Tag Archives: Connecting with Coincidence

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.