Tag Archives: coincidence

Connecting with Coincidence Radio Show

I have launched a weekly radio show called Connecting with Coincidence with Dr. Bernie Beitman, MD.

The show is divided into 4 segments lasting about an hour with commercials. The first segment provides an introduction to the show and to me and discusses how coincidences suggest hidden causal links. I use the correlation between lightning and thunder to illustrate a hidden causal link. The second and third segments focus on how coincidences appear in all aspects of our lives including movies and novels. The 4th begins a new series called “Coincidence of the Week”, this one involving the name of a friend appearing at a dramatic instance.

Please go to my Facebook page Connecting with Coincidence for comments on this show. It’s my first so your feedback can be very helpful in this early stage.

Here is the link to the show.

Serendipity: A Store, a Movie and a Coincidence: A cool word takes on new meanings

Portsmouth, New Hampshire clothing store
Portsmouth, New Hampshire clothing store

The word “serendipity” has many pop-culture references, but many people don’t know its original meaning or realize its usefulness.

When customers walk into Serendipity, a women’s clothing store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they usually think of the movie Serendipity (2001) starring John Cusak (Jonathan) and Kate Beckinsale (Sara).

The movie is serendipity rich. The two main characters meet at the Manhattan ice cream place called Serendipity 3. Sara writes her phone number on a piece of paper, but a gust of wind from a passing truck pulls it out of her hand.

She refuses to write it down again and instead asks John to write his name and phone number on a $5 bill, which she spends. She then writes her name and address on the inside cover of a book and sells it to a used book store.

If they are meant to be together, she says, each will find the items and contact the others.

The Origins of the Word

Walpole circa 1741.
Walpole circa 1741.

Horace Walpole, a member of the British House of Commons in the 18th century, recognized in himself a talent for finding what he needed just when he needed it.

For example, a gift in the form of a portrait of a Grand Duchess whom Walpole had long admired arrived from his distant cousin in Florence, Italy. Walpole needed a coat of arms with specific elements in it to decorate the new picture frame and accidentally found what he was looking for in an old book.

On January 28, 1754, Walpole, thrilled with this coincidence, wrote to his cousin, Horace Mann, giving a name to his ability to find things unexpectedly—serendipity.

He got the name from a fairy tale called “The Travels and Adventures of Three Princes of Sarendip.” Sarendip (or Serendib) is an ancient name for the island nation Sri Lanka off India’s southern coast. The king of the fable recognizes that education requires more than learning from books, so he sends his sons out of the country to broaden their experience of the world.

Throughout the story, the clever princes carefully observe their surroundings, and then use their observations in ways that save them from danger and death.

For Walpole, serendipity meant finding something by informed observation (sagacity, as he called it) and by accident.

Current Usage

Serendipity currently has two related meanings: 1) Looking for something and finding something even better. 2) Looking for something and finding just what you needed.

The history of the search for new drugs provides many examples.

Viagra was accidentally found while researchers in England in the 1990s were testing a new anti-hypertensive and anti-angina drug. Their male subjects reported increased and prolonged erections. It became one of the best selling drugs of all time.

Scotsman Alexander Fleming was actively searching for a new antibiotic in 1928. He returned from vacation and found penicillin juice killing bacteria in petri-dishes that should have been washed while he was gone.

In each of these cases, researchers had to be open to new possibilities coming at them in unexpected ways. Serendipity, like luck, requires perseverance, preparation, and opportunity.

The “Law of Attraction” may also apply. This is the belief that “like attracts like,” that positive or negative thoughts may bring positive or negative experiences to one’s life. In the case of serendipity, the thought of a needed something somehow helps to bring that something to a person’s life.

But it is not enough to imagine what you want or need. You have to move. A Spanish Gypsy proverb says it well, “The dog that trots about finds the bone.”

This capacity seems to sometimes rely on the human capacity to find our way to places where there are people, ideas, or things that provide us with what we have been seeking. I call this human our Geospatial Positioning System (GPS).

When I asked a customer in Serendipity what she thought the word meant, she said, “Bliss.” Perhaps she most strongly associated the word with the joy that accompanies unexpected discoveries made through serendipity.

The people who walk into the store Serendipity may have a specific item in mind and find it, or they may have a general need and find it clearly expressed in something they just happen to discover there.

Either way, serendipity can be beneficial and fun, and it invites us to wonder how it happens.

“There Are No Coincidences”

When uttering the phrase, “there are no coincidences” the speaker, feels fully confident in its truth. But, just like coincidences themselves, the meaning depends on the beliefs of the person involved.

