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View Full Version : Coincidences - What Are The Statistical Odds?



Contemptuous
01-10-08, 09:26 PM
Thursday - January 10th, 2008.

One hour ago, I was sitting in my car at a traffic light in central San Diego, watching a small poodle in an SUV which was standing at the light right next to me.

We sat there for a full minute, during which this poodle methodically licked the entire window pane it was staring out of. I watched it with fascination, wondering what the hell it thought it was doing.

The light change and the SUV and poodle dsappeared.

Then I got home, booted my PC to check for mail, and received this (only one hour later) from a friend overseas. Now what are the statistical odds saying about the bizarre inner workings of "reality" when such coincidences occur?

http://www.roberthein.dk/screenclean.swf

jimmygu3
01-11-08, 12:50 AM
Thursday - January 10th, 2008.

One hour ago, I was sitting in my car at a traffic light in central San Diego, watching a small poodle in an SUV which was standing at the light right next to me.

We sat there for a full minute, during which this poodle methodically licked the entire window pane it was staring out of. I watched it with fascination, wondering what the hell it thought it was doing.

The light change and the SUV and poodle dsappeared.

Then I got home, booted my PC to check for mail, and received this (only one hour later) from a friend overseas. Now what are the statistical odds saying about the bizarre inner workings of "reality" when such coincidences occur?

http://www.roberthein.dk/screenclean.swf
Lukester,

While I don't think it's out of the question that there could be some "lattice of coincidence" that we do not understand, I tend to believe that our brains notice coincidences and let most of the rest pass through unnoticed.

For example, for the first few minutes I was awake today, hundreds of things happened that were unremarkable non-coincidences. Nothing my wife said reminded me of what I had been dreaming. The half and half in my coffee didn't form an image of the Virgin Mary, nor any of thousands of images I might have found notable. None of our family picked out shirts that were the same color. No names mentioned on the Today show were the same as the names of people I know. In addition to these happenings, an infinite number of things didn't happen at all, many of which would have been majorly coincidental. What are the odds of that? :)

Jimmy

Andreuccio
01-11-08, 01:45 AM
Lukester,

While I don't think it's out of the question that there could be some "lattice of coincidence" that we do not understand, I tend to believe that our brains notice coincidences and let most of the rest pass through unnoticed.

For example, for the first few minutes I was awake today, hundreds of things happened that were unremarkable non-coincidences. Nothing my wife said reminded me of what I had been dreaming. The half and half in my coffee didn't form an image of the Virgin Mary, nor any of thousands of images I might have found notable. None of our family picked out shirts that were the same color. No names mentioned on the Today show were the same as the names of people I know. In addition to these happenings, an infinite number of things didn't happen at all, many of which would have been majorly coincidental. What are the odds of that? :)

Jimmy

Quite so. We notice the apparent coincidences. In addition, if you think about it, while any specific "coincidence" may be unlikely, it's very likely that some coincidence will occur.

For example, take the top 23 posters at iTulip, from JK down to Charles McKay. Would you be shocked if two of them had the same birthday? Would you say, "What a coincidence: the odds are 365 to 1"?

While the odds of any two specific, pre-named posters having the same birthday is 365 to 1, the odds of at least one pair out of 23 posters having the same birthday is slightly better than even. So it's better than even odds that two of us do share the same birthday. See an explanation here for why:

http://mathforum.org/dr.math/faq/faq.birthdayprob.html

Thus, what would appear to be an amazing coincidence is really just a function of so many possible pairings of events that at least one of them should happen "coincidentally".

Contemptuous
01-11-08, 01:47 AM
Jimmygu3 -

What gave me a start about this is I've never in my life seen a dog licking a glass window before. The first time in my life I see one in real life is one hour before seeing an animation of it in an email from someone.

I'm not reading anything into it - but it just struck me the timing was a "little odd". I don't know ... maybe I'm losing it and going schizophrenic - like one of those really perplexed characters from a Roman Polanski movie? Do ya think?

Jim Nickerson
01-11-08, 01:52 AM
Jimmygu3 -

What gave me a start about this is I've never in my life seen a dog licking a glass window before. The first time in my life I see one in real life is one hour before seeing an animation of it in an email from someone.

I'm not reading anything into it - but it just struck me the timing was a "little odd". I don't know ... maybe I'm losing it and going schizophrenic - like one of those really perplexed characters from a Roman Polanski movie? Do ya think?

Earlier I thought I posted the first reply to this most interesting and intriguing thread.

I noted that dog in the video is a pug, not a poodle, and that it may well be that the glass the pug is licking is not even in a car, but if it is in a car, the car probably is not an SUV and most certainly it is not in San Diego. I conclude that I see NO conincidence, and earlier I suggested what you at least inferred--that you should seriously consider going back on your medications.

The Outback Oracle
01-11-08, 02:38 AM
Earlier I thought I posted the first reply to this most interesting and intriguing thread.

I noted that dog in the video is a pug, not a poodle, and that it may well be that the glass the pug is licking is not even in a car, but if it is in a car, the car probably is not an SUV and most certainly it is not in San Diego. I conclude that I see NO conincidence, and earlier I suggested what you at least inferred--that you should seriously consider going back on your medications.

I thought Luke just asked for an estimate of the odds?

jimmygu3
01-11-08, 01:36 PM
Jimmygu3 -

What gave me a start about this is I've never in my life seen a dog licking a glass window before. The first time in my life I see one in real life is one hour before seeing an animation of it in an email from someone.

I'm not reading anything into it - but it just struck me the timing was a "little odd". I don't know ... maybe I'm losing it and going schizophrenic - like one of those really perplexed characters from a Roman Polanski movie? Do ya think?

Yes, I know- it is very weird when these things happen. Seriously, a couple of hours before reading your post (perhaps at the same time the dog was licking the window) I was thinking about a similar subject. How sometimes you learn a word you've rarely heard before and then proceed to hear people saying it in conversation all the time. It's the same principle; you probably heard the word occasionally but tuned it out because you didn't attach a meaning to it. Our brains get such a tremendous amount of stimulation and information each day that most of it must be discarded.

Andreuccio makes a good point about the birthday thing. Intuitively, it seems that the likelihood of a birthday match between 23 people would be far less that 50%. It is this same intuition that leads us to believe that coincidences are not random, and that led our ancestors to surmise that there must be gods up on the clouds directing events on earth. Our intuition is defective.

metalman
01-11-08, 06:42 PM
Jimmygu3 -

What gave me a start about this is I've never in my life seen a dog licking a glass window before. The first time in my life I see one in real life is one hour before seeing an animation of it in an email from someone.

I'm not reading anything into it - but it just struck me the timing was a "little odd". I don't know ... maybe I'm losing it and going schizophrenic - like one of those really perplexed characters from a Roman Polanski movie? Do ya think?

all window cleaners now contain bacon flavoring.