John Edensor Littlewood (1885-1977) is still a bit of a legend in the (mathematics) profession — he was best known for important results with his frequent collaborator Godfrey Hardy and others. But the things that come to mind most readily when I think of Littlewood are his four principles. The first three pertain to objects relevant to mathematical analysis, and while I will state them, I’m not going to say anything about them.It’s the fourth principle, usually called Littlewood’s Law, that I wish to consider. Anyway, here they are, as found in my memory, which may differ some from what Littlewood actually claimed:
1. Every set is nearly open.
2. Every function is nearly continuous.
3. Every convergent sequence is nearly uniformly convergent.
4. Every person may expect to experience a miracle about once a month.
It’s number 4 that I find most interesting (properly contextualized, the others are obvious). For Littlewood, a “miracle” is an exceptional event, something that follows the old saw, “one in a million.” Given this quantified version of events we might call miracles, Littlewood offers that (assuming you’re asleep for eight hours, vegetative for eight hours and alert for the other eight hours in a day, and assuming that during those alert hours you experience one event per second) “on average,” a miracle will happen to you about every 35 days. Therefore, miraculous events (probably!) happen all the time.
There are several things about this I see as rather fishy. First, when I think of a miracle, I think not of winning the lottery, but someone being raised from the dead or, nearly as wild, a four-year-old landing a 747, sans autopilot.But perhaps this merely pushes the probabilities another couple of decimal places. Is this the old “Paleyesque” problem that appears now and again from well-meaning folk? You know, wishing to promote faith, they tender statements about things like the human eye — such an intricate thing arising spontaneously is so improbable as to make belief in such ridiculous? Yes, says I. The confusion here stems from several sources, but partly it’s a matter of spelling. Improbable ≠ Impossible.
But then again, Littlewood’s probabilistic argument leaves one cold. It can’t measure feelings or the distribution of the Holy Ghost, can it? Does a miracle depend on perception? When you catalog the miracles in your life, truly “supernatural” out of the ordinary events as you see them (no, I’m not counting those poetic things like experiencing the sunrise from the top of Kilimanjaro or the birth of your child), how often would you say they occur in your life? Once a month, once a year, once in a lifetime, never? What is a miracle?
There is another aspect to Littlewood’s idea though and it depends on the nature of the universe. If the universe is infinite, then it’s possible, even reasonably likely, that there is another (likely, infinitely many) “you(s)” walking around on some world(s) somewhere. Someone exactly like you in every detail with the same life history. Would that be a miracle, or does it cheapen every miracle? Indeed, assuming that the process of populating worlds with embodied spirits has been going on “forever,” then it is quite likely that you are not very unique at all. Given the nature of baryonic matter, there’s a pretty high probability that you can count ω StevePs out there somewhere. Does this mean a long stay in hell?
 Littlewood is lesser known perhaps for a wonderfully large shaped-charge ego.
 There is a thread in Mormon thinking that stems from its materialistic background, suggesting that “supernatural” doesn’t even make sense as a category. I think I disagree for a number of reasons, but now is not the time.
 Naturally we should keep in mind D&C 84:73.
 Actually this is rather likely, given that the universe appears to be flat (so far).