“I’m not ashamed to say that I won’t be voting for Rick Perry, but you don’t have to tune in to CNN every evening to know that there’s something wrong in this country when politicians can openly spew homophobic, unconstitutional rhetoric and still garner support. As citizens, let’s end Perry’s war on reason and tolerance, and fight against radical conservative attacks on our secular heritage. Separation of church and state made America strong, it can make her strong again.”—Charlie Needham
Think of Daphne, chased by dirt- crusted hands, calling out to the darkness of space, which saved her in a chrome transformation: her skin glittering to silver, and where the balls of her feet struck up dust, now fires and building exhaust. Think also of our hike on that craggy planet, how few words we spoke of each other’s tongue. Each word a ledge, an outcropping over rocky spires. I imagined us both spitted. But I knew, and the knowledge formed an armature for kindness, that you were like me — knew it from what I think were your eyes (hard to tell behind the fogged up helmet) and how you knelt toward the soil to point out the gnawed stumps of trees: something’s teeth, you said, had eaten them toward an hourglass; it had backed off without shouting timber. Under my space mitts, my hands itched to feel yours. Our laughter created brief islands of coolness as if the foliage had thickened or one of the suns had ducked behind a cloud. Then we arrived back at our ships, which hadn’t incorporated, mechanical fins not reaching out, wires not braiding. The shielding did not open like robes, like two creatures enfolding each other in their raincoats. Think, brother traveler, as you speed away from me, of Daphne — thrusting upward through the closing circle of the god’s arms, the smoke trail showing her ascent and the fires that must have seemed bright even against blue sky and sunlight. Think of her alone on an endless path through the galaxy, of her traveling and traveling and traveling.
My name is Patrick Meighan, and I’m a husband, a father, a writer on the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy”, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.
I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400 heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted “We Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”
As we sat there, encircled, a separate team of LAPD officers used knives to slice open every personal tent in the park. They forcibly removed anyone sleeping inside, and then yanked out and destroyed any personal property inside those tents, scattering the contents across the park. They then did the same with the communal property of the Occupy LA movement. For example, I watched as the LAPD destroyed a pop-up canopy tent that, until that moment, had been serving as Occupy LA’s First Aid and Wellness tent, in which volunteer health professionals gave free medical care to absolutely anyone who requested it. As it happens, my family had personally contributed that exact canopy tent to Occupy LA, at a cost of several hundred of my family’s dollars. As I watched, the LAPD sliced that canopy tent to shreds, broke the telescoping poles into pieces and scattered the detritus across the park. Note that these were the objects described in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of garbage” that was “abandoned” by Occupy LA: personal property forcibly stolen from us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.
This is explains perfectly why shit is so fucked. If you don’t care about hundreds of peaceful protesters getting beaten, getting nerve damage caused by being zip tied for 7 hours straight, and then held for 2 days without bail, then just skip down to the part about Charles Prince.
“When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose”
Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
On October 11th, 2011, at 11:06 pm EST, I had an anxiety attack. Then, a few minutes later, I had an epiphany.
Several days later I quit the job I’d spent the previous 2 years of my life pursuing; a full-time comedy writing gig with full health benefits during the least stable economy since the Great Depression. I have yet to regret that decision. I doubt I ever will. It saved my career and, as long as we’re being honest with each other, my life.
My epiphany was not the lilting, radiant beam I’d gathered from artistic interpretations, but rather a blunt, downward, cerebral thud, induced by the sudden realization of a simple truth: The root cause of most every problem I’ve encountered in my post-pubescence could be traced back to the clinical anxiety with which I was diagnosed at age 15. Simple as that. Everything should be so easy.
I spent the next 4 days writing. What follows is the abridged version.
My hope is that my story falls not on sympathetic ears, but empathetic ones. If you’ve ever endured anxiety, depression, or addiction, I hope you’ll consider reading further. I wish someone had written this 10 years ago. I’m 25 now, and I think I’ll be okay. If even the tiniest morsel resonates, and if reading this helps you come to the same conclusion about yourself, then it’ll have been worth it.
Last week, I was thinking to myself that the only way the Government could snuff out the Occupy movement at this point would be to throw out the Constitution and the rule of law and just start throwing people in secret prisons. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act, will authorize the military to detain anyone, anywhere, without charge or trial, indefinitely. Even US citizens, even on US soil. Whisked away in the night, never to be heard from again.
This is real. Start talking about it. Republican, Democrat, whatever, everyone should be afraid of this bill.
A little while ago I had the privilege of attending TEDx San Francisco, organized by the incomparable Christine Mason McCaull. One of the talks was by Mel Robbins, a riotously funny self-help author and life coach with a syndicated radio show. In it, she mentioned that scientists calculate the probability of your existing as you, today, at about one in 400 trillion (4×1014).
“That’s a pretty big number,” I thought to myself. If I had 400 trillion pennies to my name, I could probably retire.
Previously, I had heard the Buddhist version of the probability of ‘this precious incarnation’. Imagine there was one life preserver thrown somewhere in some ocean and there is exactly one turtle in all of these oceans, swimming underwater somewhere. The probability that you came about and exist today is the same as that turtle sticking its head out of the water — in the middle of that life preserver. On one try.
So I got curious: are either of these numbers correct? Which one’s bigger? Are they gross exaggerations? Or is it possible that they underestimate the true number?
First, let us figure out the probability of one turtle sticking its head out of the one life preserver we toss out somewhere in the ocean. That’s a pretty straightforward calculation.
