Doing the Numbers on the Human Condition

Conceptually, to do easy calculations, let’s give each person 100 years on the planet. Although this is pure speculation, I estimate in their lifetimes humans handle 1,000 random, varied, meaningless hardships and make 1,000 mistakes.

Doing the numbers on the human conditionLet’s also assume that each person has some level of consciousness, defined for our purposes as awareness of the existence of the self and of other selves. Let’s also assume that reality is complex and dynamic. Let’s acknowledge that, currently, beyond the realm of calculating and estimating probabilities, the human brain does not have the power to change the past or know the future.

Now, to quote Kai Rysdal, let’s do the numbers.

“Despite the tendency to celebrate individual genius, humans’ true intellectual might is collective.”
– Morning briefing, The Economist, 10/23/21, reporting on When and Why Did Human Brains Decrease in Size? A New Change-Point Analysis and Insights From Brain Evolution in Ants, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10/22/21

What conclusions do I draw from seeing these numbers?

1) Even though I am 1 of 8 billion on the planet, and 1 of 100 billion who have ever lived, my consciousness is acutely aware that I have one, precious life.

2) Knowing the vastness of the human experience doesn’t minimize my experience. What happens to me happens to my universe.

3) My genetic makeup might just as easily have been dropped by the stork into another family’s chimney, at another place, in another time. This might mean:

  • Familial and geographic assignment are random.
  • Loyalty to family or to a nation is a choice, not an objective imperative.
  • Familial and cultural beliefs I have been taught might not be objective truth. (Gasp!)
  • What happened to me in my family of origin might not have happened to me if I have had been randomly assigned to another family.

A common, usually well-intentioned statement made to people who have experienced loss or hardship is, “It could have been worse.” Given the vastness of the human experience, it also could have been better.

Image: iStock

Updated 10/23/21

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