Let’s start by looking closely at the word coincidence. Dictionaries usually define it as two or more events coming together in a surprising, unexpected way without an obvious causal explanation. Embedded in the definition is a hint that there might be an explanation.

This possibility of an explanation creates the opportunity for saying “there are no coincidences”. If a cause can be defined, then there is no coincidence.

Many believe that Fate or Mystery, or the Universe or God causes coincidences. Their faith in something Greater provides them with a cause. Since God causes them, the cause is known. Therefore, there are no coincidences.

Statistically oriented people believe that coincidences can be explained by the Law of Truly Large Numbers, which states that in large populations any weird event is likely to happen. This is a long way of saying that coincidences are mostly random. Because statisticians “know” that randomness explains them, coincidences are nothing but strange yet expectable events that we remember because they are surprising to us. They are no coincidences, just random events.

Those believing in Mystery, are more likely to believe that coincidences contain messages for them personally. “It was meant to be.” “Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Some of those in the random camp can find some coincidences personally compelling and useful.

Randomness and God explanations remove personal responsibility

Each of these two explanations take responsibility for coincidences away from you! Each suggests that you are powerless in the face of inexplicable forces. Randomness says you have nothing to do with creating coincidences—stuff just happens because we live in a random universe. You think coincidences may have something to do with you but they don’t. When God is called in to explain coincidences, you are the recipient of divine grace. If you think you had something to do with it, you are deluding yourself.

Randomness and God are extreme positions in a coincidence dance that usually involves you, to varying degrees. Probability plays a necessary role. Some coincidences are more unlikely than others. Mystery plays a role because our minds cannot grasp the multiple stirrings hidden behind the veil of our ignorance. Here lies some of the beauty in the study of coincidences. They make us wonder. How much do we have to do with them, and how much is beyond our current concept of ourselves in the world?

It’s your choice

Coincidences exist. Coincidences are real. Saying that there are no coincidences stops inquiry. Challenging the statement forces us to make sense of its ambiguity and explore our potential involvement. You can choose the random perspective and with a wave a mental hand, dismiss most coincidences as not worth further attention. Or you can seek out their possible personal implications and make life into an adventure of discovery both about yourself and the world around you. As you explore, you may uncover the latent abilities hidden within you.

A Non-Statistician’s Approach to Coincidences: Part 5

Photo by Lesho Ward
Photo by Lesho Ward

We are sensitive to coincidences for good reason. Coincidences help us to see new patterns.

We seek patterns to navigate through space and time. Patterns provide maps for the territory of our lives—where to go, how to get there, what to say to whom. The surprise of coincidences raises a question: am I seeing a new pattern?

At 11 p.m. on Feb. 26, 1973, when I was 31 years old, I suddenly found myself bent over the kitchen sink in an old Victorian house on Hayes Street in the Fillmore District of San Francisco. I was choking on something caught in my throat. I couldn’t cough it up. I hadn’t eaten anything. I didn’t know what was in my throat. I’d never choked for this long before. Finally, after 15 minutes or so, I could swallow and breathe normally.

The next day, my birthday, my brother called to tell me that my father had died in Wilmington, Del., at 2 a.m. EST. He was 3,000 miles and three time zones away; 2 a.m. in Wilmington was 11 p.m. in California. My father had bled into his throat and choked on his own blood at about the same time I was uncontrollably choking. He died on Feb. 27, my birthday. (from Connecting with Coincidence)

The timing was too tight for me to think it was “just random.”

My research at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the work of psychiatrist Ian Stevenson make it clear that many other people have experienced similar correlations in time. I named this pattern “simulpathity”—the experience of the pain of a loved one at a distance.

One dramatic, surprising coincidence became a clue to the existence of a new pattern.

One of the participants in my coincidence study at the University of Missouri-Columbia told this story about her near suicide:

“There was a very dark period in my late teens, a confused time to say the least. I cannot explain the rationalization, or rather, I should state, there was none. I couldn’t seem to withstand all the suffering in the world … and one afternoon, I took my dad’s gun, got in my car, and drove to an isolated place on the lake. The intention was to end my own life. I sat there, with gun in hand, without truly understanding why … It was if I didn’t have any clue how I managed to arrive at this moment in time. But, as tears slowly came down my cheeks, I heard the sound of another car pulling up beside [me] … and my brother stepped out of the car, asking me to hand him the gun.

“I was breathless; I was totally shocked. All I could do is to ask him how on Earth he knew I was feeling this way; how did he know I even had this gun, and, most important, how did he find me? He said he had no answers. He didn’t have any idea why he got into his car; he didn’t know where he was driving, nor why he was going there; or what he was supposed to do when he arrived.”

