Against All Odds
When put against the test of coincidences, our intuition fails us miserably time and time again. The long-lost friend we haven’t thought of for years until one night we do, only to bump into him the next morning; the question we think of and have answered by someone else before we have a chance to ask it out loud; that one number that keeps appearing in our life… Everyday coincidences from everyday life dissolve like salt in water if examined through the lens of probability, and yet, before reason kicks in and takes over, we tend to search for meaning when there is no meaning to be found. Or is there?
There are no coincidences, they say, just random events. But the random explanation can be stretched only so far, and sometimes, just sometimes, it feels unsatisfactory. What if the apparent lack of predictability that we call randomness spoke only of our limitations to find the underlying causes of an event and said nothing about the Universe? Quantum randomness need not be an exception. In a lawful Universe, when we accept unpredictability as fundamental, at any level, we give up on our search for a true understanding of reality. Embracing randomness is celebrating our ignorance.
Reality might not be as solid and future events not as disconnected from conscious beings as we think they are. Allowing ourselves to graduate from observers to possible actors of our immediate fate would provide new insights into our understanding of the mechanics of the world.
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The following story first appeared in 1900, in the book The Unknown, by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion, and was later quoted by the psychiatrist Carl Jung in his 1952 book Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle:
When he was a child, the French poet Emile Deschamps was treated to a piece of plum pudding by some Monsieur de Fortgibu, an immigrant from England with a fondness for this dessert, unknown in France at the time.
Passing by a restaurant, Deschamps, a decade later, noticed they had plum pudding listed on the menu. He went in and asked for a slice, but the last portion they had, the waiter informed, had just been ordered by another gentleman. Deschamps looked in the direction the waiter pointed to and saw Monsieur de Fortgibu for the second time in his life.
Many years passed, and Deschamps was now at a dinner party. The host told his guests that they will be served a rarity of a dessert: plum pudding. Deschamps joked with his friends about the possibility of Monsieur de Fortgibu showing up at the party and said it was all he needed to make the moment complete. Moments later, the doorbell rang. And yes, Monsieur de Fortgibu was announced. He, an old man now, entered the room, looked around and realized he had mistaken the address. He had been invited to a dinner party in that building, but in another apartment.
I rest my case.