The surprising opportunities of our lives deserve to seem favor they’re hinting at hidden truths, yet they’re yes, really revealing the person mind at work.

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David SpiegelhalterHe states he’d categorize mine as “finding a attach with who you meet.” “But the a very different kind of connection,” that says, “not like having lived in the same home or something favor that. And it’s a very strong one, that not similar to you to be both at the template park. Ns love that. And also you remember that after every this time.”


And the craziest point is no that I uncovered someone’s money and then that I was in a room through him a year later, but that I discovered out around it in ~ all. What if the hadn’t lugged it up? Or “you could not have actually heard that if you’d been somewhere contempt away,” Spiegelhalter says. “And however the coincidence would have been there. Girlfriend would have actually been 6 feet far from who who shed their money. The simultaneously in a sense would have physically occurred. It was only due to the fact that you were listening that you i found it it. And also so that’s why the amazing thing is not that these things occur, it’s that we notification them.”

“This is my large theory about coincidences,” the continues, “that’s why they occur to certain kinds the people.”

Beitman in his research study has found that specific personality traits are attached to experiencing an ext coincidences—people who describe themselves as religious or spiritual, civilization who are self-referential (or likely to relate details from the exterior world back to themselves), and also people who room high in meaning-seeking room all coincidence-prone. World are additionally likely to view coincidences as soon as they are exceptionally sad, angry, or anxious.

“Coincidences never happen to me at all, because I never notification anything,” Spiegelhalter says. “I never ever talk come anybody on trains. If I’m with a stranger, i don’t shot to find a link with them, due to the fact that I’m English.”

Beitman, top top the other hand, says, “My life is littered through coincidences.” He tells me a story of exactly how he shed his dog once he to be 8 or 9 years old. He saw the police station to ask if they had seen it; they hadn’t. Then, “I was crying a lot and also took the wrong way home, and also there to be the dog … I got into just because, hey, watch Bernie, those going on here?”


For Beitman, probability is not enough when it pertains to studying coincidences. Since statistics can define what happens, however can’t explain it any type of further 보다 chance. “I recognize there’s something more going on 보다 we pay attention to,” the says. “Random is not sufficient of an explanation for me.”

Random wasn’t enough for the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung either. Therefore he came up v an alternate explanation. Coincidences were, to him, coherent events that couldn’t be defined by cause and also effect, which, so far so good, but he additionally thought that there was another force, exterior of causality, which might explain them. This he referred to as “synchronicity,” i m sorry in his 1952 book, he referred to as an “acausal connecting principle.”

Meaningful coincidences were developed by the force of synchronicity, and also could be considered glimpses into an additional of Jung’s ideas—the unus mundus, or “one world.” Unus mundus is the concept that there is an basic order and structure to reality, a network that connects everything and everyone.

For Jung, synchronicity didn’t just account because that coincidences, but also ESP, telepathy, and ghosts. And to this day, research mirrors that people who experience much more coincidences tend to be more likely to think in the occult as well.

This is the trouble v trying to discover a deeper explanation because that coincidences 보다 randomness—it can quickly veer right into the paranormal.

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Beitman, favor Spiegelhalter, is interested in sorting and also labeling various kinds the coincidences, to construct categories “like an early botanist,” that says, despite his category are much more expansive and include not only things that take place in the world however people’s thoughts and also feelings as well. In ours conversation, that divides coincidences right into three large categories—environment-environment interactions, mind-environment interactions, and mind-mind interactions.

Environment-environment are the most obvious, and easiest to understand. This coincidences room objectively observable. Something, or a series of things, wake up in the physics world. You’re at a gin share in Morocco and your long-lost love indigenous Paris shows up. I discovered some money and also a year later I met the person who shed it.

A nurse named Violet Jessop was a stewardess because that White Star Line and also lived through 3 crashes of its ill-fated fleet of ocean liners. She was on the Olympic as soon as it collided with the HMS hawke in 1911. In 1912, she was there because that the huge one: the Titanic. And 4 years later, once White Star’s Britannic, reportedly boosted after its sisters ship’s disaster, additionally sank, Jessop was there. And she survived. The one, ns guess, is an environment-environment-environment.

Mind-environment coincidences room premonition-esque—you’re thinking of a friend and then they speak to you, because that example. But unless you occur to write down “I am reasoning of so-and-so ” prior to the speak to happens, these room cool because that the human being they happen to, however not really measurable. “We prohibition premonitions from our site,” Spiegelhalter says. “Because, where’s the proof? Anybody could say anything.”

The things on ours minds seem come bleed out into the world approximately us.

