Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chance, Coincidence, and Incredible Odds

Has it ever occurred to you that life is a cosmic slot machine? Our past--our very existence--is the result of an infinite number of seemingly random coincidences and convergences of unrelated circumstances producing results with incredible odds far greater than any lottery. Our every single action alters and sometimes profoundly changes our future. Yet we remain largely oblivious.

Probably it's just as well; otherwise it would be impossible to make it through day after day, surrounded/immersed/bombarded as we are by so many challenges and contradictions and potential dangers. We do most of it on autopilot, of course. Our minds and bodies are programmed to free us from conscious awareness of those physical functions necessary for life and self preservation. We look when we cross the street without having to stop to think about it. We put one foot in front of the other without a thought. We breathe, we talk, we cook, and shower, and work, interact with other people, and do an infinite number of things, many at the same time. And if we were to stop and give close scrutiny to the astonishingly complexity of how and why we do any one of these things, our lives would grind to a halt. That we are able to do these things without pausing once to think of what we are doing, or why, is astonishing in itself.

Stop for just a moment to consider that you/I/each of us is directly descended from an unbroken chain of at least 10,000 generations of ancestors, each generation consisting of a pair of individual human beings who, as the bible so quaintly put it, "begat" the next generation by combining their DNA to produce the next link in the chain. And yet, if just one of those 10,000 pairings had for some reason--a rock falling from a cave roof, a stray arrow or bullet in one of mankind's endless wars--failed to produce the next link in the chain, the individual who is the current link--you--could never have existed.

And our individual lives are an endless string of single moments where conscious or unconscious decisions are made, every one of them subtly or profoundly changing the course of our lives. Just a cursory look at your own life will reveal a stupefying number of coincidences and what-were-the-odds events which brought you to this exact moment in time. If you hadn't done something you did do; if, when faced with a choice, you had chosen something other than you did--you would not be the same person you are.

And to take one tiny snippet from the chain of my own past: when I left Los Angeles, I opened a bed and breakfast in tiny Pence, Wisconsin--a circumstance I have often regretted for reasons too complex to go into here. And yet if I had not done it, I would never have met and become friends with a number of wonderful people who are still part of my life. One was my friend Mollie, who later moved to San Diego, where she told me of her next door neighbor, Gary, with whom she thought I might become friends. We did become not only friends, but best friends, and I really can't imagine what my life would be like today if he were not an integral part of it.

Every aspect of our lives is founded on the cumulative, moment-by-moment details of our past. And while nothing can be done to change any of this, pondering the imponderable is the strop upon which the razor of the mind is sharpened.

I sometimes regret, on a philosophical level, that the string of 10,000-plus generations which came together to collectively produce me ends with me. I have not and will not "beget" another link in the chain. My branch of the human tree will sprout no new twigs. And yet humans, as a species, have reached the stage in our development where DNA is not the only method of passing one's self on through the ages. The end of the physical does not mean the end of the individual. My words, which are my progeny and are the essence of me, will be around, somewhere, as long as there are eyes to read them. No 100 year maximum "shelf life." Though I may have an expiration date, my words and the parts of me they contain do not. I take considerable comfort in believing that.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

No comments: