What are the chances of You?

Being alive is totally cool. There are a mind-bending number of  parameters that lead to what we call a life – the  millions of preceding generations of individuals pairing of with each other exactly as they did, as well as the specific pairing of one egg amongst thousands from the mother (over her lifetime) with one sperm amongst millions from the lucky male. And then you have to dodge the many misfortunes that can befall what is really nothing more than a dividing soap bubble with some protein inside – spontaneous abortion, genetic incompatibility with life, or indeed the whims of your maternal host &/or environment during gestation. And then, after all that, you might turn out to be a salmon. Pissed.

Or, if you go one extra astronomical bound of fortune, your bubble might have come from the genes of some organisms with a less depressing life cycle – pigs, dolphins, humans etc, some of which enjoy the pleasures of recreational sex, board games, and deep philosophical thought.

I could go into how great it is being a human at this point of our species’s history, what with the record setting life expectancies and awesome science, but unfortunately the geography of your birth still plays too much of a role to say that you wouldn’t necessarily have been better off thousands of years ago. Anyway, you get the point – You are alive, and a lot of things came together for you to end up reading this.

What are the chances?
Total and utter certainty, if determinism is to be believed.
The blind man throwing darts is a useful analogy. An observer exclaiming “what are the chances that you would hit in that exact spot?!” after the dart landed off the scoring section, and pierced the scrotum of a passerby would be deemed rather silly. Given that’s where it landed, the infinitesimal probability of the dart landing in any location, to the nearest atomic radius, suddenly disappears, and becomes ‘1’ – certainty.

The idea that one moment’s energies and velocities are the single result of the moment before it, is known as determinism, and some would argue is a natural extension of the basic principle of cause and effect. When taken to it’s logical conclusion, determinism suggests that every aspect of the ‘random’ chances that led to your existence were in fact inevitable from the moment of the Big Bang.
NB: Physicists get a bit shirty if you start talking about determinism – quantum physics doesn’t play very nicely with it. Still, it’s a nice idea 🙂

But who cares? You certainly exist, and you’re conscious, and there is no practical application for the idea of determinism except to write about in long awaited and rarely read blogs. So lets talk about You.

Psychiatry has kind of a thing about how our sense of identity is formed as an child. It talks about how we develop a sense of our place in the world, how we should cope with distress, and how we as entities exist in the minds of other people (usually our parents). When the normal framework for maintaining a stable sense of ‘self’ goes awry, all sorts of mental illnesses are said to result. You have been warned.

As a consciousness, we are not really the whole of our body – a person without hair, fingers or even legs has lost none of the hallmarks of what it is that sets us apart from the dreary life of a potato, cow or KCL student. Even if you look at the brain alone, we aren’t always being produced by it – when we are asleep our awareness is fractionated and variable, and when we’re physiologically unconscious it could be argued that we effectively stop existing. Even when awake, our nature can be transitionally altered by drugs, alcohol or pain. Clearly the notion that we are stable entities at the controls of a stable machine is untrue – learning, experiencing life (and making a mess of it) alters the biochemistry of the brain second by second. In turn, the consciousness that brain produces alters – perhaps following a new cascade or algorithm of thought in the short term, while in the longer term making a ‘mental note’ to not be brave about yoghurt use by dates . You exist in your exact state only once. With each passing moment ‘you’ (the balance of emotions, priorities and plans of an instant) become a blurred byte of memory that at least part of You are comprised of, and might later reflect upon with varying levels of affection, sympathy or distaste.