You are Lucky to be Alive
A more personal starting point involves you and me. About 100 billion people have ever lived since the first Genus Homo about 2 million years ago. In many ways we did come from the equivalent of Adam and Eve, sort of, but most probably, through some ape-like missing link, and almost surely, originally from archaea, a microorganism somewhat like bacteria, among organisms considered to be the first living life form. But no one really knows what archaea are, so let us say that there are around 10 to the thirtieth power bacteria living today (a trillion is only 10 to the twelfth power), and they began 3.5 billion years ago. In the hypothetical 24 hour clock, with time starting at the Big Bang, it is as if bacteria appeared just after 6PM, with the very earliest Man at 47 seconds to midnight.
How many bacteria have ever lived? Say, for the purpose of this discussion, 10 to the 43rd power, which is close enough. Add the number of humans who have ever lived, and you still have essentially the same number of life forms, as Humanity is so insignificant in the totality of all living creatures on Earth. To this total, add everything else that has ever lived. Viruses? Not sure if they are really alive, yet, it does replicate. In general, there are more viruses than bacteria than archaea, but, as bacteria are heavier, there is more bacteria mass than the other two. Anyway, the total of life forms will still be in the neighborhood of 10 to the 43rd, but perhaps, multiplied by a factor of two or three. Thus, there was a one 10 to the 43rd power chance for you to become a living form. But you could have become a tree. Disregarding microorganisms, but including macro forms that ever lived, in this ridiculous comparative analysis, there was only a one in 10 to the 34th power chance for you to have become a human being.
You are, indeed, very lucky. There is only one of you…so far. Remember, the clones are coming. If you add all the sperms ever discharged and multiply by all the human female eggs ever produced, the chance for you being made was also very close to one in 10 to the 34th. Same odds, but just pure coincidence with the other calculation. 10 to the 34th is 1, followed by 34 zeroes, or 10 decillion. Google, the company, was a mistake. The founders thought 10 to the 100th power was a really large number, so they misspelled GOOGOL, which is 10 to the 100th. Finally, there is the googolplex: 1 followed by a googol of zeroes, but that gets us way off course.
Thus, although we are all one in 10 decillion, I would like to present a case for a higher order of good fortune—me. First, I was born in “the best place on Earth,” Hawaii, a one chance in 20,000 odds for Americans born in 1940. As mentioned in the beginning section, if not for World War II, and the generation before me sacrificing their lives to bring respectability to Japanese living Hawaii, I probably would not have been able to grow up from relative poverty to become a university professor. CNN-Money.com in 2007 ranked the top ten jobs, and software engineer was #1 with college professor #2. Yes, I taught software courses early in my career. There should be some luck factor I can toss in here, but let me simplify things by chalking this all to good fortune.
Yes, getting that PhD involved quite an effort, but so far, I’m not even inserting this huge amount of luck. I was the only person born that year who has taught in the college of engineering at the University of Hawaii, so those odds now increase to one in 200 million. Japan has the highest life expectancy of any nation. The oldest man (Tomoji Tanabe, 113) is Japanese and Japanese women live longer than any other ethnicity. I am of Japanese extraction, so that ups the odds to one in 10 billion. However, Japanese males living in Hawaii live longer than those who toil in Japan. They work too hard there, and there are those stresses we don’t have as an American citizen. Thus, I am at the lofty level of one in 10 trillion (1:10 to the 13th). In a 2006 USA Today publication I noticed that Asians earned $61,094, Whites $50,784, Hispanics $35,967 and Blacks $30,858. That should be good for another uptick, but 10 trillion to one is good enough. This is on top of the fact that there was only one chance in 10 with thirty four zeros that I should have been born.
Lou Gehrig, in his 1939 farewell speech, when he became the first major league baseball player to have his jersey retired, said, I am “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” He, of course, knew he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, what later became know as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I hope I never someday will be known for having Pat Takahashi’s disease, for, it is just possible, that I truly am the luckiest person in the Universe.
But the luckiest person to have ever lived? Actually, no. Every one of you can create your own odds to be even luckier. All you need to do is take control of your life and do it. This sounds too much like a promotional ad on TV, but you can do it! You will gain a clue on how in APPENDIX B.