Tuesday, 16 February 2016
Consciousness and coincidence
Lent 2016: Day Seven
As Bill Bryson points out in A Short History of Nearly Everything, the fact that you or I are alive is the result of such a statistically tiny improbability as to be nearly miraculous. Tracing back to your parents, and their parents, and so on generation after generation backwards through time and evolution, the odds that one of them didn't get eaten or trodden on before relaying Life onwards to you outstrip those of winning the lottery by an order of several billion.
The birth of any single living thing then should be regarded as miraculous, a coming together of myriad coincidences that all had to have happened. The slightest slip. Literally. Thirty years ago this spring, a certain Iwona was practising her slaloms ahead of a group skiing holiday on a dry ski slope. She fell and caught her thumb in the mesh, breaking it. With a week to go, there was a spare place in her ski party, which I took. And on that holiday, I met the mother of my children. Would they have existed had it not been for that accident?
My father told me about his many close shaves with death during the Warsaw Uprising. What had he died there - would I have existed had it not been for his good fortune? And so on, back and back and back - to the very origins of life itself. Coincidence after coincidence after coincidence.
And life - even at its most basic - is unbelievably complex. Take the humble bacteria. Look at how it is constructed, and it works. From its outer membrane, to its little flagellum waving about to give motility, to the DNA within the cytoplasm. One of the first manifestations of life on earth, and behold its complexity. Scale up from unicellular organisms until you get to us human beings. Utterly amazing we are, yet what small matters exercise our passions!
And then the Universe - the known Universe, that is - for who knows what lies beyond the 91 billion light years diameter of what we are aware of. 91 billion light years? Yet the Universe is only 13.8 billion years old - so how did that happen? One Universe, or one of many? How many? The vastness of it all - and among all this, the most complex thing that we know is the human brain.
Miraculous. The contemplation of the miracle of our existence - that we are consciously able to savour it - the act of being conscious. The Universe is indeed a complex place, but awareness of its complexity and our existence within it needs to be cherished. We should thank and praise God, the Universal Singularity, for that miraculous chain of coincidence that has led to us being alive. Revel in that awareness, for it is good.
This time two years ago:
North-east of Warsaw West revisited
This time three years ago:
Looking for answers
This time four years ago:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks
This time six years ago:
Another Lent starts
This time eight years ago: