Tag Archives: synchronicity

Why Do You Experience Lots of Coincidences (or Not)?

dr coincidence

People who describe themselves as spiritual or religious report experiencing more meaningful coincidences than those who did not according to research done by my Coincidence Studies group.

In subsequent research, we proceeded to define the personality traits that were associated with high coincidence sensitivity.

This is a summary of our findings. For the full report please click here.

Participants were 280 undergraduate university students enrolled in a psychology class. Of the sample, 159 (57%) were female, and 121 (43%) were male. The mean age of the sample was 19.1 (SD = 1.1). Of the sample, 88.2% were white, 6.8% were black, 2.1% were Asian, less than 1% was Hispanic, and 2.1% reported “Other.”

Participants were presented with a prototypical coincidence scenario to prompt their understanding of “coincidence”.

The primary purpose of this study was to conduct a confirmatory factor analysis of previous work on the Weird Coincidence Scale (link is external) (WCS) to help establish its psychometric reliability and validity. To accomplish this goal, we selected from a large set of personality questionnaires to compare with scores on the WCS.

The secondary benefit was the identification of personality variables that are associated with coincidence sensitivity.

Six Personality Traits

Six personality traits emerged as potential measures of coincidence sensitivity:

Referential Thinking Scale measures ideas of reference which involve the belief that outside events have a particular and unusual meaning for the person. An example of a test item is “When I see two people talking at work, I usually think they are criticizing me.”

Positive and Negative Affect Scale measures the independent dimensions of positive and negative affect. The positive affect terms are happy, joyful, pleased, and enjoyment/fun and the negative affect terms are depressed/blue, unhappy, frustrated, angry/hostile, and worried/anxious.

Vitality Scale measures subjective vitality, or positive feelings of energy and aliveness. An example of a test item is “I have energy and spirit.”

Religious Commitment Inventory measures “the degree to which a person adheres to his or her religious values, beliefs, and practices, and uses them in daily living.” A sample item is, “I spend time trying to grow by understanding my faith.”

Meaning in Life Scale measures two independent constructs — presence of meaning in life and search for meaning in life. An example of a Presence item is “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.” An example of a Search question is “I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful.”

Faith in Intuition Scale measures the experiential thinking system, which is characterized as being “preconscious, rapid, automatic, holistic, primarily nonverbal, intimately associated with affect.” An example item is “I tend to use my heart as a guide for my actions.”


We compared their scores on the Weird Coincidence Survey with each of their scores on the personality questionnaires. The most statistically significant was The Referential Scale. The ranking of all 6 was:

1) Referential thinking

Referential thinking is characterized by beliefs that “events around me have to do with me.” Looking for coincidences and finding meaning in them represents a form of referential thinking.

2) Vitality and negative affect

High emotional charge is likely to generate increased associations.

3) Religious commitment

Religious commitment is often associated with the idea that God intervenes personally in people’s lives, suggesting the coincidences may be interpreted as a means by which people are being guided.

4) Search for meaning

A tendency to explore meaning in life is likely to be applied to searching for meaning in coincidences.

5) Faith in intuition (which statistically was not significant)

Faith in intuition involves finding importance in and drawing conclusions from coincidences rarely through rational means. We were surprised that this factor was not significant although others have found it to be significant using different scales.


An increased tendency to associate one idea to another is the common denominator among these personality characteristics. In various ways, each of these traits facilitates connecting an observation with a thought or a thought with an observation. To be self-referential increases the likelihood to connect an observation to a comment on the self. High emotion increases thought production which creates more connections. Religious commitment seeks thoughts and experiences to support the idea that God intervenes in our lives through “minor miracles” like coincidences. The search for meaning drives people to connect their external experiences to their internal needs as possible guides in life’s journey.

With what ease do you connect similar ideas together?

The Archetypal Themes of Synchronicity Stories: Meaningful coincidences fall into several narrative categories.

Categorizing coincidences is fundamental to the development of Coincidence Studies. At this time in its evolution, the four main categories that together describe most coincidences are: description, use, explanation and archetypal themes. There is some overlap among and between these categories.

Description begins with Mind and Thing variables as discussed in this previous post. Mind-Thing is a surprising match between a mental event with something in the environment. Thing-thing is a surprising series of two or more objects in the environment. Mind-Mind is communication between minds at a distance (e.g. simulpathity).

