Fortune of Conception

Moralists and theologians place great weight upon the moment of conception, seeing it as the instant at which the soul comes into existence. If, like me, you are unmoved by such talk, you still must regard a particular instant, nine months before your birth, as the most decisive event in your personal fortunes. It is the moment at which your consciousness suddenly became trillions of times more foreseeable than it was a split second before. To be sure, the embryonic you that came into existence still had plenty of hurdles to leap. Most conceptuses end in early abortion before their mother even knew they were there, and we are all lucky not to have done so. Also, there is more to personal identity than genes, as identical twins (who separate after the moment of fertilization) show us. Nevertheless, the instant at which a particular spermatozoon penetrated a particular egg was, in your private hindsight, a moment of dizzying singularity. It was then that the odds against your becoming a person dropped from astronomical to single figures.


The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, 'the present century'. Interestingly, some physicists don't like the idea of a 'moving present', regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book. I am equally lucky to be in a position to write one, although I may not be when you read these words. Indeed, I rather hope that I shall be dead when you do. Don't misunderstand me. I love life and hope to go on for a long time yet, but any author wants his works to reach the largest possible readership. Since the total future population is likely to outnumber my contemporaries by a large margin, I cannot but aspire to be dead when you see these words. Facetiously seen, it turns out to be no more than a hope that my book will not soon go out of print. But what I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.

We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found. But take a look at the competition. Compared with most planets this is paradise, and parts of earth are still paradise by any standards. What are the odds that a planet picked at random would have these complaisant properties? Even the most optimistic calculation would put it at less than one in a million.


Folksonomies: chance probability improbability

/hobbies and interests/games/lottery (0.614490)
/law, govt and politics (0.527387)
/art and entertainment/music (0.499948)

total future population (0.936134 (neutral:0.000000)), gold harvest festival (0.931248 (neutral:0.000000)), spotlight (0.878061 (positive:0.199361)), odds (0.869604 (negative:-0.078876)), tiny spotlight (0.854355 (positive:0.535690)), decisive event (0.843517 (positive:0.706926)), dizzying singularity (0.839057 (positive:0.472390)), Conception Moralists (0.834451 (neutral:0.000000)), great weight (0.834357 (neutral:0.000000)), personal fortunes (0.833779 (positive:0.706926)), particular instant (0.832785 (neutral:0.000000)), subjective argument (0.830468 (positive:0.292810)), subjective phenomenon (0.825702 (negative:-0.484622)), private hindsight (0.823621 (neutral:0.000000)), comparable time (0.823284 (neutral:0.000000)), moment (0.820634 (positive:0.472390)), gigantic ruler (0.820439 (negative:-0.403861)), personal identity (0.820399 (neutral:0.000000)), early abortion (0.819519 (negative:-0.345860)), identical twins (0.818605 (neutral:0.000000)), single figures (0.817783 (negative:-0.352643)), red giant (0.809770 (neutral:0.000000)), possible readership (0.807847 (neutral:0.000000)), present moves (0.806444 (neutral:0.000000)), particular egg (0.805384 (neutral:0.000000)), optimistic calculation (0.803809 (positive:0.382157)), particular ant (0.800030 (negative:-0.360392)), dead past (0.799837 (negative:-0.391438)), present century (0.799111 (positive:0.389842)), large margin (0.798918 (neutral:0.000000))

spermatozoon:Person (0.673841 (negative:-0.261221)), New York:City (0.490139 (neutral:0.000000)), San Francisco:City (0.471549 (neutral:0.000000)), hundred million centuries:Quantity (0.471549 (neutral:0.000000)), nine months:Quantity (0.471549 (neutral:0.000000))

Present (0.970330): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Time (0.954450): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Future (0.890390): dbpedia | freebase
Past (0.696726): dbpedia | freebase
Earth (0.550230): dbpedia | freebase
Probability theory (0.537261): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
English-language films (0.489615): dbpedia
Metaphysics (0.484698): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Dawkins, Richard (2000-04-05), Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, Mariner Books, Retrieved on 2011-09-21
Folksonomies: evolution science