Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winning the Cosmic Lottery

Dear Ellie,

Neither of us should have existed.  As a matter of fact, no person on Earth should have existed.  Select any person in world, and I can tell you that they very nearly were someone else with different attributes, a different appearance, and a different consciousness.  The probability that you specifically could have been born of your mother and I is unfathomably tiny.  Truth be told, you should have been someone else.  Someone else who would have also been named Eleanor.

So what is this mystical jabbering of mine all about?  Well, it's not actually mystical at all.  It's about a principle in science: The Law of Independent Assortment.

Every person on Earth has a package of DNA from their mother and a package of DNA from their father.  When a sperm or egg is made, a person only gives half of their DNA, some from their own mother and some from their own father.  Which parts are given exactly is random or, as one might say, independently assorted.

The result is that every sperm and every egg is completely different, and what determines which sperm gets to an egg is random as well.  So when you get down to it, any minuscule variation in your mother and my diet or activity or behavior would have completely changed the sperm and (maybe) the egg that would go on to create you.  So for instance, if I had eaten broccoli instead of asparagus two nights before you were conceived, you wouldn't exist.  If we had walked into the doctors office the day that you were conceived just a second later, the andrologist would have selected a different sperm and you wouldn't exist.  If our IVF cycle had been a month sooner, as we planned, you wouldn't exist.  There is virtually an infinite number of things we could have done differently that would have excluded your opportunity to live.  Instead of you, you'd have a sister or a brother living your life for you.  These same circumstances apply to every human that has ever existed.  We are all interesting accidents.                     

 For a lot of people, this might seem depressing.  It might make them seem small and insignificant.  As though their life was never destiny, but instead some accident.  But that's not the way that I feel.  Instead, knowing this removes from me the impulse to feel bored.  It makes me value every moment of my life, because I live every day knowing that I won the ultimate cosmic lottery.  I hope that you feel this way, too.  You were given the right to exist when a trillion, trillion other possibilities could have--- should have--- been here in your place.

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