Miracle Odds

November 9, 2011

My previous post, inspired by Steve Jobs’ last words, explored what happens when we die. But what about the here and now and the unknowable number of days ahead of us? Jobs himself used the certainty of death as a motivator and guide for how to live every day. In his much-praised commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, the late Apple CEO said:

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

I thought of Jobs’ speech today while trying to comprehend calculations that identify the odds we exist and thus have the opportunity to follow our hearts. The odds are so mind-blowingly large, according to the man who did the math, that our existence is a miracle. Dr. Ali Binazir defines a miracle as an event so unlikely that it’s almost impossible. The betting line: 1 in 102,685,000. Our brains aren’t equipped to grasp the magnitude of that number — way too many zeros, so Binazir gives an example to illustrate the miracle odds:

So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number say, 550,343,279,001.

How Binazir calculated the odds is visually explained in an infographic that a science editor says will make you more skeptical that you exist at all. Assuming that we do, how should we respond to our improbability? Binazir says:

Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are.

And what are the odds that we will?