The history of homo sapiens stretches back 200,000 years, which means we are somewhere in the region of the 8,000th generation.
Each pair of your ancestors had to overcome nearly impossible odds to grow, survive, meet and produce the next link in a chain that ended in producing you.
One scratch from a twig? Tetanus, death and no chance of you. One hungry Saber-toothed tiger? A quick struggle, a tasty cave-man brunch and that’s the end of the line. One hard winter, one failed harvest, a brush with the Black Death and there was no chance of your ever being born.
So, 7,999 generations came and went until one day, two utterly random people happened to meet in some utterly random place, somewhere upon the surface of our planet.
How did your parents meet? How did they end up in the same town or city? How awesomely unlikely is it that two unconnected people would happen to be at precisely the same place at the same time? What if your mother had a headache that night and stayed at home? What if your dad had preferred that other woman in the room? What are the odds of these people being in the same place, at the same time, finding each other attractive, proposing a date, agreeing to one and then making it through those awkward first few encounters? Pretty unlikely, I think you’ll agree.
In 2014, eHarmony.com surveyed 2,000 people. They found that men dated an average of eight women before settling down. They will enter into long-term relationships (a year or longer) with two of these women. On top of the odds of two people meeting one another at random, then finding each other attractive and then arranging a date, your mother then had a mere one in eight chance of being “the one.” Of course, your mother had to make her choice too, out of her seven relationships, and so the chances of all these things turning out as they did is infinitesimally small.
So, that part’s over with. Your parents meeting and falling into a long-term relationship was an unlikely thing—but it happened.
What about the biological improbability of your existence?
Livescience.com states that every male produces about 525 billion sperm during his lifetime. Every woman is born with a million or two eggs. We could probably cut those numbers down, because both men and women are most likely to have their children within a 20 year window of 20-40 years of age. So let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that we have to multiply 160 billion sperm by 500,000 eggs to find the probability of those two halves of your genetic code meeting up. We’re not done yet, however, because it’s estimated that up to 60 percent of fertilised eggs fail to make it to term. So, whatever the odds of your genetic halves having met might be, multiply it by 2.5.
Whoa! Seriously long odds. Amazing improbabilities all the way from young people meeting to the conception and intra-uterine survival of your very own self. You’ll have to multiply them all together to find the near-infinite improbability of your being here to read this post.
Don’t forget, however, that if any of your 16,000 ancestors had met a different mate, there’d be no you. So, whatever the odds were of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg, multiply it by 8,000.
The European Space Agency states that there are a hundred thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone. Pick any one of them and I’ll try to guess which one. The chances of my picking the right star out of 100,000 million are many times greater than the chance of your being born.
You are quite simply absurdly unlikely—a walking, talking, practical impossibility. It’s a miracle that you’re here.
So, stop beating yourself up. You should be gasping in awe at the sight of your own reflection.
Start treating yourself with a little more compassion, respect and kindness, extending that same philosophy to others around you. Every living creature—every insect, cat, dog, tree and whale—is an incredible thing, and every one of them has somehow overcome the most incredible statistical obstacles in order to be here.
What a privilege it is to be alive and what a joy it is to share our ephemeral spark of existence with other creatures who so very easily might never have existed.
Our presence on the planet is a wonder to behold. Go outside, take a deep breath, witness the life teeming all around you and resolve to make the utmost of this near-impossible gift. You’ll never have another chance like this one.
Putting all this into action:
1. Save lives: I saved a greenfly from drowning in a pond today. Wow. How many generations of greenfly will now exist (sorry, rose-lovers!) because I saved that particular one? You could do the same. Your actions, no matter how small, will ripple through eternity.
2. Practise random acts of kindness. If you won the lottery, you’d consider yourself extremely lucky. Begin to consider how much more fortunate you are to be sitting next to an incredibly improbable being on the bus. Do, say, even just think something nice. Recognise critical thoughts forming in your head and focus on something good about the people around you.
3. Resolve, each day, to do something nice for yourself. It might be a good meal, a nice long bath or a massage. It might be refusing to let that inner critic (“you’re useless”) have its say. Whatever your little self-sabotaging habits might be, refuse to indulge them. You’re on this earth for a tiny sliver of time. There’s no time to waste on being cruel to yourself.
4. What have you been putting off doing, beginning, getting back to? Whatever it is, get doing it. You are such an improbable being that you deserve to make the best of your life. 8,000 generations invested all their efforts and risked a great deal in bringing your life into being. Honour them with every action. Don’t delay, get moving!
5. Consider that you have been given a rare ticket to a special event. You’re Charlie and you’ve found the last golden ticket to the chocolate factory. Enjoy every second you possibly can. Experience everything, live every moment and love.
Author: Paul Hughes
Editor: Emily Bartran