I just clicked the Wikipedia Random Article link for the first time ever. To my surprise it showed me an article about St. Ann's Well Gardens, Hove. Why should this surprise me? Well, out of all the approximately 5.3 million articles on Wikipedia, the article above just happens to be about a garden that I used to live right next to. That's an amazing coincidence right?
Wrong! Let's investigate.
First off, before I clicked the Random Article link I'd not set any criteria for what I would consider a significant response. I've lived in a lot of places and travelled a lot, so even if we were going to restrict what we would consider to be significant to just places I have lived or been then the probability of a match becomes far more likely. But remember, I hadn't set any criteria.
I would have been surprised if the article had been about someone that shared the same name as me, or even if it was about a subject I am especially interested in. I would have been surprised if it had been the date of my birthday, the date of either of my children's birthdays, an article about what I had for lunch today, a company I've worked for, an actor or actress in a movie I've just watched, a dog that looked like mine, a car model I own, an article I've already read, a type of pet I have, a TV show I like, the list goes on and on. But none of this occurred to me within the first five seconds of looking at the article in a state of mild surprise.
We are extremely good at seeing amazing coincidence where really there is only a small coincidence at work. The countless charlatans that offer medium services, tarot, astrology, psychic readings and all the other methods of defrauding the gullible make good use of this. Cold reading uses the common coincidence at its core.
"Yes someone is coming through. It's a man. Yes, I see an initial coming through now. A 'G' and maybe an 'M'. It may be a George. It's not so clear. Does the initial 'G' or 'M' for a man ring any bells for anybody here?", says the Medium, and watches the audience for a sign from anybody that looks ripe.
"My fathers name was Michael, but his brother was called George?", responds an idiot.
"Yes, it's getting clearer. It is a George. Is that right? Uncle George. Yes, he's saying something about Michael. Something about how Michael is watching over someone. A sister, I think, or a brother. A sibling I think."
"I've got a sister."
"And she's not here today?"
"No, she's on holiday."
"George says Michael, your father, yes. He says Michael is watching over your sister and that's why he's not here today."
I think you get the point.
What I want to say is that coincidences, even spectacular coincidences, do happen. Most spectacular coincidences are actually not that spectacular though once you start to think about them, and especially once you do the maths. That's the whole point.
Really truly spectacular coincidences are rare. Every lottery in the world relies on that fact. Most coincidences are more mundane than they at first appear and learning to spot that is immunisation against seeing connections that really are not there.
Learn that and you'll start to see the supernatural, from tarot to prayer, for the vacuous nonsense it is. Then you'll be far more amazed that so many fall for the charlatans than by what the charlatans claim to be doing.
Don't take my word for it. Go to Wikipedia now. In the links on the left hand side you'll find one that says "Random Article". Go and try it a few times and report your coincidences back here. On my tenth click I got an article about Family Guy. I watched Family Guy about an hour before writing this post. Try it yourself.
Update: A couple of minutes on.
I decided to try a few more clicks myself. On the 11th click (so 21 clicks in total) I got an article about Defence Colony in South Delhi. I used to live there too. The article mentions restaurants I used to eat in and even the bakery I used to buy cakes from, and they were really good cakes. That's three coincidences in 21 clicks - 1 in 7 Random Articles have so far been relevant to me.
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