Coincidences

Many occurrences can seem ‘paranormal’ because of the assumption they are so unlikely that some strange force must be responsible for them. A common example is thinking about someone for the first time in a while – and then, a short time after, running into or hearing from that person. It feels so unlikely, it seems it can only be accounted for by ‘telepathy’ or ‘precognition’.

One of the bizarrest coincidences I’ve heard concerns a breakdown repairman (Jason Pegler) who answered a ringing public telephone. To his surprise, it was a colleague from his office, asking him how to fix her fax machine. It was her turn to be surprised when he explained where he was, and she realised she had dialled by mistake his payroll number.

Our minds ascribe meaning to chance events like this, rather than providing us with any direct sense of their randomness. It is sometimes difficult to escape an impression of paranormal causes for events that – in truth – are just not as unlikely as we might imagine. What seems impossible can often be just chance.

Further information:

  • ‘Strange Days – Coincidences’ (1994), a BBC2 television programme, in which people relate stories of bizarre coincidences.
  • ‘It could just be coincidence’ (2008), a short film by QualiaSoup on how probability theory is sufficient to explain even seemingly remarkable coincidences.

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