Unlikely existence

You now and then hear a pro-atheist morale raiser like this:

Consider how unlikely your existence is. For you to be as you are, you had to choose the exact things you did; your parents had to meet, and procreate; and their parents and their parents’ parents and so on. Aren’t you enormously happy to be privileged to exist, when the vast majority of potential people never exist at all? (Simulated quote.)

I don’t understand this one. Or rather I think I understand it, but I don’t see why it is such an uplifting thought, though it may give rise to strong, good emotions.

Sure, my specific existence is unlikely, but I can’t avoid thinking like this: “I indeed exist; but that’s not a great achievement since someone had to; it just happened to be me. Any specific result in a toss of dice is unlikely; getting some result is certain, and once you’ve gotten a result it’s bad form to gloat about how spectacularly unlikely and happy that specific result was. That’s too close to supernatural destiny-crap for me, too close to mawkish innumeracy. And as far as human existence is concerned, it’s sweet to be, especially to be me, but if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be around to care.”

As this raiser’s been spoken by smart people like Richard Dawkins (certainly not a supernaturalist or innumerate!) and George Hrab, I can only conclude that too much mathematics has broken my brain and there’s some subtle emotional elegance here that my probabilistic dickery has clouded for me. Sigh, oh well.

One Response to “Unlikely existence”

  1. Janka Says:

    I do not think the idea is that you should feel happy about it because it is an *achievement*, or because getting this particular result is somehow better than a lot of other possible results. I think it is just a sort of mnemonic to get you remember that it *is* indeed sweet to be you and to appreciate the marvel of the vast potential of the universe. Is it not almost comical to think that of all the possibilities, this is what there is? At least it makes me smile.

    The “dickery” that stops you from enjoying you I do not think is probabilistics, but rather the ideal in our culture that stops you from being genuinely happy about being you, and about the strike of luck that being you is, without feeling vaguely guilty about “putting yourself above others”. As if you are not entitled to be happy about your existence unless that existence is perfect, or at least better than everything else.

    Then again, I never understood the argument of “how can I feel happy about being alive, after all if I was dead I would not care”. What’s it got to do with my conditional happiness given that I am alive that the probability of happiness given that I was not alive is zero? Maybe that’s not enough probabilistic dickery on my part, though.

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