Monday, January 28, 2019

You Shouldn’t Be Here

You shouldn’t be here. I don’t mean specifically here reading this blog post (I am glad you are). I mean you shouldn’t be here, like, at all.

You shouldn’t exist.

Back in 2011 author Ali Binazir tried to determine the probability that any specific person would ever come to be. Although an exact calculation would not be possible, he did an impressive job making an estimate.

For example, just take your conception. Your mother had around 100,000 eggs throughout her lifetime. During the years you could have been made, your father would have created about 4 trillion sperm. So the chances that the exact egg and the precise sperm came together to make you would be 1 in 400 quadrillion.

That is 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000!

But that is just you. The same thing needed to happen for your specific parents to be born. And their parents. And their parents. And so on and so on. You get the picture. When all of these and other factors were combined, Binazir came up with his final estimation. The probability of you existing, the specific unique you that is you, came out to be:

1 in 102,685,000

That is a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros! To put that is some perspective there are only 1080 atoms in the entire universe. (For more details, there is a copy of the infographic made from Binazir’s data at the bottom of this post.)

Mathematically speaking the odds of you existing are virtually zero. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t exist.

But here you are reading this blog. So what does that mean? Does that make you special? Is this the spot where I go on about how you are a unique snowflake. Well… not exactly.

To help clear this up we need to understand probability a little better. Back when I was teaching middle school math I would often use coins, dice, or playing cards to help illustrate chance. Let’s take this ridiculously large problem and make a much simpler, but similar, version to explain the situation.

Let’s say you roll a single die. What is the chance you would get a "6"? Well there are six sides to a die with numbers from "1" to "6", so you should roll a "6" one out of every six tries, or 1/6 as a fraction.

What if we roll a second die. What is the probability of getting a "6" on one die and another "6" on the other die? Well both are a 1/6 chance, and we multiply the probabilities to get the chance for the combined event. That would be 1/36 or a 1 in 36 chance of getting two "6's".

We can keep extending this out with more and more dice. To keep it simple let’s just stay we use five dice, like playing Yahtzee. What is the probability of rolling five "6's"? Well it is 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6. That ends up being a chance of 1 in 7,776. Not very likely.

If you roll 6-6-6-6-6 it feels really cool, doesn’t it? Like you have done something very difficult, extremely rare, and intrinsically special.

Well, hang on.

What if you roll 2-5-1-4-2. Doesn’t seem very special at all, does it? But what is the chance of rolling those five numbers? Well each has a 1 in 6 chance, so getting those five numbers would also be a probability of 1 in 7,776.

Just like 1-6-4-5-5 or 6-2-4-1-3 or 4-4-1-5-1 or on and on and on. If you roll five dice you are going to get five numbers. That is a 100% probability (unless you lose some dice under the couch or something.) There’s nothing inherently special about 6-6-6-6-6. It is just one of the many equally likely outcomes.

So what does this have to do with you and me and everyone we meet?

Well, it is like the universe rolled a trillion dice. And you are what came up.

As long as the dice were rolled (that is, kids were had by your parents and their parents and their parents and so on and so on) someone would be the current end result. In this roll, that someone just happens to be you.

So what’s that mean? Does that mean you aren’t special? No, not at all. We are all very special for many different reasons. What I am saying is this is not what MAKES you special.

The fact that you have a 1 in a bajillion chance of being alive, that the odds of your existence are virtually zero, that you shouldn’t be here at all, none of that makes you special. It makes you something else.

It makes you fortunate.

Out of the near infinite possibility of people that could have existed, you are the one who gets to be alive. You didn’t do anything to make it happen, to earn it, or to deserve it. You just got it. YOU get to live!

You won the life lottery. You got the golden ticket to the ultimate Willy Wonka factory. For such a brief moment, a mere 80 to 100 years out of the billions of years in time, you got the chance that countless others did not. To be alive.

To live and learn and laugh. To love and lose and love again. To wonder and discover and to still be amazed. To create and give and take a risk. To let your voice be heard. To make the world a better place.

So stop.

For a moment, just stop right where you are. Just breathe, deeply. Just be quiet and still. Feel your heart beating within you. Remember… you are alive. You are so, so, so incredibly, infinitely fortunate to exist. Don’t lose that. Don't forget it. Don't waste it.

It is so easy to get distracted and discouraged. We can get so caught up in trying to win at the game of life, that we forget we already won the greatest possible prize. We simply get to play it. I have been trying, and failing, but trying to do this in my life. To pause and just be. To exist in the moment and see the beauty all around. To cherish the fleeting days I have. To see past the challenges of life, and remember the joy of living.

There is a beautiful line from the song “Saturn” by the band Sleeping At Last that always breaks through my funk and reminds me just how lucky I am:

"With shortness of breath, I'll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist"

Don't forget that you are so, so fortunate. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t exist. You shouldn’t be alive. But you are.

So... live!

(Watch the video version below.)