Thursday, 3 October 2013

Paranormal or coincidence?

ASSAP bloggerI have mentioned before that I see famous people fairly frequently and my theory which may explain it (here). Indeed, I saw a well known actor just a few weeks ago, and a couple of them not long before that. But then, the other day, I saw yet another. However, this time I excelled myself. I had seen this actor in normal everyday life (as opposed to visiting a play, for instance) before!

This is the first time I've seen the same famous person twice. The first sighting was on a train (fitting my theory!). On this occasion, however, it was in a restaurant, though not one often frequented by celebrities. So, it was a completely different context where I could hardly have predicted I would see him again. I started to wonder what are the odds against this happening by chance.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the odds of this combined coincidence are 1 in a million. Does it mean I should rush out a buy a lottery ticket? Does it mean that I was 'meant' to see this person because of some psychic connection? I should add, regarding the last point, that he is one of my favourite actors with an extensive CV in theatre, TV, films and radio. In other words, should I read any meaning into this coincidence?

The short answer is, probably not. The thing about unlikely coincidences is that there is no rule that says they CAN'T happen by pure chance, only that they are rare. However, if you live long enough your chances of witnessing a truly unusual coincidence improve. A 1 in a million chance is always a 1 in a million chance at any given instant in time. However, among a million people it is pretty much inevitable. And, for any individual, the longer they wait, the better their chances of witnessing such a coincidence.

The point of all this is that most people, if they live for a reasonable time, are likely to witness the odd 1 in a million* coincidence. So, when something extraordinary happens it is tempting to think that only the paranormal can be responsible. Suppose, for instance, you go to a psychic who tells you you will soon meet someone who has some important information for you. Then you go on holiday, only to find that someone you haven't heard from in 30 years is staying in the same hotel. They tell you what happened to some mutual acquaintances that you have often wondered about. It can't just be a coincidence, surely? But, in reality, that is exactly what it most likely is. The psychic's prediction was vague enough to refer to any number of possible future events. And, while the odds against bumping into someone you once knew long ago are long, it could happen purely by random chance. And it is probably happening to someone, somewhere pretty much all the time. And, on this occasion, it just happened to be you.

So, we should all look forward to one or two truly unlikely coincidences during the course of our lives. They only become significant if they keep on happening. So, I'm not expecting to meet that famous actor yet again!

And the photo? Me, not finding famous people, of course.

*I've said '1 in a million' purely as a nice round number for illustration purposes. I'm sure someone statistically minded could come with an accurate estimate of the odds of a 'once in a lifetime' coincidence that most people will have.

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