Life and nature are full of the non-linear: everything from compound interest to the homeostasis that maintains your body temperature. But one of the most confounding non-linearities of all is the very unlikely. Let me explain why.

We intuitively understand 50/50 odds, like the chance of getting heads on a coin flip. And we can deal with the odds falling slightly, to 1 in 3, or 1 in 4. But when probabilities decrease far enough, our rational faculties can fail us. We find ourselves in a completely different world—one much harder to understand, but also one with truths to be discovered, both peculiar and necessary.

That’s because there are marvels and wonders in the world of the unlikely, which have motivated scientists throughout the ages. And also severe challenges, even for the hardest of hard sciences. It is ultimately, as our stories show, a strange place to be.

Welcome to “The Unlikely.”