When my Biology professor lectures about sperm and egg production through meiosis and the formation of a human embryo when the two combine, very few people in the room would call the experience “spiritual.” I, however, relish in the feeling I get when I learn more about these processes, as they remind me of how privileged I am to be alive. The professor explains the average man will produce about 525 billion sperm in his lifetime, and that the average woman will release about 450 eggs. I am reminded in these lectures that the DNA encoded in the 23 chromosomes in each of these cells is unique to that cell. No two reproductive cells (gametes) are the same. When these chromosomes from sperm and egg combine for a total of 46, you have an embryo with all the genetic information needed for a human to develop. Automatically, this embryo is also genetically unique and there will never be another exactly like it.
If only one sperm is needed to fertilize one egg, think of all the possible combinations the gametes of just two people could create. Just from all the gametes of one man and one woman in one lifetime, there would be about 236 trillion completely unique arrangements of DNA, each containing all the genetic information needed for one individual human being.
Of course, the incredible majority of these possibilities will never actually come into existence. Think of the number of children your biological parents have together. For me, that number is 2. Out of 236 trillion hypothetical people, only two - my sister and I - won the incredible privilege of being born. Out of all the world leaders, the dictators, the poets, the doctors, the artists, and the high school drop-outs that could have just as easily been born in my place, I won a lottery with odds 1.3 million times higher than the Powerball.
You did too, and you only won because your parents happened to procreate at least one time. If your parents had never met, the lottery you were lucky enough to win would have never even happened in the first place. Everyone you've ever heard of, in their ordinariness, exists in spite of overwhelming odds. Many go through their entire lives not realizing their incredible fortune. Even my peers in Biology class don’t seem to realize this, at least not as a majority. I never let on, but when someone tells me that the finite life they are currently living is not enough, and that they want - or even demand - an eternal one, I get very angry. We both won a few decades of sunlight when the innumerable majority won absolutely nothing. This is why I refuse to wish for a second life and chose to be content with the life I have. I would love to live forever, but knowing what I know, that would be a very arrogant request.
“We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
- Richard Dawkins