Estimating the odds of your existence

Graphic by Kash Patel

How selfish are we to worry about death? We act as if it’s not incredible that we get to be alive in the first place. As if we are somehow entitled to exist because we’ve developed a consciousness that allows us to observe the world we live in.

Life is the most unlikely and unconventional occurrence in the universe. The coincidences that line up to allow the existence and survival of a single celled organism are unfathomable — let alone a species of primates that have developed technology to leave the planet where they sprouted and grew up.

It’s uncomfortable to think of life as a random list of chaotic events that happen to occur, so we try to frame existence into religious beliefs or build upon scientific knowledge that attempts to make sense of it all.

Regardless of how you feel about what this really is, you can only really appreciate it when you acknowledge your luck.

Studies say the universe is about 13.8 billion years old and the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Our species has existed for 200,000 years. But human civilization — that is, everyone we’ve ever heard of and the knowledge that we’ve built and the ancient societies that have come and gone time and time again — has all occurred within only 7,000 years. We’ve barely even gotten started.

In comparison, the average human life lasts about 79 years with health and luck. It’s nothing. A single life is so incredibly fleeting in the grand scheme of things that it barely even happens. An individual’s entire existence is a flash in the pan.

The universe has existed for billions of years before humans and will exist billions of years after us. In a seemingly infinite ocean of time, human existence is a tiny bubble formed on the surface for a half-second before it pops.

I don’t think of this as a depressing thought, but instead find it liberating.We’re so lucky to have gotten the chance to be, and the fact that we are occurring right now is absurd.

Yet our flash of existence is happening right now. The people here today haven’t existed for billions of years, and soon enough, won’t exist ever again. This moment is an anomaly.

And your luck keeps going. If you were born a millimetre to the left on the civilization timeline, you could be getting pre-anesthetic surgery from a doctor who doesn’t even know germs exist, while you bite down on a stick and hope the bottle of wine he dumped on you as an antiseptic worked while he digs through your leg.

We live in the time period after the invention of indoor plumbing, heated houses, tap water and cars. We live in the time-period before everything collapses. We exist in the pocket of the best time to be alive, as a species that has exited the food chain. We won the timing lottery.

We are a unique arrangement of matter available in the universe, a formation that has developed enough intelligence mixed with chemical reaction based on instinct and past-experience (what we call consciousness) that can observe and frame itself into scientific and mathematical measurements that help us conceive the universe in which we began. Alan Watts said it best: “You are the universe experiencing itself.”

Yet we humans have a self-entitlement problem. We get distracted by our everyday lives and forget that we’re coincidental life forms living on a rock in space.

I don’t think of this as a depressing thought, but instead find it liberating.We’re so lucky to have gotten the chance to be, and the fact that we are occurring right now is absurd.

It makes more sense to be exhilarated about your odds of existing at all than to fear when it will come to an end. We came from nonexistence and we will return there — being alive is a minuscule detour that we must appreciate.

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