February 23, 2024


What is the most unlikely event to have taken place? Eva Tilman, County Durham

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Readers reply

The rapper Vanilla Ice presenting a podcast on the kidnapping of the Irish racehorse Shergar. Kassogram

It has to be the endosymbiotic fusing of two prokaryotic cells 1.4bn years ago. Normally, one single-celled organism consuming another would just be a case of the big one eating the smaller one, but this occasion lead to the smaller cell generating energy for the larger host cell – mitochondria. It enabled multicellular life to evolve on Earth, resulting in us. It was so unfathomably unlikely that it is a good case for there being no complex life anywhere else in the universe. We struck very lucky that day. Altarboy

The most unlikely event to ever occur, dear Eva, is you. You stand on the shoulders of giants of causality, relying on the precisely timed meeting of genetic information from two humans. Any minute adjustment to the timing of that meeting and different gametes would have combined and you’d be a totally different person, at least physically. You would, of course, still be some combination (and minor mutation) of your parents’ range of possible genes, but what are those genes if not additional unique combinations of their parents, equally reliant on precise timing, going backward in time billions of years through common ancestors and particle collisions and elemental fusion to the big bang? You won the lottery, Eva, not once, not twice, but over and over again, simply by existing as a conscious being who is capable of understanding the heuristic miracle that is yourself. I hope that makes you feel nice, as it does me. GlennB

The fact that the Earth, the moon and the sun are positioned in such a way that the moon and sun appear to be identical in size from the surface of the Earth during a total eclipse. CaressOfSteel

The chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella? No eyewitness testimony, mind. jno50

Jesus coming back from the dead has got to be up there. petrol

The Japanese man who survived two atomic bombs in three days. Having been two miles away from ground zero in Hiroshima and spent the night in a shelter, Tsutomu Yamaguchi miraculously found some trains still running. He duly boarded the train to Nagasaki, limped to the hospital and then went to work. After being quizzed about the Hiroshima blast, he looked out of the window to see flashes of iridescent light and a mushroom cloud enveloping the city. Yamaguchi lived until he was 93 and appeared in New York at the UN to campaign for nuclear disarmament. What are the odds? Andyouwillknowme

The time I inadvertently found myself in Reading at 11pm, having fallen asleep on the train back to London from Maidstone, where a job interview held in a pub led to me being very drunk. (I think the hard-drinking interviewer was testing my ability to think independently and refuse his constant offers of one more; I didn’t get the job.) Racking my brain as to what I was going to do for accommodation that night, I remembered I did know one person who lived in Reading: Dan, whom I had last seen when we were at Manchester uni 10 years prior. Standing in the taxi queue with the intention of asking the cabbie for a recommendation of somewhere to stay, I heard a distinctive accent from a guy further behind me in the queue. Dan! Despite the time that had passed since our last meeting, he was able to put me up for the night. I mean, what were the chances? jimlewis1

The big bang might be considered one of the most unlikely events: the origin of everything and the creation of all matter, energy, space and time. Or my brother buying a round. The most likely is the rising and setting of the sun. Every day has a beginning and an end. An eclipse keeps us honest in understanding that even the most likely can have variance. StuF

This question originally appeared in Notes and queries in the late 70s, with the most upticked answer being “Keith Richards’ 35th birthday”. EddieChorepost



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