- You call your friend and she tells you she was just picking up the phone to call you
- You were just thinking you need to find a new contractor when you find your brother’s best friend is just starting a contracting business
- You find that you and your first love’s decades long marriages ended within a month of each other. She lives a thousand miles away and you’ve been out of touch most of that time.
- After being recently unemployed, you run into a long-lost former colleague in an airport, who then refers you to another colleague, who offers you a job.
- Out of a class of 37, three students and one of the faculty ages 30-50 are getting married on the same weekend. They live hundreds of miles apart from each other and the planning occurred unbeknownst to the others.
Do you believe in coincidences? Most people I have talked to do not, but maybe that reflects more about who’ve I’ve been hanging out with than anything else. It would not have been the first time that my opinions are strongly influenced by a biased group selection.
I’m asking the question because I don’t really know what to think about coincidences. Sure, a coincidence or two and it’s no big deal but sometimes those coincidences just line up like tin soldiers and I start to wonder. The above set of coincidences are mostly unrelated but I’ve noticed that sometimes coincidences can happen repeatedly in a single chain of events.
The scientist in me explains our perception of coincidence are simply tricks of the mind. If we are looking for coincidences, we will find coincidences. Just as if we were looking for red Volkswagon Beetles, we’ll start to notice them everywhere where previously they were just among the masses of rush hour traffic.
Humans also have a tendency to imagine order and meaning when it does not likely exist. Faces in the clouds, an artful dance by a plastic bag in the wind, a nefarious intention in an offhand comment. Man wishes to make order out of chaos, and one way to do that is to believe the events in our lives have meaning rather than are just random.
But still, when you do the actual math, sometimes the statistically impossible happens. For example, the wedding example above refers to the class I attend in Pennsylvania. Even accounting for the fact that the weekend of our Big Day is fairly soon after we graduate, the odds that this statistical improbability happened by random chance are pretty low.
I wrote a blog some time ago about the connectedness strength theme, and how the ability to understand how all things are interconnected is believed by many people to be a key ingredient in their ability to be successful. Sometimes I feel the scientist in me is too skeptical and cynical, and that sometimes a greater openness to the mystery of the world is in order. Fortunately, scientists are starting to study subjects like religion and spirituality that were previously viewed as off-limits. Maybe soon we’ll start to have a better understanding of the unseen connections between us.