Another short post due to lack of time. Today I was reminded of how often coincidences can occur. I’ll write about my coincidence later, but first, here’s some interesting related reading…
- Dr Steven Novella on anomaly hunting.
- Cherry-picking similarities between the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.
So it seems that a common thread in conspiracy theory culture is to search for anomalies, where anomalies may be things that seem out of place, or coincidences which seem to be too good to be true. As can be seen when you read Dr Novella’s articles (He has written several on that subject – I only linked one), such things happen all the time. If you look at any event or situation too closely, you’ll find those “inexplicable” coincidences. They don’t really mean anything, but they help somebody who already wants to form a narrative in which the event is untrue, to begin to piece together their conspiracy.
Examples of conspiracies are the Sandy Hook school shooting conspiracy and of course the 9/11 conspiracies. For reasons unknown, some people want to believe in conspiracies rather than believe that certain tragic events have really happened. And all they need to do is look at anything they don’t want to believe closely enough, and they will find anomalies… little things that on close inspection seem out of place, which can then be used to question the truth. (But of course they’re always wrong.)
Now onto my own strange coincidence: I went for a smoke break at work today. When I returned, as I got to my computer, the screen went blank. So the time I was away from my desk was exactly enough time for the computer to enter stand-by mode as I returned and looked at the screen again. Furthermore, this has happened often in the last two years. It must have happened about ten times. What are the chances of that? Isn’t it astounding that at that exact moment when I returned, the screen went blank? And this has happened several times. I mean, if I were even one second sooner, the screen would not go blank at all; whereas if I were even one second later, the screen would already be blank and I would not see the transition. For me to arrive at that moment must mean something, right?
To put it into perspective… Going for a smoke break involves the following:
- Get up from my chair and walk a few paces out the room. Push button to open the office gate.
- Walk out of the office, to the elevators.
- Push the down button and wait for an elevator. There are six; often two are faulty, and often the ones that stop are full, so I have to wait for another. Worst of all, sometimes the elevators go right past this floor, even though I pressed the button. It can be highly annoying. So the duration I wait is random.
- Swipe my tag, walk out of the offices section and into the shopping mall, then make my way to the closest exit.
- Find a place to stand and smoke.
- In the time I’ve worked there, I’ve got to know a few other smokers, so I might chat to somebody I know, or I might not. That’s quite random as well. So I don’t always take exactly the same time to smoke.
- Walk back inside, make my way to the office block, swipe my tag.
- Push the up button and wait for an elevator to go back up. Again, this is random. And it’s even worse than going down. There are eighteen floors, and there may be several other people waiting on the ground floor.
- Sometimes I stop off at the toilets, which are situated beside the elevators on each floor; sometimes I don’t.
- Walk back to the office. If the lady who works in the front is there, she pushes the button to let me in; otherwise I must get my keys and let myself in. The gate’s lock is faulty… sometimes it unlocks but remains closed – then I have to take the key out and put it back in, wiggle the lock and try again. So this time is also random.
- Walk in, and walk to my desk in the next office.
And despite all the random lengths of time, somehow it has worked out many times that my computer enters standby as I look at it. Isn’t that bizarre?
Of course, it isn’t really bizarre at all. It’s rather mundane. The simple truth is, I don’t normally take note of the state of my computer when I return to my desk. I couldn’t tell you if it is normally in stand-by or not. But I do notice when the screen goes blank as I look at it, because the transition itself is something noticeable. Maybe it is normally still on; maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. I have about four smoke breaks every day at work, five days a week, so it isn’t unusual that all those random lengths of time work out to be roughly equal often enough anyway, on those rare occasions that I took exactly long enough to see the moment of the blank screen transition. But the truth is, as amazing as the coincidence might seem to me, the fact that I don’t normally notice the state of the screen when I sit down makes everything in the numbered list above, and most of this paragraph, irrelevant. I included all that as a red herring and because the building of a narrative is the way human memory works. That moment when I sat down and saw the transition, my brain constructed a narrative where the coincidence was given more significance than it warranted. So this was really a meaningless coincidence.
We all have those kinds of coincidences all the time, and if we are so inclined, we might impose meaning on them. What matters here is that the meaning, attached to coincidences that have no meaning at all, is imposed. We put it there because our brains have evolved to find patterns and that has been a survival advantage for millions of years. What that meaning might be varies… You might see a conspiracy of some sort, or it might seem that the stars are aligned just right to indicate that the decision you were unsure of should be made after all, or maybe you believe that you have seen signs from god. So a reborn Christian who says that God speaks to him isn’t necessarily out of his mind. He may be that type of person who finds patterns where none exist, and because of his faith that God will speak to him, when he finds meaning in the meaningless, the little coincidences and “anomalies” in his life amount to messages from god.
So the next time you experience a bizarre and inexplicable coincidence, think a little deeper, approach the issue with some scepticism, and maybe you will realize that it isn’t so bizarre or inexplicable after all.