Thursday, April 26, 2012


Everybody has stories of strange things which have happened to them which seem to be too unlikely to be mere coincidence (in my case going on holiday to Torremolinos and finding myself sitting in a bar next to an old friend). The human brain seems hardwired to remember strange coincidences (and read paranormal explanations into them). Proponents of the supernatural and pseudoscience take advantage (often, but perhaps not always, maliciously) of the fact that most of us are ready to read more into strange events, rather than just accept them as coincidences. I've previously posted about how psychics, especially, play on this.

I often think that in a city of 23 million people, like the one in which I'm living at the moment, you could say that a "chance in a million" occurrence happens to 23 people every day. You only remember the bars in Torremolinos where you end up sitting next to a friend, and remain blissfully ignorant of all of those bars where they just left before you walked in. We are also unaware of factors which increase the likelihood of a coincidental occurrence (perhaps there was an offer on at my local travel agency on trips to Torremolinos that particular weekend), and we don't recognise those things we perceive unconsciously which make particular thoughts pop into our heads.

There are some nice examples of strange coincidences here.

I read an interesting article on the BBC website by a statistician, offering a more mathematical explanation of coincidence.


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