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Ninety Miles Around a Coincidence

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Garrett)

So, recently I was at the gym that I have been going to for the last ten years. This gym is convenient for me because it is about five minutes from where I regularly teach, however it is about 30 miles from my house driving east.

I befriended an acquaintance at the gym, maybe three or four years ago, and we have been getting to know one another little by little. Over the years I have learned many things about Chris – surprisingly that we have the same employer (but never ran into one another because we are in buildings on the opposite side of town – not that weird – a lot of people work there) among other things. I also learned that he lives about 30 miles north of me, but that we share the same supermarket halfway and just never saw one another there either, which would mean that he lives about 30 miles from work as well, albeit on the hypotenuse angle. Little things like that.

Two weeks ago, I was talking with him, and he was describing having a friend in the town I live in. As a matter of fact, he was the godfather of their child who is about three years old – a result of his being in a long term relationship with the uncle of the child, and becoming a very good family friend. Before I told him where I lived specifically, he describes how he gets to their house for perspective – it is the same exit, the same turns, and the same street as me.  As a matter of fact, it is my next door neighbor.

But that isn’t the strange coincidence.

The strange coincidence is that we are very good friends with these neighbors, and my son loves playing with their three children. My wife lets me sit out the children’s parties out of compassion for my sanity…  But it turns out that at all of the family gatherings, she has befriended the exact same acquaintance and has known him for years just as I have. Furthermore, we have told one another anecdotes about him, without ever mentioning him by name even though he has a very common one, and told one another that we should meet him and would get a real kick out of him!  We have had the same acquaintance for years, from completely different circumstances, and didn’t even know it!

Imagine his what his surprise would have been running into our family at the supermarket on a grocery run?

What are the odds of a married couple having a long term acquaintance in two different contexts, especially when a 90 mile perimeter triangle of geography is involved??


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 229.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

It’s impossible to calculate the odds of this, given the number of variables involved. This is really fun story, and it is a shame that I have to ruin these great stories by focusing on what makes them less interesting, but that’s my job, so here goes:  There is one very important fact that makes this story much less “impressive” probablistically-speaking, and that’s the fact that similarity is attractive. We tend to like people we share interests, qualities, values, and identities with, and when we discover commonalities, the bonds grow stronger.

So, a married couple befriending (and liking) the same person is highly likely. That leaves only the coincidence that they both met this man years ago in situations which are likely to repeat opportunities for bonding. The conjunction of those events is clearly attached to a low probability, but not astronomical.

The Isolated Artist

(Submitted by blog reader Rick Stromoski)

In 1989 my wife and I moved to Connecticut from Los Angeles due to a job offer for her that we couldn’t refuse.

I was and currently am a free lance cartoonist who has always worked from home so it tends to be an isolated existence to begin with. To alleviate the feeling of stir craziness I would occasionally take classes with the idea of getting out of my studio but also possibly learn something new.

I enrolled in a night Illustration class at Central Connecticut University and the instructor’s name was Dana Schrieber. When taking attendance for the first time he came across my name and hesitated. He asked if I had a brother Robert who lived in Los Angeles and I answered in the affirmative. He then told me that he once owned a small gallery in Los Angeles and represented my brother Bobby’s work in the early 1970s . An interesting coincidence given that it was over 15 years and 3,000 miles and we met on the whim that I’d take a night class and he was the instructor. The class ended and that was the last I’d seen of Mr. Schreiber.

Fast forward to the year 2011. My then 16 year old daughter Molly was a junior attending a prep school in Northern Connecticut and met a boy and they started dating. We liked the young man very much and soon we were making plans to meet his mother and her steady boyfriend over dinner. Turns out when we arrived at the young man’s house the steady boyfriend was none other than the same Dana Schreiber who taught that illustration class I’d taken back in 1989. We were all amused at the coincidence but it also afforded me the opportunity to complain about the “B” he gave me for the class.

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Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 228. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast  for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

This story is adorable. I can’t think of all that much to say about it that’s interesting, but there are the usual culprits. We tend to forget that factors such as an interest or occupation (in this case, art) increases the probability of running into people who know the people we know. There is also the fact that if it was a friend and not a brother, the author may never have discovered that the teacher was connected because the teacher wouldn’t have recognized his name. Think about how many times that has probably happened in your own life.

