(Submitted by Friend of the Blog, Andrew Hansford)
I met Ajay Appaden at The Amazing Meeting 2013. Ajay had traveled from Kerala, India to serve as Mr. Randi’s personal assistant at TAM and to travel the USA in the weeks after TAM. While we were discussing aspects of the Million Dollar Challenge event, Ajay told me that he had lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia until he was twelve. I found that interesting because my uncle and aunt also lived in Riyadh at about the same time. (Mid 80s through mid 90s). That was not a major coincidence; Riyadh is a large city with a large ex-patriot population at that time.
I offered Ajay a place to stay in New Hampshire if he decided to see Boston and New England. We kept in touch as he traveled in the US. During those conversations we discovered that his mother and my uncle both worked at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. Another small coincidence, but King Faisal is a large facility. His mother did not remember my uncle and my uncle died several years ago, so I could not ask him.
During Ajay’s visit to New England over Labor Day weekend, we decided to watch videos shot in Riyadh during the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) that my aunt and uncle lent me to digitize several years before. Apparently, some of the ex-pats in Riyadh videotaped the Scud attacks and the aftermath on the city and people traded around mixes of those tapes. Ajay was a toddler living in there at the time.
The tapes were spooky with the wail of the air raid sirens and how calmly people recorded incoming missiles, the launch of the American Patriot defense missiles, and the running around trying to find the Scud landing sites. During one of the clips as the videographer panned showing the buildings around him, Ajay said, “That looks like where I used to live.” I assumed that much of Riyadh would have a similar look. “No, that really looks like where I used to live. There is a picture of a Scud attack up in my living room in Kerala. It was given to my mother because our apartment building is in it. I’ll have my brother send a photo of it.”
As we compared the photograph of the print hanging in a living room in Cochin, India to the videotape loaned to me 10 years previous, we determined that not only was the video taken from the same location as the photograph, it was also taken at the same time, during the same event. The videotape in my possession in Milford NH, showed Ajay’s childhood home in Riyadh– on a night he was there — and captured an event that he would know all his life through a photograph hanging in his living room.
We kept saying to ourselves “We are skeptics. We KNOW this doesn’t mean anything.” It sure did tickle our brains though.
Below is analysis provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.
I actually don’t find this story all that surprising. As the author noted, it is not at all unusual to know or meet more than one person who lived in a particular city, especially a large one, at the same time. It is also not unusual to discover that you know people who worked in the same place at the same time.
The video/image match feels more impressive, but it is actually less so. The author mentioned that images and videos were passed around. It is likely that people who were would collect them, especially those which showed places were they lived (and they’ve had 20 years to do so). Furthermore, if one person in a building thought that the event was worth recording on film, it’s highly likely that others would, too, hence the existence of both snapshots and video which appear to have been taken from roughly the same location.
At this point I might normally remark that it is more surprising that they would notice the similarities than it is that the similarities are there, but even that is not surprising in this case because people tend to look at images of important events in their lives over and over again. Think about how familiar some videos and images of the events of 9/11/01 are to you.