Tuesday, March 31, 2009

why everything is extraordinary and statistics are pointless

Have you ever considered the long line of people who went before you? Sometimes I think about all the possibilities... what if my great-great-grandfather had decided to stay in England instead of coming out to New Zealand, and what if the philanthropic German Count had decided against sending a bunch of German peasants, including my great-great-great-grandfather and -grandmother, to New Zealand? Henry wouldn't have met Mary Ann, and Ernst wouldn't have met Anna. Children would not have followed, and I would not have been here today.

What if my grandmother had died at an early age of a fever? In the grand scheme of things, imagine all the people who could have died along the way and mucked up the lineage that produced Me?! World history seems to be littered with wars, famine, sickness, and accidents, let alone chance meetings that could have resulted in different couplings that could have resulted in different children who would not have produced Me!

I'm making it sound a little ridiculous, I think, and I'm not saying that history has been working with one single purpose - the production of me. :) Of course, given all these accidents, wars, and sickness, perhaps I am a ghastly mistake - let's hope not.

But hasn't the thought occurred to you? The thought of the odds that were stacked against you appearing on this planet at all?

This is why I think statistics are a completely useless way to predict the future. What does it matter if you have X% chance of living past a certain age, or X% chance of not getting a divorce, or X% chance of avoiding cancer? Simply the fact that we are here at all is an infinitely unlikely chance. The odds are stacked just as high against us meeting a man called Edgar or stepping on a cockroach tomorrow as they are against us succeeding in something we set our minds to - and yet we meet Edgar and we squash a cockroach and we think nothing of it.

It's late at night and I'm not sure if this is coming across very clearly. What I'm trying to say is: everything is extraordinary. Especially if we have a chance to get used to it. Statistics may have some inherent logic, and some proof in the practicalities of life, but as far as our own lives go, they have no way of telling us where we fit into the statistics. They're like tarot cards with a scientific veneer.

1 comment:

Sarakastic said...

I was just thinking about this in terms of work the other day. I miss having possibility even if I don't have probability, this thought that something unexpectedly wonderful can happen at any moment. It doesn't matter what the odds are against it, because I only need one break & I'm awesome so it mine as well happen to me.