How did her brother know that she needed him? What made him make these complex decisions without a conscious intention? He seemed drawn to his sister by her distress, without consciously knowing that she was about to kill herself.

Subsequently, I began to think of this as simulpathity coupled with an uncanny knowledge about where she was and how to get there.

Many similar stories led me to hypothesize the idea of human GPS—that we can find our way sometimes to people, ideas and things we need without knowing how we got there. (from Chapter 1, Connecting with Coincidence)

Coincidence detection is no anomaly of the human mind. Through reading and research, I could confirm that my experience with my father was no anomaly. It was an example of something frequently experienced. Coincidence recognition is part of a rational process for finding new patterns.

Magda Osman, a senior lecturer in experimental psychology at Queen Mary University of London, wrote in a Scientific American article: “Searching for patterns is essential to our cognition and survival, and the cost of not having this ability far out weights the false paths we take when we see patterns that aren’t there. If we observe a pattern then we have detected a regularity in the world, and a regularity is likely to have a causal basis. We can use this regularity to make a prediction, and if we can predict, we can control future events more reliably–to our great advantage.” (Osman)

Coincidences drive the search for causal explanations because we need to understand how the world works.

Co-authored by Tara MacIsaac a reporter and editor for the Beyond Science section of Epoch Times. She explores the new frontiers of science, delving into ideas that could help uncover the mysteries of our world.

A Statistician’s Approach to Coincidences: Part 4

Illustration by Tom Brown
Illustration by Tom Brown

Coincidences emerge in the minds of the beholders. Without a human mind to detect them, most coincidences would not exist.

Cognitive processing errors serve for statisticians like Persi Diaconis and David Hand as a bulwark against the potential meaning of coincidences. Their perspective shows us how our minds help to create meaningful coincidences.

We can pop coincidences into existence by perceiving patterns where there are none. When taken to an extreme, this tendency has a name: “apophenia.”

The Oxford dictionary defines coincidence as “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” We can perceive a concurrence by overemphasizing or stretching the similarities of the events and by selectively remembering events.

Let’s examine these two very common tendencies.

Just how similar is “similar”? Computer software developers are actively seeking an objective answer to this question. But, for now, degree of similarity remains subjective. Human beings are still better than computers at finding patterns and judging similarity.

Sometimes we may stretch similarity beyond what is reasonable to create coincidences out of two or more unrelated events. We see similarities that may not be there because we want the connection to be there.

But what are the limits of “reasonable” similarities? It’s hard for me to clearly say.

Similarity between two specific patterns can be judged on a gradient by human raters, and eventually by computer programming. For now we can be satisfied with knowing that we probably aren’t too bad at discerning similarities and that there will always be someone who will claim that my similarity is not similar enough.

Degree of similarity plays an important role in judging the probability of a coincidence. The more similar the two (or more) events of the coincidence are, the lower the probability of the coincidence.

Let’s say you and a friend meet up and you’re both wearing the exact same shirt and pants bought from the same store. The probability of that happening is lower than both of you wearing pants and shirts that are the same color but different designs. The closer the similarity, the lower the probability.

We select what we see and remember. What else is new? We have to select information from the huge onslaught of stimuli coming at us. To not select is to overload our brains.

We can, and do, selectively remember certain details and then match those details to a current event. If we did not do that, there would be many fewer coincidences. We also would be living in an ever-present now without links to past experience.

Some people overdo this remembering and matching—selecting just the right memory to create the coincidence. Others may be smacked in the face with a coincidence and not notice it.

What other factors could be influencing the probability of the coincidence? This question challenges students of Coincidence Studies to examine the variables contributing to the coincidence beyond the base rates of each intersecting event. For example, actor Mike Myers was visiting famed author, physician, and alternative-medicine advocate Deepak Chopra. As Mike walks into Deepak’s office, he sees a card on the wall. Mike pulls out his own deck of cards, the first one of which is the same card as the one on the wall. Mike is amazed at the coincidence.

This coincidence was perhaps more probable than it seemed to Mike. The deck contained images of Hindu gods. Deepak relies heavily on Hindu ideas for his teaching. Mike knew that. In preparation for their meeting, Mike seemed to want to show Deepak what he knew that might be relevant to their discussion.

While the coincidence seemed amazing to Mike the context of their relationship increased the likelihood of a matching card. However, if you watch the video, you can see that there were many cards in the deck so Mike’s came placing this one, the Goddess of Wealth, on the top lowers the probability.

In summary, the main cognitive errors people make in estimating the probability of a coincidence include: stretching the similarities to make the two elements fit, selectively remembering past events to find a match with a current event, and neglecting the contextual influences that could increase the probability.

