In 1994 I tried to work out the odds against my having been born. In the past six hundred years I have had about a million ancestors. If the odds against two people meeting and deciding to have children are ten to one (a very conservative estimate) then the odds against a million couples meeting are ten raised to the power of a million to one. I found it impossible to believe that I had had that amount of good luck before I was born when I have had good and bad luck in roughly equal quantities ever since. I came to the bizarre conclusion that my existence cannot be just luck: it has to be inevitable. This is a philosophical point that turns science upside down and that, so far as I know, nobody else has ever thought of.
Supposing that my existence is the only inevitable thing. Then not only could I have been any one of the hundred million people who have ever lived, but I could have been born into any conceivable type of universe. It might have been a universe that only lasted for a few seconds; it might have been a universe in which nothing existed except myself: it would still have been a miracle. So it is an even bigger a miracle that I have lived for more than sixty years and been able to see and hear and find out about a universe that is enormously interesting and complex.
I could regard my own existence as luck and the nature of the universe as inevitable, or I could regard my existence as inevitable and the nature of the universe as luck; either way I have been extremely lucky.
It should be possible to look at human civilization objectively: not just to know how remarkable it is but to feel it. I believe that my sense of wonder is greater than that of the average person, but I know that it is nothing like as much as it should be. Every moment of every day I should be thinking things like ‘Isn’t it incredible: that electric light really works!’, or ‘Water really does come out of that tap!’ or ‘That amazing adventure that began in 1942 really is still going on!’
Because you hear so much of people who are more famous and successful than yourself you tend to feel that your own life is insignificant and unimportant. But if you believed that you were the only person in the world you would not consider your life to be so insignificant. And if you then discovered that there were millions of other people in the world your life would be greatly enriched, and if it were greatly enriched it could hardly be regarded as being less important.
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