In general, we all tend to share interests and values with our family members, the people we work with, and the people we call friends. We are more like those people than we are like random strangers. And those interests and values attract us to others. So, people tend to “cluster”, even if those clusters are large.

Amazing find inside of used bible

(Submitted by friend of the blog Emery Emery)

Local News

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. – Marion Shurtleff believes in miracles.

In December, the 75-year-old San Clemente, Calif., resident found a piece of her childhood from Covington, Ky., tucked in the pages of a used Bible she purchased at a bookstore near her home.

“I opened the Bible and there was my name,” Shurtleff said in a phone interview from her home. “I recognized my handwriting. I was shaking, literally. I was crying.”

What Shurtleff found was an essay she wrote for her Covington Girl Scout troop when she was 10-years-old.

“It’s three pages, almost four. This was the requirement for the foot traveler badge.”

Shurtleff remembers going to Girl Scouts on Fridays while she attended Fourth District Elementary in Covington. She would go on to graduate from Holmes High School before moving to California for the first time in 1963.

In the essay, she found a detailed account her 10-year-old self gave of a day’s hike through the city that included a meeting of her troop at Trinity Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue.

“We left at 10 in the morning. We went to Devou Park and went around where we had camped the prior year. We walked back to the church and then I took a streetcar home about 4 in the afternoon,” Shurtleff said, summarizing her trip.

Her favorite part of the whole letter she said, was an editorial comment she left in a brief paragraph.

“’We were well provisioned,’” Shurtleff read from the letter. She goes on to describe how each member of the troop had a compass, lunch, and backpack.

“All my friends laughed, and said, yes Marion, that’s you, well provisioned.”

Shurtleff said there was no other clue as to how the Bible carrying her letter ended up in California. The only clue on the letter itself was the name, “Bonnie Gene Edwards,” who she believes was an assistant at her school.

Besides the letter, Shurtleff said she was surprised by the attention she’s received since her story originally ran in the Orange County Register. A local television station, CBS 2 picked up on it and then the Internet.

“I was surprised when the church secretary sent me the email saying it made it to Yahoo,” she said.

Since then, a genealogist and church group has attempted to contact her.

Shurtleff said she would like to know the history of the Bible she purchased. She also added she’s heard speculation that perhaps she always had the letter and possibly forgot it

“I’ve moved too many times. I’ve been down to bare bones. That Bible could have been in Timbuktu, or Alaska. I believe it’s God showing His Grace to us and His love, making us aware that there are stranger things that happen.”

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Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 227. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast  for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

I love this story for several reasons. First, let’s talk about the odds of this happening. There are many factors to consider, some of which Wendy suggested, which involve knowing the history of the book itself. The way I see it, the odds of this happening are extremely small in any case, but many times smaller in some cases than others.

Sixty-five years passed between the time Ms. Shurtleff wrote the essay and when she found it in the Bible. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the essay was placed in the Bible, for safekeeping or perhaps as a bookmark, shortly after she wrote it. This would undoubtedly be in Kentucky. But we can only speculate about how the Bible ended up in a bookstore in California, and how that happened is important in determining the odds that Ms. Shurtleff would find it.

The least shocking possibility is that the Bible once belonged to Ms. Shurtleff, it moved with her from Kentucky to California, and she got rid of it at some point afterward. It is reasonable that she simply didn’t recognize it. If that is what happened, the odds that Ms. Shurtleff would choose and buy that particular Bible are much, much higher than if she had never seen that Bible before. We tend to favor the familiar, even if we aren’t aware that something is familiar.

This would still be a shocking story unless Ms. Shurtleff frequents the store where she bought the Bible. In that case I would have to speculate that the Bible was among books that she sold to the store at some point, or to a neighbor, perhaps in a garage sale, who then sold it to the store.

However, after reading the story, what seems most likely to me is that the essay was left behind during a troop meeting at the church and was placed in one of the Bibles there and forgotten. It must then have been purchased by someone who moved to California at some point. This would make the probability of it finding Ms. Shurtleff very, very low and dependent upon the rates of migration from Kentucky to California during those sixty-five years as well as how often Bibles are sold or given away.