Use refers to the many ways coincidences may influence people including confirmation of the current path, help with decision making and spiritual development.

Explanation encompasses the many possible causes of coincidences ranging from probability to God as well as our own human contributions. Some propose complicated theories (eg. quantum mechanics and complexity) to explain coincidences. No single explanation can account for all meaningful coincidences.

In this post, we focus on the archetypal themes category which is divided into personal and socio-cultural-physics coincidences. Here “archetypal” refers to the enduring themes in coincidence stories. The themes are divided into the Personal coincidences and Socio-cultural-physics coincidences.


Intuition Leads the Way: Information outside our usual ways of knowing contributes to actions that yield positive results.

A brother feels impelled to drive to the lake in a forest he had never visited before. He pulls up next to his 17 yo sister who has their father’s gun and is intending to shoot herself. He didn’t have any idea why he got into his car; he didn’t know where he was driving, or why he was going there. By following his intuition, he saved her life.

Help Somehow Arrives: You are in a dangerous situation, and you are unexpectedly rescued.

A woman about to pick up her abusive husband at the airport receives a wrong number call from a woman who has recently divorced her own abusive husband. After hearing the anxiety in the caller’s voice, the woman decides to not pick-up her husband and proceeds with separation. They are synchronicity sisters!

Animals and Plants Comfort and Highlight: Flowers and birds may offer condolences.

At a picnic, a woman grieving the loss of her 5-day-old child sees a small bird land on her breast. The bird stays there until she shoos it away, symbolizing for her letting go of the baby. p 124

Doing Something out of the Ordinary: Go this way instead of the usual way, getting lost or doing something different.

“My husband and I decided to buy and fix up the house we were currently renting. It was an okay place and seemed like the easiest thing to do. We drove to the bank and started the process of taking out a loan. On our way back to the house, my husband decided to go a different, longer way back. He said later he just felt like taking the alternate route. I spotted a woman putting up a “For Sale” sign for her house right as we passed by. We stopped. It was just what I wanted. We bought it! It was just the right place for our family.”

Talking with strangers: You sit down next to someone you do not know (on a bus, on a plane, in a waiting area) AND you begin a conversation that leads to romance, a business partner or other possibilities.

A young woman on a plane asks the young man who is sitting next to her for the time. She is wearing a large watch. Four years later they marry. A marriage made in heaven!

Context Mirrors Psychological Conflicts: Your environment symbolically reflects back the contents of an inner struggle.

A man intently considering divorce went to the local mall and saw five friends and acquaintances, each of whom was in the midst of divorce. Several weeks later he heard from three old friends, each of whom were divorced. This series of other people divorces made him realize: that he did not want to be one of them.

Imagining a desired future and it happens

A high school football and baseball player imagines running the opening kick-off back for a touchdown and hitting the first pitch of a game for a home run. He did both.

We are Intimately Connected with the Media: You think of a question and it is answered by the TV, radio, or internet. You think of something and it is reflected back by the media.

“A doctor walked into the hospital waiting room a moment ago and called my name…only to have the stranger next to me stand up alongside me…because we have the same name. I took that as my cue to message you…and as I’m typing this…the guy on tv is now singing a country song with the lyric “same last name”…and that lady and I are laughing.” (12/29/17 email from HAPPY Reading to me.)

The Machine Stops or Starts in Response to Intense Emotions

A church clock was lovingly looked after by a local doctor for decades and then stopped at precisely the moment he died.

The Weird Lost and Found Department: Lost items show up in the strangest ways.

A man brings an antique bracelet to a jewelry store to be valued. He had found it working in the sewer. During his discussion with the jeweler, a woman walks in and says. “That is my bracelet. I flushed it down the toilet.” (Plimmer and King, p. 137)

Intentional Coincidences to predict the future: Opening a holy book, using the I Ching or Tarot cards to grasp an image of the future

As a lowly member of his high school class, Winston took a preliminary examination to be placed in a much sought after position. He knew that, among other things, they would be asked to draw a map of a specific country unknown to the students. The night before the exam, he put the names of all the countries in the world in a hat and drew out New Zealand. He carefully memorized that map. The first question on the exam was: “Draw a map of New Zealand.” He received very high marks. The student was Winston Churchill, and the test got him into the military, which provided an essential step toward his becoming Prime Minister of England. (Winston Churchill, My Early Life (New York: Touchstone, 1930).

