There is no such thing as a coincidence. If it’s raining outside and you have water dripping from the ceiling in your upstairs bathroom, your first thought shouldn’t be a leaky pipe.
It’s funny, though, how many people will say in that situation:

“Gosh, isn’t a coincidence it’s raining and our pipes are leaking?”

Another example: “Gosh, isn’t it a coincidence the sun is burning my skin today more than ever on the same day North Korea launched a nuclear missile?”

A final example: “Gosh, isn’t it a coincidence my best friend is three months pregnant three months after my husband started taking Viagra?”

Why is it human nature to need to invent the most complicated rationale for the simplest cause and effect?

57 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    I always think back to Occam’s razor when thinking about any type of problem or situation:

    Occam’s razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or “shaving off,” those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.
    In short, when given two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon, one should embrace the less complicated formulation.
    The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (law of succinctness):
    entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,
    which translates to:
    entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.
    (That is, the fewer assumptions an explanation of a phenomenon depends on, the better it is.)

    Source: Wikipedia.
    Does this mean that there isn’t a hyper-competent organization or “shadow” government that is doing all sorts of bad things and is pulling the puppet strings while remaing hidden and secret to everyone except the person perceiving the the effects of the conspiracy?
    It probably does — even though it makes for great movie and TV entertainment, such as the television program The X-Files.
    People, as well as electricity and problems, take the path of least resistance (and work).
    Maybe the Viagra friend was the path of least resistance in that case. 😉
    I do have to wonder about the Viagra deal.
    Maybe a trip to the Maury Show is called to find out for sure?
    Of course, is it a coincidence that in some cases Maury and his staff do paternity tests on 8 or 9 guys and fail to come up with the father.
    I took a look at the TV listings and there’s another Maury paternity show scheduled for today. It’s appropriately titled: I Slept With My Husband’s Best Friend. Which One Is The Dad?
    Is it a coincidence?

  2. So what do you call it when you go to the airport to pick up your brother and you see someone at the next baggage claim over – a person whom you haven’t seen in over a decade who normally wouldn’t take carry on luggage but decided to this one time?

  3. Hi Chris!
    I think people create “coincidences” to protect themselves from fear and from things they do not yet understand.
    In my first example, it is easier to believe a pipe suddenly started leaking than to think there is an ongoing hole in your roof.
    In the second example, it is easier to blame a burn on the sun than on a Korean madman’s nuclear weapons.
    In the final example, it is psychologically safer to blame chance than the betraying behavior of a solicitous husband.
    I saw on one of the Maury-type shows that a woman, her husband, and the woman’s bed-ridden, disabled sister were living together in a house.
    The sick sister was unable to speak or really move her arms or legs.
    The sick sister became pregnant.
    No one could understand how that was possible when the only man in her life was her sister’s husband and he wouldn’t sleep with an invalid and he wouldn’t betray his wedding vows and he said he didn’t sleep with his wife’s sister when asked if he had.
    How could she be pregnant?
    For nine months there were wild rumors! She had been raped! She had a secret boyfriend! She was having a miraculous conception!
    It was big news!
    Then, she gave birth.
    On the day of her child’s birth her sister’s husband disappeared and hasn’t been seen since.
    A DNA test on the child revealed the invalid sister’s husband was… the father.
    What a coincidence!
    😀

  4. Does joking around count? Two friends say they’re going to a meeting and later bump into each other at the coffee shop when they’re supposed to be in meeting? “Oh, what a coincidence meeting you here?”

  5. Hey Carlene!
    Yeah! I think that’s part of it. To invoke a “coincidence” is to not always abide the truth and to somehow twist blame or responsibility aware from a self-aware reality. The humor may not always be visible or intended but it’s there if you look hard enough.

  6. Hi David,
    I think you’re right about coincidences being ways to protect ourselves from a truth that is painful or difficult to admit.
    The sister story is one that perfectly illustrates the soothing effect “coincidences” can give someone in denial.
    The same thing with the leaking roof. Fixing a roof is expensive and something that isn’t too much fun. And, there are all of those nails that will end up in your tires for months after the roofers are done with their job. 😉
    Of course, short-term pain avoidance can lead to long-term costs that could have been mitigated earlier if the correct actions would have been taken.
    In the pipe case, the plumber will charge at least $500 to rip into the wall to determine the pipe isn’t leaking. The roof will still need to be fixed because water will cause that problem to get worse as it rots the wood below the shingles.
    Since time has passed because of denial, mold may start growing in between the walls, which will need expensive remediation and clean-up.
    Maybe the problem will be so bad that the only way to “cure” the mold problem is to rip out all walls and start from scratch.
    Coincidences can be costly!

