Possibility vs. Probability

Have you ever wondered if there’s another world out there with intelligent life? Of course not, but some people spend a lot of their time wondering just that. One of the methods they use to calculate whether or not this is possible is known as the Drake Equation. The equation works by multiplying together the likelihood of each variable necessary for us to discover intelligent life. These include the chance of life arising on a planet, the chance of it reaching intelligence and the chance of that life existing at the same time as us so that we might encounter it.

Besides this equation being, as T.J. Nelson states, “worse than useless,” due to the impossibility of calculating any of the probabilities involved, it also falsely assumes that our ability to imagine an event indicates that the event is possible.

If we are speculating on any probability that deals with infinity or near-infinity, such as the number of planets in our universe, we must understand that possibility does not mean inevitability. An example of this is the ever-growing idea that there are an infinite number of universes in which every possibility has taken place. A fascinating idea, but think for a moment, every possibility? So there’s a universe in which every coin flip in history was heads, one where everything is the same but all cars are lime green with five wheels, and a world in which JFK survived his assassination attempt, resigned as president and went on to write a series of children’s novels starring a giant blue raccoon named Brad? But here’s where the unfathomable magnitude of infinity actually begins to stretch our minds: there isn’t just one universe where each of these things has happened, but an infinite number of universes for each possibility.

So do these universes really exist? Well, even though all of the physical forces necessary for these outcomes are present, and we may even be able to use a sort of Drake Equation to determine their exact probability, they are not possible. But why? How can something that is probable be impossible?

The answer is that there is more to these possibilities than chance arrangement of matter. Thoughts, behavior, patterns and constants govern our universe and ensure that these possibilities never happen. That’s why a tornado blowing through a junkyard will never assemble a working automobile and why everyone won’t pick the same winning lottery numbers in the same draw. Events like these seem unpredictable, but they are far from it.

In order for an event to have a chance of occurring – to be possible – it must comply with the forces of the universe. Although our choice of lottery numbers appears aimless, just as the way a tornado scatters debris is seemingly random, these events most certainly adhere to a pattern. A tornado curls and spins in a way that is likely too complex for us to understand. Likewise, the reasons behind our choice of lottery numbers may be obscure, but it’s not random. After all, it would seem foolish for us to choose the lottery numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, but they have the same likelihood of winning as any other combination.

Just because something is vast and inconceivable, it doesn’t mean that its causes are not ordered. This order is what prevents probable events from occurring.