Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chance, Coincidence, and Incredible Odds

Life is a cosmic pinball machine; our past—our very existence—is the result of an infinite number of random coincidences and convergences of unrelated circumstances producing results with 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 even one day if we had to stop and consider our every smallest action before committing it. We are surrounded/immersed/bombarded by so many challenges and contradictions and potential dangers that we would be totally incapacitated while trying to choose which action to take. 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 walk by putting 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 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 links had broken—by a rock falling from a cave roof, a stray arrow or bullet in one of mankind's endless wars failing to produce the next link in the chain, the individual who is the current link—you—would/could never have existed.  

Life is 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—if 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 led to 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 physical existence need not necessarily 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 copies of them to be read and 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 immeasurable comfort in that belief.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Was talking with Ralph last night about the paperwork we're filling out to create a Trust. Part of it deals with children, which we don't have. Told him maybe we could adopt and he brought up surrogacy again. In any case, they're about being able to combine the DNA of three parents (in this case, the surrogate and two fathers). Wouldn't that be something?

Bringing a little 1/4 Chinese tyke with a superiority complex into the world might truly be the start of the end of days.