Quote: We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.


photo pirated from here

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

- Richard Dawkins

~~~~

- More of my favorite quotes…
Arrr! Prepare to be boarded.

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15 Responses to Quote: We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.

  1. fuzion says:

    Anyone else get an (ironic) anti-abortion vibe from this?

  2. Hari Seldon says:

    Meaningless, but then how would an arch rationalist like Dawkins understand that we are far from ordinary, we are luminous beings of light and that life is a wonderful gift.

    Even on a gross material level we are all winners, we are the sperm that beat millions of our fellows to reach the prize.

    Love & Light

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  4. lawrence says:

    @fuzion – you can’t get to infinity by adding one and then one and then one. With septillions upon septillions of possibilities, there is no point trying to get everyone in. Dawkins point makes more sense if you simply accept that all living creatures will always represent only the tiniest fraction of the possible configurations. The lost greatness of the statistical outliers who will never born is not a problem that can be fixed. Have you heard the joke that “Lottery tickets are a tax on people who are bad at math”? The same logic applies here. Anyone who thinks the issue is open to redress is simply bad at math.

  5. Agl says:

    So . . . uhm . . . this guys point is based on the idea, that we and our lives and our achievements (as much as the ones of Keats and Newton) are determined by our DNA. Now that’s not only spooky but also nonsense.
    I believe the events in my live shaped me much more than my DNA.

    By the way: time (unlike DNA) is not discrete but analogue. Which leaves every event endless possibilities of points in time in which to happen and to shape me. Which again means . . . . never mind. Guess I’m bad at math ;)

  6. Lawrence says:

    Agl, you misunderstand Dawkins. In his first book, The Selfish Gene, he repeatedly points out that we have a wide independence of our genes. He explains that genes can not hard-code behaviors and they especially can not encode meaning. He then looks at the emergence of all forms of behavior in vertebrate species. He asks, “Why does behavior exist?” He answers that it exists due to time lags – genes are too slow to receive information from the outside world, and they are too slow to respond. For genes to build large, multi-celled animals, the genes needed to grant independence to those large, multi-celled organisms. The organisms then developed sensory perception, and the ability to respond to the input of those senses, in a manner independent of the genes. The advantage of such independence is rapid response – a nervous system can respond to outside stimuli in fractions of a second, whereas genes, if they relied on some protein from the outside world, against which they then might encode a new protein, would need hours. More so, a nervous system can learn new skills during a lifetime, whereas genes can only really create new combinations once a generation, during reproduction. And all of that is true of fairly simple vertebrate species. The trend toward sophisticated behavior goes further in mammals and, of course, goes furthest in humans.

    Dawkins goes to great lengths to explain what you’ve said:

    “I believe the events in my live shaped me much more than my DNA.”

    This is one of his key ideas. Chapter 4 and Chapter 9 of his book are especially focused on this.

    Dawkins explicitly points out, repeatedly, that we can rise above our genes, even live in defiance of them. He writes:

    “We can defy our genes, indeed, we do so every time we use contraceptives.”

    He repeats this same sentence 3 times during the course of the book. He is very clear and articulate on the point that we are more than our genes. He offers a clear explanation of why genetic determinism is an incorrect theory.

  7. Lawrence says:

    Agl, you write:

    “Guess I’m bad at math.”

    I assume you’re responding to what I wrote:

    “Anyone who thinks the issue is open to redress is simply bad at math.”

    So I might think that you are disagreeing with me. But you also write:

    “Which leaves every event endless possibilities of points in time in which to happen and to shape me.”

    Which sounds like you are agreeing with me. So which is it?

    Surely we can agree that every moment we live is full of infinite possibilities, but out of those infinite possibilities, we can only choose one of the possibilities, and the choices we make then shape our life? Given the infinite numbers of food we might eat for dinner, we generally end up eating just 2 or 3 or 4 things for dinner. Not a million. Not ten million. Of the many women we might love in a lifetime, we generally only love a few. Of the 7 billion human beings we might meet during a lifetime, we generally only meet a few thousand. Of all the places we might travel, our path tends to wind over a finite track.

    If you think it would be possible to eat infinite things for dinner, love infinite numbers of men or women, meet infinite numbers of human beings, have infinite number of conversations, travel to infinite numbers of places (no doubt spending infinite amounts of cash) then I would have to say yes, you are bad at math.

    Dawkins point is that the possible outruns what actually is. Some of your sentences seem to agree with this, and then other of your sentences seem to disagree.

  8. Lawrence says:

    Hari,

    You write:

    “life is a wonderful gift.”

    That is clearly suggested by Dawkins in the above paragraph.

    You also write:

    “Even on a gross material level we are all winners, we are the sperm that beat millions of our fellows to reach the prize.”

    That is exactly the point that Dawkins makes in the above paragraph.

  9. L. Pedersen says:

    @Hari

    As Lawrence points out, it’s almost the exact same message both you and Dawkins brings, except you managed to completely misunderstand his.

    Bias?

  10. BayAreaGuy says:

    Wow, I sometimes sit in awe of the massive stupidity of “believers” of all stripes. Even when Dawkins is talking about something we should all agree upon (the fact that we should all be grateful for having been born at all), you manage to dream up messages within his message that you can disagree with.

    I think the same stupidity and inability to cope with reality leads you to misunderstand him, as well as to believe in idiotic things like gods, ghosts, an afterlife, and a “grand plan.”

  11. Oscar R. says:

    This is more than just a simple DNA statistic. Think of it this way, even if all possible variation of humans were to exist and that all possible gene combinations have given birth to a separate entity, there would still be an infinite amount of people, or rather, consciences that haven’t yet come into existence.

    The same way you can’t see into some other person’s mind, someone who doesn’t yet exist can’t occupy the “vessel” that is your brain to think with. By consciously existing, you are denying a bunch of other consciences from existing.

    At least, that is my own interpretation of Dawkins’s statement.

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  13. I think some people are so certain that Dawkins is wrong that they are unwilling to admit he could ever be right, even when he says something they agree with.

  14. Alex Mann says:

    “Meaningless, but then how would an arch rationalist like Dawkins understand that we are far from ordinary, we are luminous beings of light and that life is a wonderful gift…”

    When atheists display self-confidence: You’re so arrogant and full of yourselves and blind!
    When atheists display humility: You’re denigrating mankind!

    Y’know two can play that game.

  15. Meburningyou says:

    “Meaningless, but then how would an arch rationalist like Dawkins understand that we are far from ordinary, we are luminous beings of light and that life is a wonderful gift.”

    Why would you say something like this without proof? Do you know how completely psychotic you sound?? Luminous beings of light? Really? What a crock! Stop making up stupid crap to add importance to the existence of our species. You denigrate us all with your psycho-babble nonsense. Seriously. Freaking nonsense….

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