Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Snowflake in the Center of the Sun

Life is like a single snowflake surviving in the centre of the sun: tenacious, persistent and determined. Yet on the contrary, life is like a single snowflake surviving in the centre of the sun: delicate, fragile and vulnerable. The chances of being alive are 1 in 10 2,685,000 - that's 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros. Basically zero. Similar statistical improbabilities also apply to each and every animal that has either lived, or is currently living on this planet. However, for the sake of simplicity, we will focus solely on you.

Let's start at the beginning. 

What are the probabilities of your Dad meeting your Mum? Well, 20-30 years ago the world had a smaller population than it does today, so your Dad could have met approximately 200 million women (go Dad!). But during the period that your Dad was searching for a mate, he probably met roughly 10,000 women. So the chances of your parents meeting? 1 in 20,000. Now comes the complicated part: love. Your parents do not only have to endure numerous dates and arguments, they also have to stay together long enough to have children. Essentially, they have to decide to give life to you. The chances of this? 1 in 2,000. 

So far, the chances of you being alive are 1 in 40,000,000.

Now we must deal with the virtually insurmountable numbers that appear when people are dealing with sperm and eggs. In your Mum's lifetime she will have approximately 100,000 eggs; whereas your father will create about 4 trillion sperm. What are the odds that one egg meets one sperm? 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000 (1 in 400 quadrillion) - This is approximately the volume of the Atlantic Ocean in cubic meters.  

In all seriousness though, we are only just getting started here.

In order for any of the above to occur, each and every ancestor of yours over the past 4 billion years, has to have lived to reproduction age. They have to have survived disease, warfare and prey, and everything else in-between (They needed to have been both an incredibly lucky, and tough little bunch!). This raises the question: what are the possibilities of your lineage remaining unbroken for the entire of human history (roughly 150,000 generations)? 1 in 10 45,000 (That's 10 with 45,000 zeros behind it). 

We're not quite there yet though. 

Each and every correct sperm from your male ancestors, had to meet the correct egg from your female ancestors for 4 billion years. The chances of this? 1 in 10 2,640,000

Now it's time to do a little maths to show what your chances are of being alive:

10 2,640,000 x 10 45,000 x 2000 x 20,000 = 1 in 10 2,685,000 (10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros) 

Let's compare this number to give it context:

The number of atoms contained within the average 80 kg male: 10 27
The number of atoms that make up earth: 10 50
The number of atoms that make up the known universe: 10 80

Or perhaps you could think of it like this:

It is the probability of 2 million people (roughly the population of San Diego) getting together to play a game of dice, with a trillion-sided-dice. Each person rolls the dice and comes up with the exact same number. That is the chance of you being alive today. Basically zero.

This post is dedicated to my dog, Barney. Today (30/10/2014) Barney passed away. Even though he used to piss in the kitchen and vomit on the carpet, he was a true friend like few I have ever had. What are the chances of both Barney and I being alive? Basically zero. Yet somehow we both came to be, and crossed paths. Even though he was only part of my life I understand that I was everything in his. It was a pleasure to call him my friend, my mate and my furry little brother. 

Life is like a single snowflake surviving in the centre of the sun: tenacious, persistent and determined. Yet on the contrary, life is like a single snowflake surviving in the centre of the sun: delicate, fragile and vulnerable.

Here's to life against the odds.