The Odds of Existence

In life, anything is possible. Because we can never fully understand how the world works and the laws of physics prevent us from being able to tell the future, everything we predict is a probability. Some are a lot more probable, others are less probable, while some have astronomically low chances of ever happening. The probability is vanishingly small, but it remains non-zero. Would you get hit by a car? Will you get struck by lightning? Will we ever achieve world peace? If there is a chance that anything can happen, what are the odds?

I was scrolling through the deepest parts of the internet one day when I came across this man, Roy Cleveland Sullivan, the man who has been hit by lightning 7 times in his lifetime. The odds of getting struck by lightning just once isn’t that low, it’s just 1 in about 15,000. Even if you live in a small town, chances are that someone in that town has been struck by lightning at least once. The odds of being struck 7 times in a period of 80 years? That’s a 1 in 10^28 chance. This seems like such incredible and unfortunate odds, until you consider the fact that you are more likely to get struck by lightning 7 times than you are to shuffle a deck of cards into perfect numerical order. Those odds? 1 in 10^68.

Probability is something that we can’t really comprehend as humans. If we did, we’d stop worrying about a lot of things and stop taking for granted most of the things that we actually should be worried about. Like sharks. No thanks to the movie Jaws, humans now have an immense fear of sharks. But the reality is, you are more likely to get killed by a vending machine than you are to get killed by a shark. The odds of getting killed by a vending machine are 1 in 112 million, while the odds of getting killed by a shark are a staggering 1 in 250 million. Now, the odds that you’ll be attacked by a shark are much lower at 1 in 3,748,067, but even that is still too high for the monsters we’ve branded sharks to be. 

For context, you’re more likely to get killed by a dog, at a 1 in 112,400 chance, than you are to get killed by a shark, but we still keep them in our homes as loving pets. You’re more likely to get killed by hornets, wasps, or bees at 1 in 63,225 than you are to get killed by a shark. In fact, you’re more likely going to get killed by the government for committing murder at 1 in 119,000, than you are of getting killed by a shark. 

When you put a little thought into it, you realize that most of the time, our fears are sensational and not rational. When something tragic happens and it garners a lot of public attention, we are more likely to be afraid of that thing even if it is much less common than the less notorious things. The most prominent example of this is the way we treat plane crashes. 

Yes, when planes do crash it is tragic. But because they cause such a big spectacle and have lots of media coverage, we forget that it is still by far the safest way to travel. Passenger airplane accidents are very rare, and your odds of dying in a plane crash are very slim at 1 in 205,552. That’s incredibly low when you compare it to your odds of dying in a car accident which is just 1 in 107, for motorcycle riders, it’s 1 in 890, and even pedestrians are not safe at 1 in 541. 

But wait. Maybe the reason the airplane deaths are so low has something to do with our fear.

Before people go on an airplane, they usually prepare well in advance. No harmful objects are allowed on board, and there is always more than one designated pilot who is trained for years on safety practices before they were ever allowed to fly a plane. 

Compare that to road travel where we don’t really think too much about it and you can maybe see why things are the way they are. And with the odds that you’ll be involved in a drunk-driving accident in your lifetime being incredibly high at 2 in 3, you can see what I mean. We barely give it any thought. Hopefully, we can all do better. Try to reduce the risk by simply designating a driver beforehand or taking an uber when you go out for fun. 

Another thing we should be worried about is right-handed appliances. Yes, it’s true that most of the world is right-handed, but if we’re learning anything as a species, it’s inclusiveness. We must do the same with dominant hands because as it is, the odds of a left-handed person dying simply because they used a right-handed appliance wrong is 1 in 7,000,000. And while the chances look ridiculously slim, it has to happen to somebody. If you don’t die, hey, you’ll get a lot of free money from the lawsuit.

The ambidextrous people among us can help us decide what appliances are better suited for what dominant hand, and we have a surprising amount of them, 1 in 100 to be exact. This does not include people who have had to learn how to use their non-dominant because of injury or out of curiosity. It’s just people who were born with amazing control of their two hands. 

Art is very subjective. What some people might find beautiful, others will find ugly. What one might consider great acting, others might see it as over-the-top and annoying. You see, much unlike science, art does not have a definitive set of rules, and so they don’t have a strict guideline for judgement either. And while this allows for creativity, it also makes it very difficult to find success in the world of arts. 

