What Math Does Your Life Follow?

As a student, math and I didn’t play well in the sandbox. I really only appreciated geometry–all the other types of math were painful to me.

I will now attempt to use math to convince you that human beings as a whole are seriously lacking in more than just math skills.

Warning: this post will contain gross generalizations all designed to assist me with my point.

winding road

Roughly, human beings have been roaming the planet, depending on what you consider “human,” somewhere between 1.8 million years and 240,000 years. Since most people don’t like to see themselves with bodies covered with matted hair, hands hanging almost to the ground and where all attempts at communication sound like bedroom noises, let’s use the nice round number of 250,000 years.

According to current government data, the average life span of humans is 67.2 years, if we divide 67.2 years by 250,000 years we come up with a percentage that represents our own individual portion of that total amount of time we, as a species, have to spend on this great planet. Of course this average is greatly impacted by where you happened to be lucky enough to have been born–or not born, in the case of countries with tremendous infant mortality rates, malaria or genocide.

Keep in mind I am doing my best to convince you of something, so I will use the number “68” as the life expectancy. The amount of time you or I have on this planet is roughly .00027% of all the years that humans have been around.

Now we must take that .00027% and take 1/3rd of it away to account for how much of our lives we spend sleeping, which leaves us with .00018%. I know that sleep and dreams are important to the quality of our lives–and however “entertaining” they can be, I could do without the occasional nightmare.

Here comes the good part.

Of that .00018%, we all spend a lot of time in “prison” of one form or another, whether they are prisons of the mind or prisons of the body.

Think about all those people imprisoned that, even by the most critical observer, would be deemed innocent. If such a person were to spend 75% of their .00018% incarcerated–how much would be left to lie on the beach, worship a sunset, smell a baby’s head, or climb Mt Everest? Now this is not to say that they would not have some sort of life while in prison–but I think you get the point.

jeweldrop1This all reminds me of the movie “In Darkness.” It is an incredible movie about a whole bunch of Jews that were hidden from the Nazis in a sewer in Warsaw, Poland–for 14 months! How can anyone survive that? How can anyone justify taking away such a huge percentage of someone’s already small percentage of life like that?

Who among us can make it OK in our mind for our child to make a pet of a sewer rat after a year of that kind of existence?

And these were the lucky ones.

A step further in my analogy would be if a person were killed at age 20 in some meaningless war (or even meaningful war)–now we have to take away another 2/3rds of that 18%—bringing their total down to .00006%.

Think about this percentage for a moment.

Consider that we have not even begun to calculate all the time we spend hating someone else, watching reality TV shows, spending too much time on Facebook, eating too much junk food, being wholly focused on making money, sitting on the toilet, dieting, believing in things we don’t understand, being drunk or stoned, being bogged down in jobs we hate, or any number of other things that suck the life out of us.

There are also all those hours spent stalled in traffic, on jury duty, and in psychotherapy.

These are the comas we can find ourselves in.

The prisons we are placed in, or create for ourselves, are as varied as the number of human beings that there are.  Sometimes they are all there is.

Most of us managed to avoid being killed at age 20, or dying in child birth, or dying of leukemia at age 12, being beheaded, burned at the stake or spending our teenage years as a sex slave. But just look at your own tiny portion of what remains of the .00018% after you take out all the things that hold you back from fully experiencing this great gift we call life–whether we do it to our selves or other do it to us. And it is not merely “a life”–it is a life we can be “conscious” of. Consciousness is perhaps the one thing that truly separates us from other animals–something few if any other animal truly has–or at least to the potential of a human being.

Whatever percentage of that .00018% that you can conjure as the percentage that defines your life–that is how much time you have to make a difference.

It comes down to making the most of whatever percentage we get to experience. The person with the shortest bucket list in the end in one sense wins, but that does not mean that lives cut short didn’t contribute more, in some other way–in their own way.

In the big picture, when I take the time to put my own self importance aside, I find the percentage of human history my life represents entirely humbling.

What path does your life follow?

And keep in mind, I could have used the 1.8 million years instead of the 250,000 years in determining the percentages.

I knew I hated math for a reason!


Charles Buell