But there are two other interesting thoughts I have about this story. One is a question: why was the essay still there after sixty-five years? This suggests that the Bible was rarely used. Then again, it was discarded, unless it was acquired after its owner passed away.

Finally, I have to wonder about Ms. Shurtleff’s explanation for what happened. She is quoted as saying, “I believe it’s God showing His Grace to us and His love, making us aware that there are stranger things that happen.” If God wanted to show Ms. Shurtleff a miracle, why did he choose such a mundane document, a merit badge assignment? Why not a love letter or some other meaningful document?

An Epic Death Coincidence

(Submitted by Friend of the Blog, Brian Hart.)

Late last night, I heard that a friend, Eric Broze, had died.  I got onto the social media and shared my sorrow with my friends who knew Eric and his lovely wife, and now, sadly, widow, Rose Schwartz.

As an Atheist, I think he is gone forever, his light gone out and will not be rekindled.  It was nice to swap stories and reminisce about this good guy gone way too soon.

This morning, as I was cleaning up my office, I decided to listen to an episode of the podcast Ardent Atheist.  I wasn’t paying much attention as I chose an older show at random, I probably have about 15 backlogged shows that I have not yet heard.  I clicked on show # 133, from about 4 months ago and began to clean.  The hosts, Emery Emery and Heather Henderson announced that week’s guests, among them Eric Broze and Rose Schwartz.

If I were a religious man, I might think that this was Eric’s method of contacting me from the “Other Side”.  However, from my point of view, this is simply a coincidence, and it WAS nice to hear Eric’s voice once more.

My condolences to Rose, and goodbye to Eric.


[Editor: Thanks to Brian for this kind tribute to our dear friend. - Wendy]

The Coincidental CD

(Submitted by blog reader Chuck Colht)

A few years (2009?) ago, one of my daughters gave me a mix cd for my birthday. I had just bought a(nother) sports car and she found a bunch of driving songs from the ’60s to current.  It stayed in my cd player but I didn’t listen too often because I generally had the top down and preferred the sound of the wind.

Anyway, this cd moved from car to car as I changed up but got little play. In 2012, I went to the theater to meet my kids and grand kids to see Wreck-It Ralph. On the way, because I left my iPod at home, I fired up the cd and found track 6: Rhianna’s “Shut up and Drive.” I’m more into grunge but I love this song and couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before.

Now for the coincidence. At one point in the movie Vanellope starts racing around a track to what song? “Shut up and Drive.” So the first time I notice a song that’s been at my disposal for 3 years is the day I hear it on the big screen.

Pretty cool no?


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 226.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

At least a third of the stories submitted to TOMBC involve incidents which are not statistically interesting, but demonstrate the human brain’s amazing ability to make connections. Humans begin making associations the day we are born, connecting dots wherever we can. This process allows us to predict the world around us. Prediction, in turn, allows us to avoid dangers and plan for the future. It is also the first step in understanding cause and effect, which may allow us to control things in the world. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we often ascribe deeper meaning to the connections we’ve made.

The author of this story demonstrates the power of attention. The fact that he rarely played the CD before is not relevant, but because he was surprised to enjoy the song, he noticed when he heard it again a short time later. In psychology, we call this effect “priming”. Priming refers to the tendency for something we see or hear to increase the probability that we will respond to that same thing, or something similar or related to it, when we are exposed to it again.

However, there is no real coincidence here. The song is quite popular, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear it in a movie such as “Wreck-It Ralph”. The CD was appropriate to the outing, so it also shouldn’t be surprising that a song (or even two) on the CD would overlap with the soundtrack of the movie.

Synchronicity: Definition & Meaning

By Ben Radford

Amazing coincidences happen all the time — but are they simply the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? The answer may depend on whether you believe in synchronicity.

The term synchronicity was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung had a strong belief in a wide variety of paranormal phenomena, including psychic powersastrologyalchemy, predictive dreams, UFOs and telekinesis (moving objects with the mind). He was also obsessed with numerology — the belief that certain numbers have special cosmic significance, and can predict important life events.