Co-authored by Tara MacIsaac a reporter and editor for the Beyond Science section of Epoch Times. She explores the new frontiers of science, delving into ideas that could help uncover the mysteries of our world.

Couvade: When Men Feel Pregnant

Photo by Mike Murphy
Photo by Mike Murphy

A Wisconsin woman had tried for 5 years to become pregnant. One day her husband woke up feeling nauseous at the smell of breakfast. He rushed to the bathroom to vomit. He repeated the scene the next morning. Did he have an ulcer? No. She was pregnant.

He was experiencing morning sickness and she was not. His symptoms continued for the next four months while she had none. His symptoms persisted even when he was miles away from her. (The Gift, p. 91)

Sympathetic pregnancies (couvade) have their basis in parallel physiological responses in the expectant father.

In a study by researchers at Memorial University in Canada, men and women were found to have similar levels of the hormones prolactin and cortisol in the period just before the babies were born. After the births, the mothers and fathers had lower concentrations of sex steroids (testosterone and estradiol). Men with sympathetic pregnancy symptoms had higher prolactin levels and greater reductions in testosterone.

Since increases in prolactin seem to increase interpersonal bonding, they speculated that these hormone changes played a role in preparing males for bonding with the infant.

There are several psychological theories which seem inadequate. These theories involve the man’s jealousy of the soon to arrive new born, his feeling of being displaced and marginalized.

In my view the man with sympathetic pregnancy becomes highly attuned to his pregnant partner. In that attunement, he feels what she is feeling at a depth he did not consciously seek.

He experiences physiological empathy.

I think the attunement is mediated through the energy fields circulating within and around our bodies. With pregnancy, the shift in her energy field is so strong that his attunement gives in to her new vibrational level and equilibrates to it. Physiologically, he becomes more like her.
Theresa Santos reported a practical version of this spousal dance.

“On our last morning in New York we had a ton of things left to do before leaving for our flight that evening. I particularly needed to do a lot, because there are just some things I take care of better and more efficiently than my husband (cleaning, laundry, some final packing … he’s very organized with packing, but I’m quicker) and a lot of those things needed to be done. My husband’s chores for the morning consisted only of going to the mall to pick up a few things, including another suitcase.

I’d experienced morning sickness almost every day last week and the week before. I’ve usually been really slow in the morning. But, on Sunday, I woke up early and felt really well. I was energetic and efficient, which I haven’t been lately. My husband, instead, was nauseous and fatigued. He seemed to have taken on the morning sickness for me that day.”

She took care of the more demanding tasks symptom free while her husband took on the easier chores loaded with morning sickness.

If we understood the mechanisms behind couvade, we might take a step toward explaining simulpathity, the experience of the distress of a loved one at a distance.

Most men do know their partners are pregnant, whereas in most cases of simulpathity, the root of the sympathetic symptoms is unknown at the time. This is a key difference, yet understanding the mechanisms of couvade may provide a first step in coming to understand the mechanisms of simulpathity. In simulpathity one person somehow picks up the physiological experience of another person at a distance. Like courvade, this physiological resonance is not done consciously. The big difference of course is not only does the husband know she is pregnant but he is living near her. With simulpathity, the resonating pair are away from each other and the experiencer does not know that the other is in distress.

So physical closeness and conscious awareness make couvade different from simulpathity. Yet aside from these two factors, there are many similarities that suggest shared underlying mechanisms.

Co-authored by Tara MacIsaac a reporter and editor for the Beyond Science section of Epoch Times. She explores the new frontiers of science, delving into ideas that could help uncover the mysteries of our world.

The Psychosphere

Angie emailed me on May 8, 2015:
“I am struck by the uptick in media-related coincidences as suggested by your Weird Coincidence Survey results. (See Blog Post Weird Coincidence Survey Results.)  I wonder if the increasing prevalence of electronic communication has some unique quality as it relates to our connectedness.  Is there a sub-current of communication that works via electronic waves, for example?  It is true that for me, most coincidences I notice are directly related to media.  My precognitive dreams seem to tie in most frequently with topics that appear on TV, radio, or social media (but also my private music collection and even in books) within minutes, hours or a day.  Do mass communications act, somehow, as multipliers of the energy field on which these impulses travel and connect…and where is God…or our concept of God…in all of that?”

Dr. B: The increasing connectivity among our minds through the multiplying media, is further establishing an infrastructure for communication through what I call the psychosphere, our mental atmosphere. Some coincidences may be evidence that we are increasingly connecting to others and with the media through psychosphere.