Impossible things happen every day

There’s this funny thing I like to point out to those who are too quick to dismiss things as impossible: According to statistics, the most statistically unlikely things are likely to happen. In fact, we assume the impossible will happen, we rely on it, and if statistically improbable events never occurred, we would live in a very strange world.

Before you jump all over me for spouting nonsense, think about it for a second. Let’s take, for instance, event A, and the chances of event A happening to any given person at any given time is about 1 in one-billion. So when you say, “What are the chances of event A occurring to me right now?” The answer is, “That’s almost impossible. It’s a one-in-a-billion shot.”

But that applies to any given time, so look at any particular person, over the scope of their entire lives. How many moments are there in a person’s life? So instead of, “What are the chances that event A will happen to me right now,” let’s ask “What are the chances event A will happen to me ever?”

Now look at the billions of people in the world, each of them with so many moments in their lives. So suddenly the chances of event A happening to some person at some time become quite good. This much should be pretty obvious. Think of the lottery. What are the chances of me winning the lottery today? Astonomically small. What are the chances that someone will win, sometime? It’s very unlikely that no one will every win the lottery again.

Now, (and here’s where I think it gets interesting) consider all the other 1 in a billion possibilities. There’s event A, (let’s say winning the lottery) but there’s also event B (meeting your long-lost twin), C (getting struck by lightning), D (travelling backwards through time), each unlikely. What are the chances that one of them, A, B, C, or D, will happen to someone at some time? It’s pretty well guaranteed. But that’s only four unlikely possible events. How many possible unlikely events are there? Uncountable.

When you figure this in, that something statistically unlikely will happen to someone at some time is pretty much guaranteed. In fact, it becomes likely that very unlikely things are happening all the time. It becomes statistically impossible for statistically-impossible things to not happen. Of course, this relies on a certain indeterminacy about which unlikely things will happen when and to whom, but it’s still worthwhile to remember that impossible things happen every day.