Jung’s concept of synchronicity is complicated and poorly defined, but can be boiled down to describing “meaningful coincidences.” The concept of synchronicity came to Jung during a period of mental illness in the early 1900s. Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected, and that suggested to him that there must exist a collective unconscious of humankind. This implied to him that events happening all over the world at the same time must be connected in some unknown way.

In his book “137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession,” Arthur I. Miller gives an example of synchronicity; one of his patients “told Jung that when her mother and grandmother died, on each occasion a flock of birds gathered outside the window of the room.” The woman’s husband, who had symptoms of heart problems, went out to see a doctor and “on his way back the man collapsed in the street. Shortly after he had set off to see the specialist a large flock of birds had alighted on the house. His wife immediately recognized this as a sign of her husband’s impending death.”

Is synchronicity real?

There is, of course, a more prosaic explanation for curious coincidence: birds are very common, and simply by random chance a flock will appear near people who are soon to die — just as they appear daily around millions of people who are not soon to die.

The appearance of synchronicity is the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses); we much more easily notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. The human brain is very good at making connections and seeing designs in ambiguous stimuli and random patterns.

 

Carl Jung
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Credit: Library of Congress
If Jung’s patient came to believe that a flock of birds meant that death was imminent, she would start noticing flocks of birds, and remember the times when they coincided with a loved one’s death. But she would not likely notice or remember the countless times when flocks of birds appeared over people who lived for years or decades longer. Put another way, a person dying when a flock of birds is present is an event; a person not dying when a flock of birds is present is a non-event, and therefore not something anyone pays attention to. This is the result of normal human perceptual and memory biases, not some mysterious cosmic synchronicity.

It’s easy to see why synchronicity has mass appeal; it provides meaning and order in an otherwise random universe. One famous (and more modern) example of synchronicity is the “pennies from heaven” phenomenon described by advice columnist Dear Abby. Thousands of readers have written Abby over the years telling personal stories of thinking about dead loved ones while they happen to find a penny — often with the finder’s (or the dead loved one’s) birth, marriage, or death year — and taking that as a comforting sign that their departed loved ones are thinking of them.

Yet countless people find pennies all the time; some of them will have recently thought of a dead relative, and a smaller subset of that group will find a penny with a significant date on it. Statistically it would be unusual if this did not occur regularly — but of course most people prefer to think of the event as a touching sentiment instead of a cold, random coincidence.

Synchronicity and pseudoscience

Robert Todd Carroll, in his book “The Skeptics Dictionary,” notes that “even if there were a synchronicity between the mind and the world such that certain coincidences resonate with transcendental truth, there would still be the problem of figuring out those truths. What guide could one possibly use to determine the correctness of an interpretation?” There is no scientific or objective way to determine whether synchronicity is valid or not; it’s all subjective personal opinion and experience and flexible definitions.

Taking the example of Jung’s avian banshee, if you truly believe that the presence of birds is a portent of death, there are many questions that need to be examined: How many birds are needed? One? Dozens? Hundreds? Is it any type of bird? How soon before a person’s death do they appear? Minutes, hours or days? Does it differ from person to person? And even if the proposed synchronicity was true, how do we know whose death the birds’ presence foretells? Perhaps there was a dying person elsewhere in the building whose death the birds had come to mourn, and it was not Jung’s patient’s husband at all.

Or, let’s say, for example, that you were thinking about taking a vacation to a destination two states away. You could drive there, or fly, or possibly take a train … but as you ponder it, a fly buzzes into the room and lands on your head. Jung would claim that synchronicity indicates that you should fly there; the universe has given you a clear sign by connecting your thoughts with the outside world and its future. Except that it hasn’t, not really; the cosmic connection is all in your mind. To see why, imagine that it happened to a Spanish speaker; in that case, the synchronous co-incidence of thinking of a mode of transportation while a fly lands on you evaporates, since the Spanish word for the insect fly (mosca), is not the same as the word for an aerial method of transportation (volar). Surely any transcendental, universal truths don’t depend on what language you speak.

Though Jung had no background in science (his interests lay in mysticism and psychology) he — like many modern New Age writers, including Deepak Chopra — invoked quantum physics in support of his ideas. Jung’s ideas about synchronicity were given a veneer of scientific respectability through his friendship with physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who helped promote them.

