Do you believe in luck/coincidence? (LONG)

[sup]A BRIEF INTRO[/sup]
My aunt (I will say she is 55-60 yrs old) was given up for adoption by her family when she was a very small child. Never knowing her real parents or her brothers / sisters she developed a lengthy and time consuming passion researching her own genealogy using the limited information that was available to her.
Knowing that she was born on the eastern coast of the United States helped reduce the number of dead end that she would periodically come across.
As it turns out one of the few leads she came across sounded promising enough to bring us to the great state of Maine. If you have never been to Maine you may be surprised to hear how desolate some parts of that state may be. Truly, truly lonely countryside up there.

Now that we are all up to speed I will make this as brief as possible. We were making a journey to some god-forsaken city to browse through their public records looking for certificates of birth, death, or marriage containing her REAL last name. (To Protect Identities lets say her last name is XYZ.) We got lost. Terribly and horribly lost. We drove and drove and drove until we found what we thought was a town hall. Not THE town hall we were looking for but one nonetheless. As we went up the steps we noticed that it was not the town hall but rather it was the post office. Not wanting to give up (we were lost BTW and asking for directions seemed like a good idea) we went up to the female clerk behind the counter and explained to her our predicament and could she give us direction? She told us that we were about an hour away from where we wanted to go and she pointed us the right way. On our way outside the post office for no reason in particular she asked aloud what “are you all doing in this part of the state anyway ,etc?” Up to this point we were the only three people on the office so my aunt gives the clerk the lowdown and while she just keeps nodding her head and listening while my aunt gives her a condensed version of her life. Suddenly the door walks open and a little old lady walks in stands patiently in line behind us while my aunt finishes telling her story to the clerk. Story over-we leave.

[sub]BRASS TACKS[/sub]
As were are about to get in the car to continue our journey we see the old woman come wobbling out of the post office as fast as she can wailing her purse around and around obviously trying to get our attention. (You now see where this is going, right?) She (old lady) says “the clerk told me what was going on and as it happens my maiden name is XYZ!” NOTE: XYZ is really a rare French name, but common in that part of the US. Old lady is at least 20 yrs older than my aunt and tells us that she’s has been going to the post office only on Fridays to pick up her mail (there is no delivery where they live) but for some reason something made her call her granddaughter (points to car parked across the street to see young women sitting in car disinterested) that afternoon with some uncontrollable urge to be there today (a Monday. Granddaughter didn’t want to take grandma to post office as mail was just picked up Friday but does so to humour grandma.)

Will my aunt was ecstatic and soon we were at the old ladies house going over photos and names and certificates and comes to find out that they are indeed related (cousins I think) which eventually leads my aunt into finding all about her parents. By all accounts the old lady was not supposed to have gone to the post office that day. She had even canceled prior appointments so that her granddaughter could take her there. She claims that she just got a feeling that morning when she got out of bed and all she did was follow her instincts. Summary: She was not supposed to be there. We DEFINITELY were not supposed to be there. For some reason we were all there at the same time even though they were 20 minutes out of their way and us 1 hour.

Unfortunately I have no proof of this other than testimony from my family. There is no site I can point to and quote from to back me up on this so it may not belong in GD but I feel that the SUBJECT is valid for this room. Was it just coincidence that brought these two together? Was it fate? Luck? ESP? Kismet? All of the above? Obviously this chance meeting falls way short of being dubbed a miracle but surely SOMETHING was happening. I just don’t know what.

Something happened, alright. Coincidence happened, and it hapens all the time. It may seem like there is more to it, but that’s mainly because human beings are so accustomed to trying to find the reason behind things. Sometimes the only reason is randomness, but that just doesn’t sit well with some.

Consider another scenario. Let’s say you were in the same place and time and the old lady, instead of being your aunt’s cousin, was just another stranger off her normal routine and instead of meeting in the post office, broadsided your car and killed your aunt. Sorry about the gruesome hypothetical, but I wanted to establish another memorable event involving most of the same variables, but without the “magical” quality. Juat another tragic accident brought together by random events.

I would guess that luck and coincidence are more of Humans ability to recognize patterns in things. Like looking at clouds we see things like Lincoln, Cars, airplanes, etc. They seem to be only because we tend to need to find working patterns.

Paraphrasing Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos:

If we assume that each of the approx. 200 million (1988) adults knows about 1,500 people, the probability is about 1 in 100 that they will have an acquaintance in common and more than 99 in 100 that they will be linked by a chain of two intermediates.

It’s easy to underestimate the frequency of coincidences when undeserved significance is accorded to happenstance such as the OP while too little significance is assigned to less flashy statistical certainties.

