“You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” -Physicist Richard Feynman being sarcastic towards an individual doubting evolution because of its supposed "improbability".
There are times in life where something happens to you, or you happen to something, and you simply cannot believe it. The mind is overtaken by the repeating thought of, "What are the chances of that happening at this exact time? I can't believe it." This is my story about one of those times.
It's easy to feel as if your experience has just bucked astronomical odds, and the stars have aligned, and all sorts of other woo-woo shit is going on when these rare but enjoyable experiences occur. To assume this though, I think, is fallacious. I lean towards determinism, as on the background evidence, everything seems to adhere to. I am somewhat agnostic as to whether randomness can actually exist. If we had the ability to process it all, everything that has happened has done so because of explanable causal chains all the way back to...whatever. The universe appears to run on physics, and nothing else. That's my two cents anyway. There is probably a right way to look at it, but I'll leave that to Bayesians and Frequentists. None of it changes the fact that every once in a while, "What are the chances?" is the best you can come up with.
Years ago, when my job was a Mon-Fri swing shift, I would go hunting nearly every morning during the season. I had dropped out of school after a year in Boze-angeles and one in Missoula, taking the standard "break". After a morning hunt, at which I was successful in killing a mule deer buck, I was driving home in a near whiteout. It was about 11:00 am. It was typical for me at the time, to crack a beer and drive to my destination. Whether it be the drive home after a shift of work, or the drive home after a hunt. The summer I turned 21 was the year the open-container law was established in Montana, and feeling as if I had been robbed of one of the finer things about Montana, the law meant little to me at the time.
As I cruised along sipping my Coors at about 45 miles an hour, a large Dodge Truck pulled up behind me and slowly began to pass. Driving in a whiteout is fun enough, but the real fun starts when you are driving through the whiteout coming from the sky, as well as the one left behind big trucks driven by people who think they are impervious to ice. They aren't. So my knuckles got white as I waited for this truck to pass by me. I was having a hell of a time seeing the road. The thing was, this guy had pulled up along side me, and slowed to my speed. I started to get pissed. But really, what are the odds in Montana, that sometime in your life you will find yourself cussing out a Dodge truck during a whiteout at 11:00 am? In Montana, pretty damn good.
I turned my head over towards the Dodge, and in the drivers seat, there was a guy with a dumb grin on his face. It was Arnie, a guy I used to party with at MSU. I hadn't spoke to him, or talked to him, since I had left the school two years before. The odds of this happening to me were joyous enough. What are the odds that two people who hadn't spoken to or seen each other in 2 years would both be driving over a mountain pass in a whiteout at 11:00 am? Let's be honest. In Montana, these things happen.
I waved and smiled back. I then lifted my Coors as a toast to him, and the joy that comes from a friendly face in a whiteout. The beauty of the moment increased, when he too, lifted his Coors, that he also was drinking at 11:00 am and toasted me. What are the odds that two old friends would be driving a mountain pass whiteout and drinking Coors Original at 11:00 am. In Montana, it happens all the time.
We had tipped our bottles and the snow was still coming down so Arnie began to pull ahead and pass. He pulled just ahead of me and got in the driving lane, as the passing lane had a few inches on it. The moment was perfect. In the back of that Dodge was a fine mule deer buck that Arnie had shot that morning. What are the odds that two friends, years separated, would be driving a mountain pass in a whiteout, drinking Coors Original at 11:00 am, with two freshly harvested muley bucks in the backs of their respective trucks? In Montana, anything can happen.
I know these events are not truly independent, but for fun:
Chances of me driving through a whiteout during hunting season .1
Chances of me killing a Mule Deer .05
Chances of me driving and drinking a beer at 11:00 am .01
Chances of it being a Coors 1
Chances of crossing paths with someone you haven't seen in years in MT .01
.1*.04*.01*1*.01 = .0000005*100 =.00005% Chance these things would occur.
Chances of Arnie doing the exact same stuff in the same place <.00005%
Chances of both of us doing it at the exact same time .00005%*.00005% = .0000000025%
My thoughts on drinking alcohol while driving
I think we can see that there exists a divide between what typically makes something an immoral act, and the law. For drinking and driving, the open container law is a rule based on the spectrum of probabilities of outcomes involved with allowing people to have even one drink while driving, not the fact that having one drink while driving is an immoral act itself. Driving while drunk is an immoral act because the probability that you will hurt yourself or someone else has increased to what we have decided is an unacceptable level. An example of the grey areas that probability-based laws can create is that it is perfectly legal to drink two beers with dinner and drive home with a BAC of .06, but illegal to have a beer on the drive home after work with a BAC of .02. I understand that there is no logical formula to follow when deciding upon the somewhat arbitrary thresholds of acceptibility in terms of how much is too much. I agree with the .08 threshold. But that is exatcly why I don't think having a beer while driving is immoral. Because when I pull the one ice cold Coors out of my cooler for the 20 minute drive home from work, I can say with near certainty that the chance of me driving over the acceptable threshold of influence is 0% for that occasion. I enjoy these drives after a long day or night of work or morning hunt. Be it right or wrong.