You should be rightly suspicious at any attempts at the philosophical on my end. For one, I’m insufficiently schooled. Likely, frankly, to mix my epistemology with my teleology and end up making an embarrassing cosmological muck-up of it all. Especially so at this late hour and after my bath-time whiskey. But a blog is a cruel and avaricious mistress and mine has been neglected.
So let’s start with this. According to some NOVA show a while back, the average male produces more than 400 billion sperm cells in his lifetime and in every ejaculation emits some 300 million of them. The average woman produces in the neighborhood of 400 ovum before menopause. For you to exist, a specific one of the 400 billion sperm cells your father cranked out had to run into a specific one of the 400 eggs your mother produced. Now, I’m no good at math, but even I can tell you that, during the specific act of coitus from which you are the happy result, that’s a 300 million-to-one shot.
And that’s just the last lucky roll of the dice in a 2-million-year-long genetic craps game. If you put the split between the ape and the proto-human branches of the primate families at 2 million years ago, which seems to be the popular number, then you’re looking at something like 300,000 generations of breeding between your most distant ancestors and you. And every individual in that great-great-great to the Nth power grandparent trail that added another necessary coital link to the biological chain from which you now dangle was the happy accident of the same daunting sperm-and-egg odds that had you pop bloody and bawling from some uterus in the not-too-distant past. Had, on any one of the conception days betwixt you and the mists of antiquity, a different one of those 300 million ejaculated sperm won the egg race then, well, you wouldn’t exist.
In other words, dealing only with the odds of the right sperm hitting the right egg on conception day itself, you’re looking at 300,000 x 300,000,000, which comes out to 90,000,000,000,000 (that’s 90 trillion) to one odds against you ever being born – and that’s leaving out the odds of the 300,000 sets of parents in that chain even meeting, of them then forming an attachment strong enough to lead to a coital act, of that act occurring on a day when that particular egg and that particular sperm happened to be in the chamber . . .
The plain math is this. That any one of us has ever seen the sun, breathed the air, eaten a cheeseburger – that is a miracle beyond the paltry imagination of any religion. It is the kind of miracle that takes science to even imagine, let alone explain.
How can you react to that sort of good fortune? It could crush you. It could leave you feeling that, having reaped such an implausible and bounteous genetic windfall, you owe the world a debt of similar magnitude. But I think that’s a mistake. You could cure cancer, lead the world to peace and the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title and still not even cover the vig on the debt.
No, instead I think maybe gratitude, gratitude and the willful surrender to every opportunity for silly, giddy, spontaneous and outrageous joy that you encounter, that that is the only logical response. Instead of spending each day bent under the comparatively miniscule burden of our imagined daily travails, we ought each to be prancing madly about like some schmuck who flew into Vegas and plunked his life savings down on green on the roulette wheel and won – 300,000 times.
So, if you’re going to Bouchercon and you see me smiling like an idiot in the company of this motley crowd wearing my ridiculous jacket and probably a tad over-served, don’t ask why. Just smile, or laugh if you want to. And buy me another drink.
Not only will we never pass this way again, it is a wonder that we have passed this way at all. So wonder at it, revel in it, get that shit all over yourself. There’s not nearly as much of it as you think.