Synchronicity is an interesting philosophical idea; unfortunately there is no evidence that it actually exists. It is not surprising that synchronicity — like many ideas of Jung and his colleague Sigmund Freud — have not been proven. Even the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, which was based in part on Jung’s work, has been widely challenged as invalid and unscientific. A century ago when Jung came up with the idea of synchronicity, it seemed to be an exciting, cutting-edge theory. Unfortunately for Jung, it is one of many fruitless quasi-scientific ideas in history that has not stood the test of time.

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Republished courtesy of the author. See the original story in Live Science here.

Benjamin Radford, M.Ed., is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of six books including Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com. Thanks to friend of the blog Brian Hart for alerting TOMBC to this story.

Dreaming and Coincidence

Submitted by a reader who prefers to remain anonymous. From her blog:

“As a follow-up to my last blog “Proof of Life After Death” which explored the possibility of psychic mediums communicating with those who have crossed over…

There are more ways besides mediums that your deceased loved ones can personally communicate with you..to let you know they are well and watching over you. I would like to share with you one…of many signs…that have proved to me that my deceased loved ones still live on. This story is about my beloved Grandmother or as I called her – Nana.

About 10 years ago I was trying to have a 2nd child…my first came easy but the 2nd proved to be difficult. I happened to be staying at my mom’s overnight (where Nana had lived the last few years of her life) and before I went to bed asked Nana to pray for me to have another baby.

That night, THE DREAM happened ..I was asleep but still knew as it was happening that it was TOO REAL to be just a dream… my Nana came to me. The dream was as real to me as you reading this right now.  I was crying, so happy to see my Nana and hugged her and asked her if she was OK …”Good,” was her response…”I can’t stay long,” she said “but want to tell you that you are going to have another baby!” I responded that I knew I was asleep and could she offer me any PROOF that she was really there talking to me. She said, “Remember the slippers. You’ll know it’s me because of the slippers. Remember the slippers.”

When I woke the next morning the “dream” I had the previous night was as clear as day. I remembered her “slippers” message but in the wake of day…slippers.. had NO meaning for me. None. That is, until I finally asked my Mom (without giving her any details about my dream) … “Mom, this is gonna sound crazy but is there anything special you would think of associated with Nana and slippers?”

She immediately said “Yes, I was reading an article in a magazine a few days ago about a daughter who was taking care of her elderly dying mother (as my Mom had taken care of my Nana) and how her dying Mom’s slippers (and the loss of one of them which paralleled her loss of independence) were a major point of the article.” My Mom then told me that the article moved her so much because it reminded her of my Nana that she saved the article for me to read. The title of the article…”The Gray Slippers.”

Welcome, baby Ryan 3-2-04!

Thank you Nana, for being there for me… always.

XO


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 225.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

This is another case of the very human tendencies to find meaning in coincidences and ascribe agency. There are several points to address here.

- Dreams that we can remember are often described as vivid, and we experience (and remember them) as if they are physically real because brain activity while we are dreaming is very similar to brain activity when we are awake. So to say a dream did not feel like a dream is not only not unusual, it’s how most people experience dreams, and when we believe they are meaningful, we’re more likely to share them and thinking about them, construct stronger images to beef up the memory.

- The slippers in the story her mother read are not connected with being pregnant or with anything in the author’s life. They are not even connected with anything in the grandmother’s life or the mother’s life.

- When the author asked her mother if she knew what “slippers” meant, her mother searched her memory for some reference to slippers and came up with the story. This is not at all unusual. In fact, it would be unusual for her to come up with nothing. I would be much more impressed if, for example, the mother arrived at the author’s house with slippers the author wore as a baby. Even if that were the case, it would still be a case of making connections between unrelated things (finding patterns) and assuming that they must be related in a causal way (ascribing agency).

But there is no reason to think that there is anything more than the dream of a woman who was focused on having a child, a woman who looked for greater meaning in that dream.

The Coincidence of the Missing Tax Forms

(Submitted by reader Carolyn Melendez de Lafuente)

As usual, I was late in prepping our tax documents for our accountant to meet the filing deadline.