Deceiving others by creating a coincidence: Setting up a coincidence to lure someone into a problematic situation.

You are having computer problems. You have Microsoft software. You receive a call from someone telling you that your computer has problems needing to be fixed: it has a virus; it’s slow, or it’s sending out error messages. How wonderful! Someone at Microsoft knew of your troubles. What a great coincidence! Help just when you needed it.

Microsoft does not call people.

If you allow them to remotely control your computer, these scammers may be able to find your passwords and accounts and raid them.

The con artists are using the probability that one of their many calls will find someone with computer problems who do not know that Microsoft never calls.

The expected outcome of a coincidence does not happen: False positive coincidences

Just after he put his house on the market Dave heard from an old friend he had not talked with for many years. The friend was moving the Charlottesville and Dave’s house seemed perfect. The timing was great! Then his old friend changed his mind.

Coincidences involving coincidences: MetaCoincidences

As I am writing about psychotic coincidences, I receive an email from a woman in Australia. She is volunteering to do research for me if I am willing to pay. She is currently on anti-psychotic medications. When she was off her meds, she experienced many coincidences. She is volunteering now to reduce her medication dose and report the coincidences she sees. I declined her offer.

Some people see meaningful coincidences that do not exist: Psychotic Coincidences:

“The woman in the apartment next to ours keeps intruding on my mind. She is reading the same books I am. Her thoughts become my thoughts. I can’t think my own thoughts anymore! I have the evidence! Please help me figure this out.”

Her husband emailed me later and asked me not to respond to her emails since she is now on anti-psychotic medications and seeing a psychiatrist.

Social, Political and Physics Coincidences

Fiction predicts the future: Novels, cartoons, and other artistry provide unexpected windows into the future

Morgan Robertson’s 1898 book entitled “Futility” described the maiden voyage of a transatlantic luxury liner named Titan. Although it was touted as being unsinkable, the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with much loss of life. In 1912, the Titanic, a transatlantic luxury liner touted as unsinkable, struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage and sunk with great loss of life. In Robertson’s book, the disaster took place in April, as did the sinking of the Titanic. In the book, there were 3,000 passengers aboard the ship; on the Titanic, 2,207. In the book, there were 24 lifeboats; on the Titanic, 20.

Public machinery stops working in several different places around the same time.

On April 21, 2017, power outages took place around United States.

San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles were the three main areas that were hit the hardest. Each of the areas experienced problems or shutdowns in business commerce. Also, basic infrastructure such as communication networks, mass transportation, and supply chains experienced problems.

Chance meetings change the world

One evening in 1970, a young Navy lieutenant found himself outside the White House Situation Room with a parcel of sensitive Pentagon documents, waiting for someone to sign for them. He sat down beside a man in late middle age, who wore a dark suit and an unsmiling expression. The two men fell into conversation. Shortly afterward, the officer applied for a job as a reporter at the Washington Post. Soon, the F.B.I. man confided in the reporter, telling him that he believed that the Nixon Administration was corrupt, paranoid, and trying to infringe on the independence of the Bureau. In the summer of 1971, both men were promoted, one to the No. 3 job at the F.B.I., the other to the metropolitan staff of the Post. Within a year, their friendship became the most important reporter-source relationship in modern history. The reporter was Bob Woodward, who, with Carl Bernstein, led the coverage of the Watergate scandal and the fall of Richard Nixon. The F.B.I. man was Mark Felt, who, until he was in his nineties and revealed himself as Woodward’s source, was known to the world only as Deep Throat.

Multiple people make the same discovery around the same time in science-technology and the arts: Simultaneous discoveries

Commonly cited examples of multiple independent discoveries are the 17th-century independent formulation of calculus by Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and others. The 18th-century discovery of oxygen by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, and others; and the theory of evolution of species, independently advanced in the 19th century by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

We live in a universe with mathematical constants that are just right for our existence. Cosmic Coincidences

Carbon-based life on Earth depends on a narrow range of many different cosmic constants. This is not a similarity-based coincidence. This set of numbers provides the coincidence that all these variables are “not too hot or not too cold but just right” for human existence. see Laurence Browne

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.

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.