08 January 2015

Winning a Lottery vs Being Born

What are the Odds?

Are you more likely to win the lottery or just be born as ‘you’? 

What are the Odds?


You’re born lucky, in fact you’re an outright miracle

Quit with the pessimism, really, you already won a most complex lottery of sorts by just being born the way you were - to the exact set of parents in the exact place on earth to this exact point in time. Experts say the chances of that happening are the same as that of the entire population of a city like San Diego (roughly 2.5 mn) getting together over a game of dice and all of them coming up with the same number, say, 450 – but, hold on, there’s a catch. They are playing with a special dice with a trillion faces instead of 6! Phew. And you thought hitting jackpot at Euromillions was trickier!

The Probability Game

Harvard alumnus and creativity consultant Dr. Ali Binazir tried to calculate the mind-boggling odds of one being born into existence on earth, and came up with interesting results. It can be, indeed, worth much more than the dry number scientists attribute to the probability of ‘you, existing as you, today’ after factoring in various things like continuous lineage of more than 100,000 generations of predecessors against over more than a million years of geological time, evolution, sperm and egg combinations, etc. Its very well-analyzed, and puts the odds at 1 in 400 trillion (1 in 4×1014 ).

Dr. Binazir goes a step forward with a purely statistical approach, making broad and meaningful assumptions, and ultimately piecing together the step-by-step process of how things would have been required to fall in place for our individual creation and existence on the face of this planet. And what unfurls is a mind-blowing tale of how the mysterious forces of random and not-so-random chances and events all conspire put us here on Earth, and to make us party to further games of chances.

Step 1: To keep things simple, we start with the two parents meeting.

Now, statistically, this itself is not the mundane event you brush it away as. It is an event that needs to be taken in perspective – all the people of the opposite sex they meet in their reproductive years (15-40 years) out of a total relevant ‘universe’/ set of all the people of the opposite set they can possibly meet in their lifetime. Let’s assume, 20 years ago and before social media changed relationships forever, that they met 1 new person of the opposite sex daily for 25 years (around 10,000 in all), and that the maximum possible number of people they met through daily life and travels is capped at 1/10th of the world’s population then (1/10th of 4 bn = 400 mn) half of whom would be of reproductive relevance, around 200 mn members of the opposite sex.

So, the probability of your parents meeting, ever, is 10,000 divided by 200 million, or 1 in 20,000.

Step 2: However, the probability that the meeting progresses to a long-term relationship or at the very, least kid-producing action, is about 1 in 2000. We are talking sane generalized numbers here, now, not love at first sight wham-bam action, so stick with it a bit more. The combined probability is now 1 in 40 million.

Step 3: A successful fertilization is not where it stops, it has to be the right sperm with half your genetic make-up and the exact 1 egg (out of 100,000 viable eggs), with the rest of it. Only the sperm produced during the woman’s fertile period counts, say 1/3 of the total 12 trillion sperm produced. Biology 101, really.

Anyway, that takes the probability of the chosen sperm and chosen egg resulting in you to 1 in 400 quadrillion! And that’s keeping things simple without considering unexplained embryo mutations etc!

Step 4: We also need to assume other factors that ensure the continuity of the lineage, honestly you can go wild here, factoring in things like unbroken reproductive lineage over 150,000 generations to surviving meteor events, but we stick only to the former for the time being. Assuming the likelihood of any one human offspring to survive childhood and live to reproductive age and have at least one kid is 50:50, probability commands that the chance that ever one of your ancestors could reproduce successfully is 1 in 2150,000 , which is about 1 in 1045,000 – which is significant to maintain the forward-backward linkages on the family tree and ensure the genetic make-up you are being handed down follows the exact path as in reality. Otherwise, you wouldn’t really be yourself, right?

Step 5: Combine it all. Yes, that is the incredible odds of you being born the way you are, to your set of parents and into their specific circumstance. 1 in 102,685,000 !! Now that is definitely a lot more special than being struck by lightning (1 in 576,000), or even somehow ending up as President of the USA (1 in 10 mn). Or winning the Irish Lotto jackpot here at Lottoland with its now-inspiring odds of 1 in 8,145,060​!

If you want to see that in a picture which may blow your mind you can find it here!

You can say that, like throwing a dice with a trillion faces, there are a trillion chances of getting a particular number, but you would get your favoured number for sure at some point of time or the other. And that, metaphysically, if you are born, it just means your existence was a scheduled event out of an infinite universe of possibilities, which simply took its time but had to happen inevitably. That is the outlook for winners, y’know ;) Especially if you have your sights set on a much more achievable Euromillions jackpot.


It’s a no-contest, you stand a far better chance of snagging a prize with the lottery at Lottoland, compared to the crazy odds you beat by just being born you. Now, make sure you pay proper homage to your luck-by-birth and take your chances now and then!

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