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simone54's avatar

Does my explanation of our existence make sense?

Asked by simone54 (7531 points ) March 11th, 2014

The odds of life being able to start life on Earth then becoming what humans are today are beyond huge. It required a series of absolutely perfect events to occur. I don’t know the actual number but for this instance let’s just say chances for life are one in one trillion (1:1,000,000,000,000).

In other words; you have a trillion sided die. If you roll the number one, you get everything perfect enough to eventually have humans on Earth. It would probably take a long time to roll that one. However, if you had infinity amount of time it would be inevitable.

Does this make sense?

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37 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

Suppose there are a trillion of the die being rolled trillions of times?

zenvelo's avatar

No, because it presumes there is only one path out of a trillion that is predetermined from the very outset. But evolution points out differing paths to development, and with paths taken, then returning to a node when one path didn’t take.

For instance, human development went down a path towards Neanderthals, but that didn’t succeed on its own, so it ended as a development path. Yet we are finding there was some interspecies breeding to have some Neanderthal traits continue. And homo sapiens is not consistent, since some people have Neanderthal DNA, and other s do not.

CWOTUS's avatar

You’re assuming that we just popped into existence sui generi, from nowhere into this perfect (for us) environment.

I would imagine that the tube worms living near volcanic vents under miles of seawater – if they have a chance to think about it – would think exactly the same thing: How is it possible for us to have been placed in this perfect environment underwater, at extraordinary pressure, in the dark and (presumably) away from predators, and with this perfect combination of extreme heat and sulphurus gases to nourish us, unless God made it so.

Evolution meant that whatever life forms first emerged on the planet (and “how life began at all” is certainly a valid question to seek to answer) struggled to survive against whatever environment presented itself, or which they could move into because of whatever mutations occurred to enable them to occupy previously unfertile or unoccupied parts of the globe.

So of course “conditions are perfect for us”, because within certain latitudes of temperature, atmospheric pressure, moisture and all other environmental variables (including the balance of gases in the atmosphere, which renders breathable air, but not an explosive / corrosive pure oxygen environment) we evolved (and other species along with us) to fit into “this environment”.

ragingloli's avatar

Nope, it does not.
Here is an analogy of how evolution actually works.
Say you want to end up with a series of 20 dice all coming up 6.
You take the 20 dice and roll them. Let us assume on that first dice roll you have five 6s.
You keep the five 6s and you roll the remaining 15 dice.
Repeat until done.
This way I got 20 sixes in exactly 20 dice rolls.
Try this simulator

hominid's avatar

Note: @simone54 is referring to abiogenesis and evolution – not just evolution.

ragingloli's avatar

not really a relevant point, since abiogenesis likely was also a gradual process, not a proverbial lightning in the puddle.

hominid's avatar

^ Somewhat relevant, because if OP is in the U.S., it is likely that she will be bombarded with anti-science crap that will intentionally blur abiogenesis and evolution. And there is no shortage of self-taught statisticians who have declared that they are able to calculate the probability of abiogenesis, while referring to it as “evolution”.

Anyway, this might be relevant.

LuckyGuy's avatar

No. Let’s look at a similar problem. Statistically, you just inhaled 7 nitrogen molecules from Julius Caesar’s last breath. We all did. This is an easy calculation when you know the size of the atmosphere, the number of molecules per liter and the size of a human breath. (It’s a typical Physics 101 problem)

What are the odds that that one particular molecule reached your lungs? It had to bounce off trillions of molecules, trillions of times. It had to be blown across the oceans and inhaled and exhaled by millions of other creatures to finally reach you. And yet, here it is. Right there. Heck, you just inhaled another 7!
Did a divine wind bring them to you?

ninjacolin's avatar

I think you’re not far off, there @simone54.
Except, I would say regardless of the amount of time or rolls needed.. it’s pretty obvious at this point in time that our existence was literally inevitable.

kess's avatar

No, it will never make sense because, infinity is without number, so your infinite sided die will roll on indefinitely…....

Anyway life has a set infinitely recurring pattern, which must be initiated, after that it flows independently.

It leaves no room for chance or random spontaneous occurrences.

basstrom188's avatar

Am I right in saying that an infinite sided die would be a sphere?
As for odds on life starting on earth? Well its evens because it has happened!

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here is another example.

What are the odds that you would be sitting at your pc right now, reading this answer?

