What an amazing coincidence! Well, not really. Coincidences are bound to happen. In a world where there are a great many potential coincidences each with a small probability of happening, someone, somewhere is going to see one – and be amazed by it. The fact that there are countless numbers of non-coincidences and many people who don't see a significant coincidence in the same period of time is overlooked. Also, we tend to underestimate the probabilities of coincidences in certain situations and are therefore more surprised than we should be when coincidences happen; a classic example of this is the birthday paradox.
Obviously some things are extraordinarily unlikely. What are the chances, for example, of a meteorite hitting your car? Next to nothing – but not quite nothing. There are a lot of cars and there are dozens of meteorites that strike the Earth every day. Sooner or later, it's bound to happen. In fact, it did happen to Michelle Knapp's Chevy Malibu, while parked outside her home in Peekskill, New York, on the evening of Oct. 9, 1992. A 12-kilogram space rock smashed through the car's truck and ended up on the driveway below (see Peekskill meteorite).
Does coincidence completely explain away all events that might otherwise be put down to precognition? On Apr. 15, 1912, the SS Titanic sunk on her maiden voyage, having been holed by an iceberg, and over 1,500 people died. Fourteen years earlier a novel had been published by Morgan Robertson that seemed to foretell the disaster. The book described a ship the same size as the Titanic that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage on a misty April night. The name of Robertson's fictional ship was the Titan. Mere happenstance or evidence of something deeper? Numerologists often spot match-ups that would go unnoticed by the rest of us. Is it so strange that there are almost exactly 500,000,000 inches in the pole-to-pole diameter of the Earth? Not if you work in centimeters. And should we make such a fuss over the fact that the speed of light is within 0.1% of 300,000 kilometers per second when we give no attention to the miles-per-second value of 186,282? Yet, surely, there can be no doubt that Shakespeare wrote the Bible. The King James Version was published in 1611, when Shakespeare was 46 years old. Look up Psalm 46. Count 46 words from the beginning of the Psalm. You will find the word "Shake." Count 46 words from the end of the Psalm. You will find the word "Spear." An obvious coded message!
Related entry thirteen
Related category PROBABILITY AND STATISTICS
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