One of the oddities of life is the coincidence. Often, it is an improbable encounter with someone on a special day or a twist of numbers that piques our interest. Some of the best known coincidences can be uncovered by doing a simple search on Google. These events span the history of human existence. Interestingly, they are never foretold but rather are discovered retrospectively.
For those who play the lottery here’s one coincidence that stands out. The “Numbers” lottery in New York State is a three digit guessing game. Guess the correct sequence and you win a prize. On September 11th, 2001 the winning numbers were 9-1-1. Even stranger was the payout to the winners on that day in the amount of $666. Almost, as if on cue, the date and the winning numbers are identical and the payout seems to have some mythical significance.
Following the assassination of J.F.K. many coincidences were identified with the assassination of President Lincoln. Both were champions of civil rights. Each of these Presidents surnames contain the same number of letters, seven. Kennedy’s secretary’s last name was Lincoln. Both were shot on a Friday, Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre while Kennedy was shot in a car (Lincoln) made by Ford Motor Company. The assassin of President Lincoln was known by his full name containing 15 letters. Similarly the assassin of J.F.K., Lee Harvey Oswald, contains fifteen letters.
The first aviators, Wilbur and Orville Wright hailed from the state of Ohio. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, is from you guessed it, the great state of Ohio.
Recently, a friend lost his job. As he was leaving his office for the final time he ran into an old college roommate whom he had not seen or spoken with in more than 25 years. His roommate told him about a job opening for a position in the firm he worked at. Talk about timing and coincidence.
There are innumerable other stories that bear the same coincidental pattern. Some people see great significance in coincident events. Scientists and mathematicians on the other hand tell us that coincidences occur simply as a result of the randomness of our world. Indeed, John Allen Paulous, a mathematician and writer who penned “A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper”, says what would be even more amazing than coincidence would be if they did not occur at all.
According to Paulous, coincident events will occur simply as a result of the sheer number of events happening every second of every day. These events are nothing more than happenstance and reflect the billions and billions of interactions that happen in the human existence. In other words every now and then, stuff happens. Like a coin flip that turns up heads ten times in a row, or a baseball player who hits safely in fifty six games in a row.
Coincidences seem noteworthy to some because in reality it signals a break in the usual pattern of randomness that we have grown so accustomed to. Humans are “hard-wired” to detect patterns. It starts very early in our lives. Consider for the moment that as infants, human learning is based on pattern recognition and repetition. The repeated recognition of letters in learning language, or multiplication tables in math or the listening and sounding out of words are all based on a process known to psychologists as patterning.
Most people have heard the saying that we are creatures of habit. Perhaps we should also be known as creatures of patterns. When a coincidence occurs we humans are witnessing an alignment of events as opposed to the usual randomness in our lives. So the next time you encounter a coincidence in your life revel in your new found perspective and for goodness sake, play the lottery!