According to WolframAlpha, the total area of oceans in the world is 3.409×108square kilometers, or 340,900,000 km2 (131.6 million square miles, for those benighted souls who still cling to user-hostile British measures). Let’s say a life preserver’s hole is about 80cm in diameter, which would make the area inside
which we will conveniently round to 0.5 square meters. If one square kilometer is a million square meters, then the probability of Mr Turtle sticking his head out of that life preserver is simply the area inside the life preserver divided by the total area of all oceans, or
0.5m2/3.409×108x106m2 = 1.47 x 10-15
or one in 6.82×1014, or about 1 in 700 trillion.
One in 400 trillion vs one in 700 trillion? I gotta say, the two numbers are pretty darn close, for such a farfetched notion from two completely different sources: old-time Buddhist scholars and present-day scientists. They agree to within a factor of two!
So to the second question: how accurate is this number? What would we come up with ourselves starting with first principles, making some reasonable assumptions and putting them all together? That is, instead of making one big hand-waving gesture and pronouncing, “The answer is five hundred bazillion squintillion,” we make a series of sequentially-reasoned, smaller hand-waving gestures so as to make it all seem scientific. (This is also known as ‘consulting’ – especially if you show it all in a PowerPoint deck.)
Oh, this is going to be fun.
First, let’s talk about the probability of your parents meeting. If they met one new person of the opposite sex every day from age 15 to 40, that would be about 10,000 people. Let’s confine the pool of possible people they could meet to 1/10 of the world’s population twenty years go (one tenth of 4 billion = 400 million) so it considers not just the population of the US but that of the places they could have visited. Half of those people, or 200 million, will be of the opposite sex. So let’s say the probability of your parents meeting, ever, is 10,000 divided by 200 million:
104/2×108= 2×10-4, or one in 20,000.
Probability of boy meeting girl: 1 in 20,000.
So far, so unlikely.
Now let’s say the chances of them actually talking to one another is one in 10. And the chances of that turning into another meeting is about one in 10 also. And the chances of that turning into a long-term relationship is also one in 10. And the chances of that lasting long enough to result in offspring is one in 2. So the probability of your parents’ chance meeting resulting in kids is about 1 in 2000.
Probability of same boy knocking up same girl: 1 in 2000.
So the combined probability is already around 1 in 40 million — long but not insurmountable odds. Now things start getting interesting. Why? Because we’re about to deal with eggs and sperm, which come in large numbers.
Each sperm and each egg is genetically unique because of the process of meiosis; you are the result of the fusion of one particular egg with one particular sperm. A fertile woman has 100,000 viable eggs on average. A man will produce about 12 trillion sperm over the course of his reproductive lifetime. Let’s say a third of those (4 trillion) are relevant to our calculation, since the sperm created after your mom hits menopause don’t count. So the probability of that one sperm with half your name on it hitting that one egg with the other half of your name on it is
1/(100,000)(4 trillion)= 1/(105)(4×1012)= 1 in 4 x 1017, or one in 400 quadrillion.
Probability of right sperm meeting right egg: 1 in 400 quadrillion.
But we’re just getting started.
Because the existence of you here now on planet earth presupposes another supremely unlikely and utterly undeniable chain of events. Namely, that every one of your ancestors lived to reproductive age – going all the way back not just to the first Homo sapiens, first Homo erectus and Homo habilis, but all the way back to the first single-celled organism. You are a representative of an unbroken lineage of life going back 4 billion years.
Let’s not get carried away here; we’ll just deal with the human lineage. Say humans or humanoids have been around for about 3 million years, and that a generation is about 20 years. That’s 150,000 generations. Say that over the course of all human existence, the likelihood of any one human offspring to survive childhood and live to reproductive age and have at least one kid is 50:50 – 1 in 2. Then what would be the chance of your particular lineage to have remained unbroken for 150,000 generations?
Well then, that would be one in 2150,000 , which is about 1 in 1045,000– a number so staggeringly large that my head hurts just writing it down. That number is not just larger than all of the particles in the universe – it’s larger than all the particles in the universe if each particle were itself a universe.
Probability of every one of your ancestors reproducing successfully: 1 in 1045,000
But let’s think about this some more. Remember the sperm-meeting-egg argument for the creation of you, since each gamete is unique? Well, the right sperm also had to meet the right egg to create your grandparents. Otherwise they’d be different people, and so would their children, who would then have had children who were similar to you but not quite you. This is also true of your grandparents’ parents, and their grandparents, and so on till the beginning of time. If even once the wrong sperm met the wrong egg, you would not be sitting here noodling online reading fascinating articles like this one. It would be your cousin Jethro, and you never really liked him anyway.
That means in every step of your lineage, the probability of the right sperm meeting the right egg such that the exact right ancestor would be created that would end up creating you is one in 1200 trillion, which we’ll round down to 1000 trillion, or one quadrillion.
So now we must account for that for 150,000 generations by raising 400 quadrillion to the 150,000th power:
To get the final answer, technically we need to multiply that by the 1045,000 , 2000 and 20,000 up there, but those numbers are so shrimpy in comparison that it almost doesn’t matter. For the sake of completeness:
Probability of your existing at all: 1 in 102,685,000
As a comparison, the number of atoms in the body of an average male (80kg, 175 lb) is 1027. The number of atoms making up the earth is about 1050. The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 1080.
So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001.
A miracle is an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible. By that definition, I’ve just shown that you are a miracle.
Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are.
This article explains the math and science behind one of my favorite quotes, by Richard Dawkins-
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton…In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”