Are you getting the most out of your air?

Imagine if you will for a moment, that you could label the air you breathing. You suck up air, and when you say something or exhale, it has a little label going "this passed through me". But you probably wouldn't be using air that doesn't have a label yet. Certainly, some of the air you're breathing is "new" air, but then again some of it has probably been breathed by other humans before you, not to mention a crazy amount of animals and plants. While the animals and plants are cute in thought at best, the really interesting bit concerns the other humans.

If popular science is to be believed, "there are more humans alive now than ever lived", which means there have been, throughout the history of mankind, less than 12,000,000,000 (give or take a few hundred million) humans. Given that the average human has a tidal lung volume of about half a liter, and the average human has a respiratory rate of between 15 and 30 breaths a minute, so lets set that 25 just for convenience, then in the history of man (if we take an average human age of 40 years - remember, of all time, so on average over several hundred thousand years, we're more likely to have died at 40 than, say, 80 years of age) we can calculate the amount of air moved around in human lungs throughout the ages:

roughly 378,432,000,000,000,000 liters.

In a usable metric, that means 378,432,000,000,000 cubic meters. That's 378 432 cubic kilometers of air. Now, the estimated amount of breathable air on the earth is somewhere around 2,500,000,000 cubic kilometers, which is actually significantly more than we ever collectively breathed... so there goes the theory that all the air we are breathing now has been breathed before.

However, just because there is far more air than all the humans in the word, ever, could have breathed in and out, doesn't mean that there is't a chance that the air you're breathing right now hasn't been breathed out by some other human. In fact, given that there are many places where we live in close proximity to each other, it's quite likely that the air you're breathing in, say, an office has been breathed in and out by your coworkers too.

but... how probably?

This is where we reach the "this is impossible to say", not because math fails us, but our knowledge of the world fails us. There isn't enough information by far to calculate the average probability that you will be breathing in the air from someone at a distance of x, over a time period of y. Even guessing is pretty useless here.

However, this doesn't mean we can't think about a rather ackward question: Say we did know probable the probablity that you are breathing in air already breathed out by someone before you, and we knew the probability that you are exhaling it while speaking, as were they, then what are the odds that what you are saying with this breath of air is more significant than what they said?

And carrying the thought through: what are the odds that what you saying is the most profound thing ever said with this breath of air?

It makes you think. Even if the probability that you are breathing in and out air already breathed by someone (or more likely someones, since a breath of air has billions upon billions of molecules, most of which come from multiple other people, if it comes from other people already) is astronomically small, then provided this IS the case, are the probabilities that what you're saying is more important than what's ever been said before with it significant? Or are you just wasting your time saying things?

Most of the things we say are fairly insignificant and mundane, but every now and then you say things that are truly profound. For instance, the moment you say "I do" at a wedding might steer the course of history to an arrangement that leads to the eventual birth of the first emperor of the first global empirical age of earth. You just don't know. But you do know what people in history said that is significant. Nixon saying "I am not a crook", ghandi saying "we will not fight you", Mao saying "yes, I do think it's a good idea to destroy all of China's cultural heritage". Of course these are all paraphrases, but you get the idea. Some pretty significant things have been said, with even more significant results.

But are these expressions far and wide apart, or are they more common than you might think? Every human has at least a few moments of significant utterances that steer the course of their life, if not also the lives of others, but when they said it, was that the most profound thing ever said with the breat of air they used?

To be honest, we'll probably never find out.

The most interesting thing about this whole treatise is really that I may have just said something so profound you won't realise just how profound it was, without ever saying it out loud.

At least I made sure to breathe more than average while writing this. Take that, ghandi.


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