If you go to Amazon.com and place the word coincidence in the search box, you’ll notice two books near the top of the page. They are the second and third entries. One is called, “The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles and Rare Events Happen Every Day,” by David Hand, a British statistician. Hand cites five laws that explain why the improbable happens, including the law of truly large numbers. “If something has a tiny chance of occurring but enough opportunity to occur, it will occur,” he says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Yeah, but chances are you won’t be there to see it occur if the odds are equal to your chances of winning the lottery. But for those of us who experience such coincidences regularly, how is it that we win the coincidence lottery so often, but not so much with the regular lottery? Explain that one, Dr. Hand!
The other book you’ll notice on Amazon is a novel called “Coincidence, by J.W. Ironmonger. In the novel, one of the characters is a London-based research, Thomas Post, who like Hand debunks coincidences. Or more accurately, debunks synchronicity, because Hand and Post – the fictive character, find nothing meaningful or mystical about coincidences.
Interestingly, according to the WSJ article, Ironmonger says he never heard of Hand when he wrote the book so any similarities would be…well, a coincidence. And yes there are. In fact, Hand is the one who noticed and marveled at the coincidences. He pointed out that he and Thomas Post have the same birthday. He also noted that Post teaches at the same British university where Hand’s wife teaches. Hmm, coincidences about coincidence!
Hand finds such coincidences interesting, but nevertheless simply a mathematical reality. In other words, bound to happen soon or later. Apparently, it was sooner for Hand. His book was published February 14, 2014 and Ironmonger’s book came out February 18, 2014. That, by the way, is a coincidence that Hand missed. We found it by comparing the two books.
So why does Hand think people see meaning in coincidences? He says it’s because we seek patterns and order. But, he goes on to say, there’s no great metaphysical force at work or significance in them.
We would say that debunkers and statisticians like Hand find order in the idea that there are no such patterns, no bigger picture of reality, only the everyday world with its cold but comforting numbers and statistics that explain away everything else.