A little while ago I had the privilege of attending TEDx San Francisco, organized by the incomparable Christine Mason McCaull. One of the talks was by Mel Robbins, a riotously funny self-help author and life coach with a syndicated radio show. In it, she mentioned that scientists calculate the probability of your existing as you, today, at about one in 400 trillion (4×1014).

“That’s a pretty big number,” I thought to myself. If I had 400 trillion pennies to my name, I could probably retire.

Previously, I had heard the Buddhist version of the probability of ‘this precious incarnation’. Imagine there was one life preserver thrown somewhere in some ocean and there is exactly one turtle in all of these oceans, swimming underwater somewhere. The probability that you came about and exist today is the same as that turtle sticking its head out of the water — into the middle of that life preserver. On one try.

So I got curious: are either of these numbers correct? Which one’s bigger? Are they gross exaggerations? Or is it possible that they are underestimates of the true number?

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