If you want to be a surgeon, for instance, you know that if you pass the med school exams, intern, go through residency, and so forth, you’ll make it. You have a set path to follow. But if you want to be a supermodel or a rockstar, it’s not that straightforward. You have to work hard at it every single day, and even then, your odds are still pretty slim. 

You can be a theater kid all your life, go to film school, practice as much as possible, but in the end, the odds that you’ll become a movie star are not very encouraging, just 1 in 1.1 million. 

It’s so amazing that even with odds as slim as this, every year, thousands of people still travel from all parts of the world to LA, trying to fulfil their dreams of being on the big screen when interestingly, you have a much better chance of winning an Oscar at just 1 in 11,500 than becoming a movie star. 

But of course, this Oscar includes all the technical awards that are given when everyone is taking a bathroom break. And most people would much rather take a 1 in 1.1 million chance than to receive an award when no one’s watching. 

If you’re a writer, however, the odds are slightly in your favor. There is a 1 in 220 chance that you’ll write a New York Times Bestseller. If you put in the time and the effort necessary, these odds are definitely going to go up, bringing you that inch closer to making your dream a reality. 

Sports are closer related to science than arts because most of the time, if you work at it hard enough, you’ll achieve success. But how hard can you work when there are only so many medals to go round? Millions of people around the world dedicate their entire lives to competing in the Olympics, yet only 1 in 662,000 will ever win a medal. And that’s the thing about scarcity.

When there’s such limited space, the odds of ever being able to do or acquire said thing just gets increasingly thinner. 

Think about the number of children who have worn a space suit and helmet to career day in school and told everyone they want to be astronauts. Now think about the fact that the odds of becoming an astronaut are 1 in 12.1 million, and you get sad for those little kids whose dreams will one day have to be crushed. 

What if they wanted to be president? Well, the chance of becoming a US president is 1 in 10 million, unless you’re a religious 6-foot tall Harvard law school graduate and military veteran, then your odds go up astronomically, especially if you are a Harvard Alumni, because as surprising as it might sound, the odds that the President of America attended Harvard is 1 in 3.58. So if you want to have the best odds at becoming President, you know what school to apply for. 

However, getting into Harvard is almost as difficult as becoming the President when you’re done. With a chance of just 4.6% of getting in, you might want to apply to some back up schools as well. 

At the end of the day, we all just want to be successful. Whether it’s through the arts, through sports, or going the so-called “traditional route” of finishing college and getting a good job, we all just want to have enough money to live comfortably while we are still young. 

But sadly, the odds are stacked against us. There’s a slim chance of just between 6.4% and 22.3% that you will become a millionaire, with different factors like race, education, wealth status, and age helping to place you somewhere in that range. While the chance of becoming a billionaire? Well, there are 8 billion humans in the world and only around 2,000 billionaires so basically, non-existent.

Getting old has a bittersweet taste to it. On the one hand, you’re getting wiser, more mature, and you have a much better understanding of the world than you did when you were younger. But on the other hand, you’re also getting weaker, you’re forgetting things more, and sadly, your body just keeps breaking down, one after the other, and the stats do not help at all. 

If you’re under 20 right now, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that you’ll be disabled before you retire, and it gets worse. There’s a 1 in 2 chance that at the age of 75, you’ll have disabling hearing loss. 

This is why whenever people say they want to work hard now so they can enjoy their “retirement,” I kinda feel bad for them. Because most times, at that age, you don’t really get to enjoy anything. All you can really do is sit around and reminisce on a life that was and when the grim reaper comes, you say goodbye to your loved ones and move on.

And that’s why you should do everything you want to do, right now.

For some reason, there’s a 7% higher chance that you’ll die on your birthday than on any other day, going out together with the candles. But for a few of us, living to a hundred is possible, with the odds of that happening being approximately 1 in 5,780, with those odds increasing significantly if you’re biologically a woman. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the most incredible human achievements is being born. If you’re here watching this video right now, you deserve a round of applause. You ran, you fought, you survived. And against all odds, you made it. I’m proud of you. 

The odds of you existing were 1 in 5.5 trillion, but here you are. You might have been the 1 in 20 chance of being born on your mom’s exact due date, or you’re like most of us who were born around 2 weeks before or after. You might be the 1 in 250 who are geniuses, burdened with the weight of advancing our civilization, or like the rest of us who are cheering them on. 

Whoever you are, whatever it took you to get here, that was an incredible feat. One that is unrepeatable. Not in this lifetime at least.

- EE, MM