Thursday, March 13, 2008

Day In The Life: Coincidences

So I’m at work, and I overhear my boss telling the new hire, “How is it that on the exact same day that [newly fired worker] pisses me off and we let him go, that you’re able to start and get the job done that has a deadline today?”

What Are The Odds?
The subject of his mind-numbing conversation was, of course, God. My coworker’s response was something like, “Well, Einstein said ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe’, but I don’t know.”

Not wanting to get into that conversation, I changed the subject and asked my boss about a meeting the next day, and made sure the subject had shifted to something more reasonable.

The conclusion to this chatter is of course: there are no coincidences. O RLY?!

This matter-of-fact phrase is ripe with a logical error known as the sharpshooter fallacy (look for it in our next Fallacy Friday). Simply put, how many times did you notice when the coincidence didn’t happen?

Count The Hits, Forget The Misses
How often do we hear that an airplane landed safely at its destination? How much good news do you see in the paper, or on the 6 o’clock broadcast? The reason you do is that the good news would fill volumes. The ratio of landed planes to crashed ones is extremely high, yet all one can think about is the crashes.

Penn Jillette had a wonderful example in a recent video. He had a blemish on his nose, and noted that even though the blemish covers a very small portion of his enormous body, it is all you can look at and think about.

We forget the common and focus on the differences. That focusing is often so misconstrued as to be proclaimed an impossibility, or at least a highly unlikely chance occurrence.

Shit Happens
We experience coincidences all the time. It’s mostly a matter of perception; you have to think about things in a wider context. Think about how often the thing occurs as opposed to how many times it doesn’t.

And stop attributing your own ignorance to an invisible entity.

Watch this: What are the odds that you, reading this right now, have a brother named Bill and are wearing a blue shirt?

What a coincidence!



bugsoup said...

That's amazing! I had planned on wearing a blue shirt tomorrow. How did you know that?

Anonymous said...

I don't have a brother, my shirt is brown, and you're an asshole.