Even if you just consider the possibilities from yesterday, the odds are incredibly small. Yesterday, you woke up at 7:00 and used the bathroom. You did not trip over your shoes. You took a shower and the hot water did not scald you. You started the hot pot and were not electrocuted. You got dressed without falling. As you drove to the store you passed thousands of vehicles traveling in the opposite direction at high speed only a couple of arm’s lengths away.. None of the teenage drivers swerved while texting. No tires suddenly deflated. No brakes failed. No driver suddenly turned in front of you. You made it to the store. And then you repeated the miraculous trip home. The food you prepared did not poison you. Think of all the activities you did just yesterday and today.
And here you are, at this precise second, checking this very question, even reading this response. The odds are infinitely small.
Would it have made a difference if you read this response 2 seconds later, or 2 seconds sooner? or 4? or 10? or tomorrow? Probably not.
But the fact remains, even though you are reading it right now, the odds of that happening at this instant are infinitely small.
Is divine intervention responsible for this very discussion? Or is it just odds?

Note: I ate a big breakfast this morning so I did not get hungry at 11:30. I am able to answer your question right now because I did not go to lunch. Why did I eat a big breakfast? Because I bought a loaf of bread last week and it was getting stale. Rather than have it go to waste, I ate 4 pieces of toast with butter and jam—and that made all the difference.

filmfann's avatar

@LuckyGuy Interesting, but I am reading this over a fax machine, not a PC.

People don’t understand how rare life is. We haven’t found any kind of life anywhere else yet. No trees, no grass, no nothing. Life is exceedingly rare.
When all the conditions are met, life can evolve. It evolved in 3 different ways on Earth, with DNA strands radically different.
You will never be able to convince me this happened by chance or by inevitability. This was done purposefully.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@zenvelo Actually, scientists have now discovered that we did not interbreed with Neanderthals. The Neanderthal DNA that they found in some humans turned out to be much further back in the family tree, dating from before the human race split into Neanderthals and humans.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@filmfann We don’t know yet about life anywhere else. We haven’t even finished exploring our own system yet, much less outside of it. There’s still even quite a few places in the solar system, such as Europa, where it may be hiding.

Also, “It evolved in 3 different ways on Earth, with DNA strands radically different.” Huh?

@Skaggfacemutt Citation? I haven’t heard that at all and I keep relatively abreast of such news. Could have missed it, though.

As to the OP, while not technically wrong, it is a little bit simplistic. @LuckyGuy has explained the issue pretty well, but it comes down to a concept known as the “strong anthropic principle”, which is considered by most cosmologists to be fallacious. Basically, yes, it does seem rather improbable. However it is, to borrow an example from Douglas Adams, like looking at a puddle and marveling at how perfectly it fits the pothole it’s in. Life exists because it was possible, and evolution has taken over from there to shape it to be what it is now. Was the start improbable? Probably, but it also took ~10 billion years for life to appear on earth. Over a that long a time a lot of improbable things can occur, and it only had to happen once.

CWOTUS's avatar

Damn, how I continue to miss Douglas Adams. Good quote, @BhacSsylan. It’s what I tried to do – in a much more convoluted way – with the example I used in my first response.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I heard that information (about the Neanderthal DNA) on a discovery channel documentary. I don’t remember now, but it was called something about tracing the origins of man. Through DNA, they could see where we started (Africa), where and how we spread and when different groups split up and went different directions. It was very interesting. Let me google it and see if I can give you more specifics.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I think it was “The Journey of Man” by Spencer Wells. PBS, not discovery channel.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Well, as of 2014 it’s definitely the working hypothesis, and we’ve identified some of the genes that came from interbreeding.

Symbeline's avatar

We don’t know enough about science, evolution or life elsewhere to state that human existence is a fluke. The details assumes that we do. Who says that how life came to be was such an off the wall chance?

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@BhacSsylan Let me put it this way. The DNA that they found in modern humans that at first made them think that interbreeding took place, turned out to not be proof of interbreeding at all. So there is no evidence either way. Jury is definitely still out. See below:

It is assumed that modern humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestry. So, of course, they share DNA. In fact, humans and chimpanzees share 98.5% of their DNA. The logic behind claims that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals long after the two lineage split and after they both left Africa is as follows. DNA is found in non-Africans and Neanderthals that is not found in Africans. One explanation is interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals outside of Africa. Another possible explanation is that this DNA did once exist in Africans but became extinct as a result of genetic drift and that its existence in modern humans and Neanderthals is a relic of their common ancestry. Same as with chimpanzees.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

It would be like saying that humans interbred with chimps because we share DNA.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@filmfann Actually I think it is more incredible that we are communicating like this. I am typing on my pc here and you are reading it over there – after being split into bits and bytes and transmitted and swapped over so many nodes.

