How Lucky Are You to Be Reading This?

How Lucky Are You to Be Reading This?

What are the chances that you are reading this?

Feels inevitable, doesn’t it. Feels that way because it’s happening.

But it’s not. In fact is very unlikely.

First of all, how likely is it that you exist at all?

Let’s start with life itself. I get frustrated with people, even scientists, who say that extraterrestrial life is inevitable. “There are so many stars in the Universe,” they say, “There must be life out there somewhere.”

What are the chances that something happens? If I make half of the shots I take from the free throw line and I take 4 free throws. Chances are good I’ll get a basket but, since every shot is independent of the others I could make none (or I could make all of them if I was lucky).

The chance that I make at least 1 basket in 8 tries is based on this formula: 

P=1-(q^n)

Where n is the number of trials (4), q is the chance of failure for each shot (1/2). The probability I make at least one is 93%.

So for the chance of life outside of Earth we need the number of trials and the chance of failure. The number of trials is the number of planets in the universe. Let’s say there are a trillion galaxies and each galaxy has 150 Billion stars. Until about a decade ago we had no idea how many stars had planets but now we know that many do. Let’s say that 2/3 of the stars in the universe have planets. That gives us 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10^26) planets. That’s a lot of planets. Life is inevitable, right?

But we have no idea how likely life is to spontaneously develop. Self-organizing chemicals that self propagate? What are the chances of that randomly happening? 1 in a billion if conditions are right? What are the chances of the right conditions?

Then if the conditions are right and life starts, what are the chances that it gets complex. it took life on earth 3 billion years to develop multicellular life.

So you have untold trillions of unicellular organisms living and reproducing and dying each day for 3 billion years until a viable mulit-cellular organism developed. Seems like the chances of that happening are pretty tiny.

After that it took 600 million more years before homo sapiens developed. After that it took humans 275,000 years to develop agriculture and another 10,000 years to develop civilization.

None of this was planned and none of it was inevitable.

I tried to do the math but the numbers are too long for any of the resources I have to handle. But lets make it simpler.

Let’s say that there are 1,000,000 planets. 1/10th of them are in the goldilocks zone, not too hot and not too cold for liquid water so that’s 100,000 planets.

Let’s say the chances of life spontaneously developing is say one in a thousand and in this simplified scenario for every 1000 planets, life does arise.

So that’s 100 planets with life.

Let’s be generous and say that one out of every 10 of those planets develops multicellular life before the star it circles explodes or something big smashes the planet.

That’s 10 planets with multicellular life.

What are the chances of intelligence developing? One in ten? Remember that evolution is not directed toward intelligence. In fact, evolution is not directed at all.

But we’ll say 1 in 10 so we have 1 planet in a million that has intelligent life. Is this intelligent life smart enough and weak enough and adaptable enough to survive yet feel pressure to develop tools and technology? Seems unlikely. Even us naked apes took hundreds of thousands of years to come up with writing.

Now let’s get to you.

Here are some questions that serve to illustrate how unlikely you are.

  • What system did your parents use to find and choose each other?
  • How did they decided when to conceive you?
  • Why did they choose that night (or day) to have sex?
  • How did they choose the sperm cel and the egg?

Of course these are ridiculous questions. Everything that led to your birth was an accident. On top of that, everything that led to your parents birth was just luck. That goes back for all the generations of humans and protohumans and monkeys and pre-curser species that came before you.

One definition of a miracle is “a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.”

So you are a miracle.

If you ever feel ordinary, remember how unlikely you are.



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