Our universe is dictated by odds, chances and probabilities. Within its context we’re just a speck, at the mercy of fate, fortune and the actions of others. Some odds can’t be controlled, while others we can use to our benefit.
Nowadays, we can use real-time data to inform our decisions of when and when not to leave the house. Weather apps calculate the chance of rain for each hour of the day, letting us know when we should go to the beach or just get comfortable on the sofa. A 0% chance of rain doesn’t stop some people from carrying an umbrella ‘just in case’, while a 100% chance of rain is enough to put a dampener on any plans.
Every day 8 million lightning bolts strike the Earth, averaging out at around 100 per second. Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is the lightning hotspot of the world, with thunderstorms occurring almost 300 days per year. There is around a 1 in 500,000 chance of being hit by lightning each year, but the likelihood is so small that most of us never even consider it.
The probability of being hit by lightning is 90 times greater than winning the lottery, but that doesn’t put people off playing each week; in the UK up to 45 million people regularly buy tickets. A 1 in 45 million chance of winning the lottery might sound infinitesimally small, but the life-changing impact of hitting the jackpot is enough to motivate the optimists and dreamers among us to play.
We choose to play with some odds, while others are inherited at birth. The major events of any person’s life are shrouded in uncertainty, beginning with the day you’re born and the country in which you take your first breath, which impact the opportunities you have for the rest of your life. If you are born in Switzerland, for example, there is a 14.9% chance that your family are millionaires, while just over the border in Italy this number falls to 3.0%.
History’s most influential events were dependent on chances and fine margins. 65 million years ago, it is thought that a 10-mile wide asteroid struck the coast of Mexico, causing the demise of 75% of the Earth’s animals, including the dinosaurs. Had the asteroid landed just minutes later, it would have hit water, lowering the chances of the mass-scale extinction that changed the world forever.
Odds can also be used to optimise our lives for the benefit of humanity. Around 46% of all fruits and vegetables are thrown away. In real terms, that means that of the 18.3 billion pineapples produced each year, over 8.4 billion are wasted – and that’s just a small percentage of the fruit and vegetable market. By confronting the likelihood of products and goods being wasted, we can begin to resolve the issues and promote a more sustainable way of life.
When making decisions and considering events, it’s important to understand the possibilities and probabilities of the outcomes. Understanding life through numbers gives us greater context and confidence in this world of unknowns, and can be used for the good of humanity.