Saturday, February 28, 2009

What are the odds? We're talking miracles here

I've had a few more moments of the 'universe conspiring' lately, and found myself asking, what are the odds? On my way to work I read the following story about a man who beat the odds of cancer, and reflects on the very miracle of being brought into this world: "Mathematically, our death is a simple inevitability, whereas our life hinges on an almost infinite sequence of perfect accidents. The universe was pregnant with us when it was born."

From Forrest Church's essay: "Chance of a Lifetime"

"Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about life’s odds. Four months ago I was diagnosed with a particularly savage form of esophageal cancer. Odds were, my doctor told me, I had only months to live. Entering all my variables into the relevant actuarial tables, the odds were 20 to 1 against me.

...and then I started beating the odds. Against all expectations, the cancer had not metastasized. A talented surgeon removed my esophagus, replacing it, conveniently, with my stomach. The post-op pathology brought us more good news. The margins were clear, the lymph nodes negative, and the tumor had barely penetrated the esophageal wall. New odds now: 3 to 1 that I am cured.

“What did I do to deserve this?” we ask when things turn against us, forgetting that we did nothing to deserve being placed in the way of trouble and joy in the first place. The odds against each one of us being here are so mind-staggering that they cannot be computed.

We’re talking miracles here. Not an unlikely miracle, like God parting the Red Sea for Moses to escape the Egyptians, but the miracle of water itself, in which living organisms can incubate, and enough warmth and light from the sun to establish conditions for life to be nurtured and develop here on Earth.

Consider the odds more intimately. Your parents had to couple at precisely the right moment for the one possible sperm to fertilize the one possible egg that would result in your conception. Right then, the odds were still a million to one against your being the answer to the question your biological parents were consciously or unconsciously posing. And that’s just the beginning. The same happenstance must repeat itself throughout the generations. From the turn of the 12th century, we each have, mathematically speaking, 1 million direct ancestors.


Not only did all our human ancestors survive puberty, but their pre­human ancestors did the same. Then we have to go back further to our premammalian ancestors; and from there to the ur-paramecium; and beyond that to the pinball of planets and stars, playing out their agon into diurnal courses, spinning back through time to the big bang itself.

Mathematically, our death is a simple inevitability, whereas our life hinges on an almost infinite sequence of perfect accidents. The universe was pregnant with us when it was born.

If you find yourself out of the race, so far behind the pack that you can hardly see its dust—if the odds weigh against you, the odds against happiness returning to fill your days with joy, the seemingly overwhelming odds that you will never recover from whatever is beating you down—take a moment to ponder life’s cosmic odds and how you’ve already beaten them."

~Forrest Church, "Chance of a Lifetime"


Jewels said...
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Rebecca Snavely said...

Sorry! I thought it might be clear that I was quoting the article -- I haven't had cancer...

I'll clarify better. :)