Improbability waves and sacrificing your life


It’s a natural human inclination (or so I hear) to wish those we know and love a speedy recovery and root them on to overcome their life-threatening conditions. Or if they survive a grave accident which would have left most others dead, we cheer them on as well. We are happy for them and we laud their strength and resolve and thank any number of omnipotent deities for allowing this person to survive.


Perhaps, as higher-level functioning sentient beings possessed of a conscience, we actually are happy for survivors and their rare luck. But I wonder if we are being wise in praise for the odds-defying survival of others? We must look at this scientifically and statistically. If you intimately know someone who beat a deadly disease or miraculously survived a car accident that would have killed most people, this automatically puts you in a prestigious social circle as well, for you are acquainted directly with a miracle. Miracles by definition are rare, so it would also follow that those who are directly acquainted with the beneficiary of a miracle are also, by association, a rarity themselves. I’ve never known anyone who was killed in a commercial airline accident. I would imagine most of you haven’t, either. I’m talking a firsthand acquaintance, not a case of “I know someone who knew someone who knew the neighbor of the cousin…”


There is a “circle” of statistical improbability that attends every miracle case and it envelopes the miracle in a shrouded fog of rare improbability. Similar to the probability wave witnessed in quantum physics, the rarefied field of an improbable survivor will, similar to a “statistical vacuum,” extract statistical improbability from its adjacent area, and the improbability will likewise slowly weaken as the space, or degree of relation, grows in size from the source improbability. In other words, using the example above, “I know someone who knew someone who knew the neighbor of the cousin…” the improbability wave has likely weakened to such a degree that this person referred to as the one who was killed in the commercial airline crash is such a removed point of contact that your statistical probability of getting into a commercial airplane accident is “reset” to the normal levels of chance. If, however, the person was your close cousin, the improbability wave of your chances to be in a plane crash would be more expansive than those of the normal person who has never known anyone killed in a plane accident. Having known someone who was killed in a very rare and infrequent circumstance lessens your chances to an astronomical degree.


This is why I find it curious, coming from a statistical perspective, that we get so worked up and happy when someone close survives or has a close call with death. Their improbability wave, due to their defeat of incredible odds, thus increases the probability of our own chances to a much higher level for the typical person since we happen to be closely aligned with their improbability field. In other words, if you know someone who survives near fatal circumstance “a”, the odds that you will succumb to circumstance a are thus increased exponentially. Yet we root for other’s survival, to our own statistical disadvantage.


There is a fixed amount of “luck” that can be dispersed and the deeper we become enmeshed in a field that has taken advantage of some rare luck (improbability), the greater our chances that we might be contained within the probability wave.


So why root for anybody you would not die for?