I look how crystals form and grow over time, and how molecules can be added layer by layer under the right conditions. Humans have already synthesized proteins, the building block of life. In my mind it is not that much of a stretch to imagine proteins forming on molecular sieves formed by clay particles. Once you have those, autotroph formation is not far behind. Trillions of trillions of molecules*, billions of years with conditions gradually varying from unimaginable heat to near absolute zero. Somewhere there is sweet spot.
And, poof! My message is displayed on your monitor. :-)

*I just realized I severely underestimated. Avogadro’s number is 6×10^ 23 so there are trillion of trillions of oxygen molecules in a small 60ml lecture bottle of compress O2. It would be safer to say trillions of trillions of trillions.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Yes, it is possible, but that documentary you are referring to is also a decade old now, and new genetic sequencing has been done. The whole Neanderthal genome was not even decoded fully until 2013! With that new information we have look at specific genes and see their frequency and probable origins. We can date them as well, and there are methods for determining drift speeds, etc. Is it still unsure? Absolutely, it is. But the evidence now heavily favors the interbreeding hypothesis. And that’s just from last and this year.

And sharing DNA from a common ancestor is not the same as sharing genes post genetic division.

And please do not plagiarize. Especially not from Yahoo answers, jeeze.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Suppose there are a trillion of the die being rolled trillions of times?
Guess that shuts up those who believe man is the only sentient being in the universe and live only exists here; if it can happen here because septillion quadrillion sided dies hit the lucky combination is had to have had other places as well, and maybe way sooner.

simone54's avatar

Okay so I think everyone missed the point. I’m saying since there was an infinite amount of time it would be certain that all thing would line up to create life.

ETpro's avatar

@simone54 The universe as we know it has not existed for an infinite amount of time. It sprang into existence about 13.798±0.037 billion years ago. The Solar system formed about 4.568 billion years ago from a massive dust cloud left over from the Supernova explosion of a large star many times our Sun’s mass. And life appeared on Earth about 3.6 billion years ago. So life had over 10 billion years to get started. So not infinite, but compared to modern humans’ 200,000 year existence, and about 100 years at best for any one of us, it’s close enough to infinite time for government work.

Add to that the size of the universe. Our Sun is just one of 300 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and there are 1 trillion more stars in our nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda. There are at least half a trillion galaxies in the Observable Universe, and perhaps as many as a trillion. That means that there may be a trillion trillion stars. So in all that vastness existing almost 14 billion years, how many dice rolls have there been? It’s no surprise that we find ourselves on one of those relatively rare Goldilocks zones where life can exist.

We don’t know how abiogenesis occurs yet. But we’re on its trail and it appears to involve rather straightforward organic chemistry. My guess is it’s almost inevitable so long as the right conditions persist for a decent amount of time.

Take into account the vastness of the Observable Universe and the fact that it is increasingly looking like that even though it is 93 billion light years across now, there is much more beyond what we can see, and it may be infinite. With that in mind, what would truly be odd is if we are the lone beings here able to ask such a great question. The odds against life having occurred anywhere in a Universe where it can occur—those are the odds that are almost infinitely high.

Nimis's avatar

After my first genetics class, I still marvel about how most people have ten fingers and ten toes.

Bill1939's avatar

I agree with @ETpro. Given the uncountable number of planets in the cosmos that are/were capable of producing life that evolves into sentient beings, the probability of this happening many times is one. Fortunately our planet is one of these.

LostInParadise's avatar

The universe is highly inhospitable to the development of multi-cellular organisms. Once the conditions become favorable for such life, the transition to higher forms is pretty much inevitable due to the evolutionary process.

There are huge numbers of organisms competing to copy their DNA to future generations. Even a tiny advantage is going to take hold. The changes are cumulative and, given several 100 million years, will give rise to a diversity of organisms. In a way analogous to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, the diversity of life creates stability, with different types of life taking on supporting roles, starting with the plants that convert sunlight and ending with the decomposers responsible for recycling.

cazzie's avatar

The chances of us being on the face of this Earth is exactly 1. It is not an impossible coincidence. It happened. You don’t seem to understand statistics, probabilities or risks.

simone54's avatar

Well, I guess I’m not going to win that Noble prize. :(

simone54's avatar

Especially, since I can’t spell Nobel.

cazzie's avatar

I understand how fun it is for some people to play the ‘what if’ game, but don’t, for a second, think that anything you are dreaming up or contemplating is anything scientific or related to actual research into genetics, anthropology, evolution or cosmology.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@simone54 Actually, this is exactly the way that I think about abiogenesis. Given an infinite amount of time, I suspect that it was inevitable. Evolution is a different story; @ragingloli‘s dice-roll analogy is much better.

I’m not sure why you’re getting so much negativity on this question. It almost seems like most people are interpreting your question as coming from a creationist perspective, which it is clearly not.

cazzie's avatar

@ragingloli dice analogy is wrong.

Evolution is not goal oriented to perfection. It does not need to roll all sixes. If rolling all fives achieves its needs, then it would be just as happy to roll all fives. This makes the odds of a complex structure occurring even better. So, it’s even more complicated that that. Evolution does not need to be perfect to succeed. It needs to be just good enough.

If you want to read the whole article, here:

cazzie's avatar

(@Nimis I love how I’m not most people. I had 12 toes.)

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