Another sort of mind-environment interaction is learning a brand-new word and then suddenly seeing it everywhere. Or obtaining a track stuck in your head and also hearing it everywhere you go, or wondering about something and then stumbling onto an article around it. The points on our minds seem come bleed out into the world roughly us. But, though it renders them no much less magical, life’s motifs are produced not by the world approximately us, but by humans, by our attention.


This is an impact that the Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky calls “the frequency illusion,” and also it’s not the very same as a premonition. It’s simply that as soon as you’ve i found it something, your mind is primed to an alert it again the next time you encounter it. A word or a ide you’ve simply learned feels pertinent to you—you may have seen it thousands of times before and also just never ever noticed. Yet now that you’re payment attention, it’s much more likely come pop out at girlfriend the following time the whizzes by.

And then the last category, mind-mind, of course, is straight-up mystical. One instance of this is “simulpathity,” a term Beitman coined to explain feeling the pains or emotion of someone else at a distance. His interest in this particular kind of coincidence is deeply personal.

“In san Francisco, in 1973, February 26, ns stood in ~ a sink uncontrollably choking,” he says, clarifying, “There was nothing in my neck that ns knew .”

“It was approximately 11 o’clock in san Francisco. The following day my brothers called, and also told me my dad had died at 2 a.m. In Wilmington, Delaware, which was 11 in mountain Francisco, and also he had passed away by choking on blood in his throat. That was a dramatic suffer for me, and I began to look to watch if other human being had experiences prefer this. And also many human being have.”

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This is whereby we start to leaving the realm of science and also enter the kingdom of belief. Coincidences are exceptional in how they straddle this worlds. People have surprising, connective experiences, and also they one of two people create an interpretation out that them, or lock don’t.


Leaving a coincidence as nothing more than a curiosity may be a more evidence-based mindset, yet it’s no fair come say the the human being who make meaning from coincidences space irrational. The process by i beg your pardon we an alert coincidences is “part the a basic cognitive architecture which is designed come make feeling of the world,” states Magda Osman, an combine professor in experimental psychology in ~ Queen Mary university of London. That the same rational procedure we usage to find out cause and effect. This is one way to scientifically explain how coincidences happen—as spin-offs of the brain’s meaning-making system.

People prefer patterns. We look for them everywhere, and also by noticing and examining them we can understand our human being and, to some small degree, manage it. If every time girlfriend flick a switch, a lamp throughout the room transforms on, you pertained to understand that that switch controls the lamp.

When someone sees a sample in a coincidence, “there’s no way I can say ‘Yes, the was absolutely a chance event,’ or ‘There to be an yes, really causal system for it,’ because I’d have to know the world perfectly to be able to say that,” Osman says.

Instead what we perform is weigh whether it appears likelier that the event was brought about by chance, or by other else. If chance is the winner, us dismiss it. If not, we’ve gained a new hypothesis about how the world works.

Take the case of 2 twins, who were adopted by various families when they were 4 weeks old. When they were later on reunited, your lives had … a the majority of similarities. They were both called James by your adoptive families, were both married come a Betty and also had divorce a Linda. One twin’s very first son’s surname was James Alan, the other’s was James Allan. Lock both had adoptive brothers called Larry and pet dogs named Toy. Castle both experienced from tension headaches, and both vacationed in Florida within three blocks of each other.

“To me, it is a crucial part of what makes something a coincidence—that it drops in that realm in between being certain that something is false and also being specific that other is true.”

You might hypothesize native this the the power of genetics is for this reason strong, that also when identical twins room separated, their resides play out the very same way. In fact, the pair were component of a university of Minnesota research on pair reared apart the was asking just that question, despite it didn’t indicate that over there was any type of gene that would certainly make who attracted come a Betty, or likely to surname a dog Toy.


Drawing inferences native patterns like this is an advantageous thing come do, even as soon as the pattern isn’t 100 percent consistent. Take finding out language together an example. Over there isn’t walk to it is in a dog, or even a snapshot of a dog, surrounding every time a child hears the word “dog.” but if dad points at the family Fido enough times while speak “dog,” the son will discover what the word way anyway.

“Small kids are justified in gift conspiracy theorists, since their civilization is run by an inscrutable and all-powerful company possessing an enig communications and mysterious powers—a world of adults, who act through a system of rules that children gradually understand as they prosper up,” create the cognitive researchers Thomas Griffiths and also Joshua Tenenbaum in a 2006 research on coincidences.

