine to create the unique genetic makeup that would make possible my existence. The fact than an almost infinite number of possible alternative siblings is not alive instead of me is one that is so incredibly unlikely. But as unlikely as it was, I was born.

The statistical miraculousness of my creation applies to the existence of each of my parents. It also applies to the existence of each of their parents and every single one of my ancestors going back to the very dawn of time, upon whose existence my own has so obviously been dependant.

I wrote an article about this idea, and the editor of the publication I sent it to responded saying that he himself had found great comfort in this same concept. He forwarded me a link to a song by the band The Streets called ‘The Edge of a Cliff’. The first time I heard it I literally buzzed with excitement – I now knew I was not alone in thinking this is a pretty mind blowingly wonderful idea.

The lyric that sums up the idea for me is,

“For billions of years 

Since the outset of time 

Every single one of your ancestors survived 

Every single person on your mums and dad’s side 

Successfully looked after and passed onto you life”

This idea has awoken in me a profound appreciation of the rarity of the life that I have and an intense desire to make the most of this opportunity in every way that I can. Let’s face it – the universe was happening anyway. That I, or indeed any of you, got to play a small part in it is just the most fantastically, fortunate bonus.

For me, thoughts of meaninglessness and preoccupations with transience simply shrivel on the vine when one realises how enormously lucky we are to be alive at all and how easily it could have been otherwise.

The French existentialist writer, Albert Camus, said that: “The only serious philosophical question is whether life is, or is not, worth living.” Given the statistical miraculousness of any single individual life being in existence, I would say it absolutely is.

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