The Impossible, Improbable Lottery
“Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born,” Richard Dawkins writes, in Unweaving the Rainbow. “The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton.” It’s mind-boggling to even consider. “In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”
We have won the impossible, improbable lottery of birth. And we don’t know what will happen. We never can. There’s no skill in birth and death. At the beginning and at the end, luck reigns unchallenged. Here’s the truth: most of the world is noise, and we spend most of our lives trying to make sense of it. We are, in the end, nothing more than interpreters of static. We can never see beyond the present moment. We don’t know what the next card will be — and we don’t even know when we see it if it’s good or bad.
In 1979, Carl Sagan wrote about the awe of the universe in his notebooks, as a counterpoint to the irrationality of superstition and false belief. “We live in a universe where atoms are made in the stars; where life is sparked by sunlight and lightning in the airs and waters of youthful planets; where the raw material for biological evolution is sometimes made by the explosion of a star halfway across the Galaxy,” Sagan reflects. “How pallid by comparison are the pretensions of superstition and pseudoscience…”
— Maria Konnikova, The Biggest Bluff