We maintain this capability, also when we’re older and also have identified most the these more obvious patterns. It can still be very useful, especially for scientists who room working on unsolved questions, but for many adults in their day-to-day lives, any new coincidental link is likely to be specious. From a scientific perspective, anyway. If we realize that, climate we wave it off as “just a coincidence,” or what Griffiths, a professor the psychology and also cognitive science at the college of California, Berkeley, phone call a “mere coincidence.”

On the upper and lower reversal side, because that someone that believes in ESP, reasoning of a friend right before she calls may not be a coincidence come them at all, however just more evidence to assistance what they already believe. The exact same goes because that someone who believes in magnificent intervention—a opportunity meeting with a long-lost lover might be, to them, a sign from God, not a coincidence at all.


“You really come throughout a question of just what belief system you have around how reality works,” Beitman says. “Are friend a person who to trust the universe is random or are you a person who believes yes something walking on below that possibly we gotta pay much more attention to? ~ above the continually of explanation, on the left-hand next we’ve acquired random, ~ above the right-hand next we’ve obtained God. In the middle we’ve got tiny Bernie Beitman walk something here, i did it however I didn’t know how I did it.”

In the middle zone lie what Griffiths phone call “suspicious coincidences.”

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“To me, it is a vital part of what renders something a coincidence—that it falls in the realm in between being specific that other is false and also being specific that miscellaneous is true,” the says. If sufficient suspicious coincidences of a particular nature heap up, someone’s uncertainty can cross over into belief. World can stumble right into scientific discoveries this way—“Hmm, every these world with cholera seem to be acquiring their water indigenous the exact same well”—or right into superstition—“Every time ns wear mismatched socks, mine meetings go well.”

But you deserve to stay in the in-between zone because that a lengthy time—suspicious, however unsure. And also this is nowhere an ext obvious than in the coincidences that existing as evidence for some type of hidden however as-yet undiscovered bespeak principle because that reality, be the synchronicity or a type of David Mitchell–esque “Everything Is Connected” net that ensnares us in that is pattern. Systematic connections have the right to seem developed by design—things room “meant to be,” they’re happening because that a reason, even if the reason is elusive. Or as Beitman put it, “Coincidences alert united state to the secret hiding in level sight.”


I suppose no one deserve to prove over there isn’t such a thing, but it’s absolutely impossible to prove that there is. Therefore you’re left with … no much. Where you fall on the continuum of explanation more than likely says an ext about you 보다 it does about reality.

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In The Improbability Principle, Hand cites a 1988 U.S. National Academy of sciences report that concluded that there to be “no scientific justification indigenous research conducted over a period of 130 years because that the existence of parapsychological phenomena.”

“One hundreds thirty years!” Hand writes. The truth that human being kept make the efforts to uncover proof because that the paranormal was “a testimony to the power of expect over suffer if there ever before was one.”

But i disagree. It might be the researching the paranormal is partially an action of hope the you’ll discover something wherein no one has discovered anything before. But it seems like, often, experiences are the structure blocks of id in the paranormal, or in an underlying force that organizes reality. Even if they’re not doing officially research, civilization are seek explanations for your experiences. And structure is a much an ext appealing explanation 보다 chance.

Where you loss on the chance-structure continually may have a lot of to execute with what friend think chance looks like in the an initial place. Research shows that when most people are pretty poor at generating a arbitrarily string the numbers, world who believe in ESP are also worse. Even much more so 보다 skeptics, believers have tendency to think that repetitions in a sequence are much less likely to it is in random—that a coin upper and lower reversal sequence that went “heads, heads, heads, heads, tails” would be less likely to come increase randomly than one the went “heads, tails, heads, tails, heads,” also though they’re equally probable.

So we have actually psychology to define how and also why we notice coincidences, and also why we want to make meaning from them, and we have actually probability to describe why they it seems to be ~ to occur so often. However to explain why any individual coincidence happened requires a snarl of threads, of decisions and also circumstances and chains of events that, also if one could untangle it, i will not ~ tell friend anything about any various other coincidence.

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Jung appears to have actually been annoyed by this. “To master these distinctive or rare events at all, us seem to it is in dependent on equally ‘unique’ and also individual descriptions,” that writes, despairing that the lack of a unifying theory readily available by scientific research for these strange happenings. “This would an outcome in a chaotic repertoire of curiosities, rather like those old natural-history cabinets whereby one finds, cheek by jowl with fossils and also anatomical monster in bottles, the horn that a unicorn, a mandragora manikin, and a dried mermaid.”

This is claimed to be unappealing (surely this things have to be placed in order!), yet I rather choose the photo of coincidences as a curio cabinet full of odds and ends us couldn’t uncover anywhere else to put. It might not it is in what we’re many comfortable with, however a “chaotic collection of curiosities” is what we’ve got.