  7. Right, Chris!
    Whenever I hear someone invoke “it’s a coincidence!” phrase, I immediately begin to look for a truth that is being purposefully hidden.
    Coincidences do cost money and time and offer a tough coating that few people are willing to break through in order to deal with the reality beneath the candy coating!

  8. Hello Dave!
    You make some excellent points. The Shakespeare thing crumbles even more under closer the scrutiny of provenance:

    The coincidence was first made public in 1900 in The Publishers’ Circular (LXXVI, p. 30). It was observed that, in Psalm 46, the 46th word from the beginning is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end is ‘spear’. In the latter calculation the word ‘Selah’ is omitted because it is not part of the text but a Hebrew musical notation, placed at the end of many verses in the Psalms.
    Moreover, the Authorized or King James version of the Bible took six years to complete, ending in 1610 when Shakespeare was forty-six years old.
    In previous translations of the Bible the words ‘shake’ and ‘spear’ were differently placed in relation to the beginning and ending of the Psalm, and ‘shake’ had earlier been written ‘shoke’.
    The Authorized Version, published in 1611, was drawn up as a revision of the previous Bishops’ Bible by a committee of the most learned clerical scholars in the kingdom, chosen without regard for their religious inclinations. Their work was submitted for approval to the bishops and leading theologians then to the Privy Council and finally to the King himself.
    Francis Bacon was not at that time a member of the Privy Council, but, as Solicitor General and adviser to King James on matters of law and state, he most probably had some part in this revision of the Bible. Baconians speculate that he was the behind-the-scenes editor-in-chief but there is no record of that.
    If ‘Shake-spear’ was deliberately encoded in the 46th Psalm and Francis Bacon was behind it, his most likely collaborator was Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester. He was a great friend of Bacon, who consulted him frequently about his philosophical works, and he was famous for the puns, word-play and ‘verbal conceits’ with which he enlivened his sermons.
    Andrewes was perfectly placed to doctor the Psalms if he had wanted to, for his name was placed at the head of the list of divines who drew up the Authorized Version. If there was an editor-in-chief, it was he rather than Bacon. By another coincidence, the committee consisted Of 46 members.

    http://www.umsl.edu/~skthoma/sbible.htm
    The mind is a tricksy thing and it wants to create order out of chaos and randomness. Markers are set that may be real or they may be false in order to give us handles to struggle on and to grip in times of crises or incoherence. We are then able to model understanding based on previous experience and assumptions based on previous experiences to create form and context.

  9. Hi Chris!
    Not a coincidence at all!
    You were sending out energy patterns — thoughts — that were picked up by your receptive and prescient friend. It’s mind-boggling, but true.
    When this sort of thing happens to me — I stop — and I ask the other person, “Okay, what’s really going on here? We were brought together on purpose by an energy or a force we do not understand. There’s no such thing as a coincidence, so what else can this be?” The conversation really takes off from there!
    I also believe there are messengers who pop in and out of our lives in times of need and in crises — we may not recognize them as that… because they may be long-lost friends, the mailman, the woman behind the deli counter — who all provide us with a key to move on, to get unstuck and to take the next step forward.
    This is all random and by scientific design — when magnets are turned a certain way they can either repel or attract — the energy we put out serves the same purpose.

  10. I met someone in my life who was a godsend in my life. He was the one who encouraged me to try something new when I was lost and stuck. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t meet him and meeting him was a chance in my lifetime – coincidence, or predestined, or something else? I don’t know.

  11. What most people refer to as a coincidence is truly the illogical fallacy “false cause”, which comes from the Latin phrase “non-causa, pro-causa” which literally translates into “no cause for a cause.” In short, because A, B.
    Truly, though, a coincidence is numerous occurances which “coincide” (relate/correlate[closely relate]/are congruent to) with each other.
    Thank you for reading…