I filled in all the information I had gleaned from the various support documents, including the letter from our mortgage company indicating how much interest we’d paid on our mortgage.  I completed the three pages, placed one in the scanner to be scanned onto my computer, and placed the other two on top of the scanner.

I then turned away and fiddled with the app on my computer. I heard the sound of falling paper behind me. When I turned around, the two pages that I had placed on top of the scanner were gone. I obviously heard the sound of them falling, so I gathered that they had floated away. SOMEWHERE.

My search began. Behind the garbage bin. In the garbage bin. Across the room. Behind the filing cabinet that the scanner was on top of. Between the filing cabinet and the wall. I WAS STARTING TO PANIC. Then I thought to look in the sliver of space between that filing cabinet and the immediately adjacent filing cabinet. I pushed it away and there were 3 sheets of paper there — the two I had been looking frantically for AND an additional sheet of paper — a tax form that I had filled out for the previous year, which included mortgage interest paid the year before last.

I noticed immediately that the number was WAY off…almost DOUBLE what I had just written on the current documents I was scanning. Then it dawned on me — our mortgage company transferred our mortgage a few months into the year! I had totally forgotten, and included only one mortgage provider’s numbers. If I hadn’t seen that additional sheet of paper, I would have provided an incorrect number to our accountant! I looked up and said thank you to the Universe for the assist. :)


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 224.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

Things always seem more coincidental when we feel that we have averted some harm. I’m reminded of stories about averting disaster, like people who miss a flight that crashes, or those who called in sick to the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.

The truth is that if they’d gone to work, there’s a good chance they would have gotten out alive (a majority of people working in the building did).  We forget all of the times that we missed a flight that did not crash or called in sick and nothing happened.

In this case, the chances are excellent that the mistake would have been caught regardless, but the urge to attribute the incident to “fate” is strong.

Siblings at the Intersection

(Submitted by reader Jim Hammond)

Many years ago, I was returning home after visiting my family in Tampa. I was driving north on US 19 and would be making a left turn on US 98 to go west to the Florida panhandle.

I knew my brother would be driving south on US 19 the same day as he was returning from visiting his girlfriend. He would be turning left at the same intersection to go east on SR 20 back to the University of Florida where he was in school.

The only place our paths could potentially cross would be at that one intersection. When I got to that intersection I was first in line at the red light in the left turn lane. I looked across the interesection and my brother was first in line in the left turn lane going the other way.

I waved at him and continued on my way. I thought to myself, what are the odds that we would meet?

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[Editor: This story made me think of the times I've seen friends driving when I've been on the road. I think this happens more often than one would guess. In Los Angeles, driving in the past twenty years has changed in one noteworthy aspect: increased population density has made it a huge challenge to find parking. Several times, however, I've seen friends in their cars on the freeway. You'd hardly think it's possible because of the density, other variables such as drivers' different schedules, distance from home, different reasons for being on the road - not much different from other reasons we think we won't cross paths with friends and relatives. Another way to think of it is how many times were you on the road at the same time, and didn't happen to see each other? - Wendy]

One Word: Coincidence

(Submitted by reader Bernhard Liefting)

About 10 years ago, I worked in Germany for a few months (I live in the Netherlands) and I spent weekdays in a hotel. One day I picked up a magazine from the hotel lobby to read in my room.

There was an article in there about the plastic industry, titled “One word, plastics”, a famous quote from the movie “The Graduate”, starring Dustin Hoffman, in which the character he plays is given career advice by his uncle.

After a few minutes, I put down the magazine, and switched on the TV, having no clue what was on. What do I see: the movie “The Graduate”, and which specific scene, well, you probably guessed it, the first thing I hear was “One word, plastics”.


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 223.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

There is no way to quantify this. We’ve had stories like this before, though, so I know that I’ve commented on it.

Things like this happen all the time. For example, last night we were watching “Raising Hope” and Damon said something to the boys about how he wishes they were old enough to see Garret Dillahunt (plays Burt Chance) in “Deadwood”, in which he played two different characters.

A couple of minutes later, Burt (the character) uttered a line from “Deadwood”.