John Littlewood was a mathematician who sought to debunk the idea of miracles being anything more than simple statistics.
Littlewood’s law of miracles states that in the course of any normal person’s life, miracles happen at the rate of roughly one per month.
The proof of the law is simple. During the time that we are awake and actively engaged in living our lives, roughly for eight hours each day, we see and hear things happening at a rate of one per second. So the total number of events that happen to us is about 30,000 per day, or about a million per month.
With few exceptions, these events are not miracles because they are insignificant. The chance of a miracle is about one per million events. Therefore we should expect about one miracle to happen, on average, every month.
Think about 100-year events. One-hundred-year floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, financial crises, frauds, pandemics, political meltdowns, economic recessions, and so on endlessly. Lots of terrible things can be called “100-year events”.
A 100-year event doesn’t mean it happens every 100 years. It means there’s about a 1% chance of it occurring in any given year. That seems low. But when there are hundreds of different independent 100-year events, what are the odds that any one of them will occur in a given year?
Pretty good, in fact.
If next year there’s a 1% chance of a new disastrous pandemic, a 1% chance of a crippling depression, a 1% chance of a catastrophic flood, a 1% chance of political collapse, and on and on, then the odds that something bad will happen next year – or any year – are … uncomfortably high.
Littlewood’s Law tells us to expect a miracle every month. The flip side is to expect a disaster roughly as often.
Which is what history tells us, isn’t it?
“History is just one damn thing after another” said Arnold Toynbee.