It would actually be very unlikely if unlikely events did not occur every once in a while.

Okay… who do you know that I know? (I’ll allow you two intermmediaries).

Regarding Paulos’s Innumeracy, I think his point that is more relevant is this:

Let’s say the odds of the meeting between your aunt and her cousin were 10 billion to 1. Seems like it can’t be just a coincidence.

But think about how many confluences of events happen every day in this country among its 250 million citizens. It’s easily in the trillions, possibly higher. Not a day goes by without a significant number of coincidences happening whose odds are astronomical.

(To put in another way, if 200 million people all start flipping coins, about 40 of them will get the same result on 20 consecutive flips. To each of those individuals it will seem like a practical impossibility, but for the group it’s quite expected that it will happen a bunch of times.)

And when these unlikely events happen, be they runs of coin-flips or unlikely chance meetings in the post-office, the people for whom they happen are very inclined (as you were) to make the coincidence public, because they often make great stories (as yours was). After all, billion-to-one coincidences don’t happen to any given person very often, and rightfully seem like a big deal.

But it does mean that we hear about these sorts of things an inordinate amount of the time; after all, if your aunt had just met a random stranger who gave her nothing more that directions, you wouldn’t have brought it to anyone’s attention.

Wild coincidences are neat, and it’s fun to talk about them. But they’re no indication of a higher power at work, unless you consider mathematics and the laws of probability to be higher powers.


Sure thing- you start listing all 1,500 of your acquaintances while I do the same. :smiley:

What are the chances that any of the group of 40 people would then bump into each other on that day? 1 in 5 million?

Figure this out. I travel 4000 miles to visit my son (UK to USA). I visit a local ‘service’ club (a choice of 6 locally) for a lunchtime meeting as a guest. I sit at a table; one of eight to chose from. No one is sitting at it when I arrive.

I am joined eventually my eight members of the club. One guy, sitting three seats away asks me if I’m British (accent’s a dead give-away). Tells me his family left UK >200 years ago, settled in Virginia and later moved to the Carolinas.

He describes the location of his original (UK) family home. Turns out that it’s a five minute drive from my front door back in the UK (the house is still standing). What are the mathematical chances of that happening?

Is there a statistitian in the house? :confused:

Here goes:

T Montgomery Bateman (Monty to his friends)
David Brock
John Bryant
Peter Callery

How we doing so far? :wink:

I disagree with everyone. Probably not a surprise. I think that synchronicity and luck exist. I don’t really believe in an anthropomorphic entity directing it all, but I think something is going on. Luck plays a large part in my life. Granted, I am responsible for many things, but every job I’ve gotten has been through being in the right place at the right time. It’s not just that these were adequate jobs–they were exactly the kind of thing I wanted, and exactly the best thing for me to do at the time. Also, every time I’ve had to make a big decision, there have been lots of small events to point which direction I should go (synchronicity). Based on my experiences, I say there’s more to it than random collisions.

walor: certainly that account is statistically very unlikely… are you saying some higher power made it happen or a reason? or just another fun example?

Ten twelve years ago I wanted to buy a book, but was completely broke at the time. I decided to walk to the Bookstore just to have a look around just to browse. There was a short route to the store I normally walked, but since it was a pleasant fall evening with a tough of chill in the air, I decided to take a long about route and enjoy the walk. Along the way I found a $20.00 bill on the sidewalk with nobody in sight who could have dropped it. So I got the book I wanted. Coincidence? Or Fate?

Okay, so the story doesn’t have the grander of your grandmother bush with the improbable, yet t it sure seem special at the time, like something magical and fateful, but I’d bet $20.00 on coincidence.

Likewise, the odds of winning a $100,000 is a lottery are astronomically against you, but people do win because enough people play that the astronomical odds against you can come up a winner.

I would also say that meetings between long lost relatives could occur with some frequency, but nobody knows it is a happening: they pass like ships in the night in the bathrooms of McDonalds without ever knowing that person urinating next to you is in fact a parent’s long lost half sibling. So next time you pee in a public place, strike up a conversation with your neighboring watermaker: if enough people do this, something will eventually happen.

I’m not really sure. He and I have maintain a very low-grade contact since I met him three years ago. I’ve been back to his club once and visited him. I took him some photographs of his family home. He has written to me and we’ve spoken on the phone acouple of times (the guy’s in his eighties and so travel is difficult for him).

If our meeting is part of some sort of bigger plan, then I’ve not evidenced it yet… but who knows with these things.

(Just for interest sake, his family were very important locally, in the past. Two local streets are named after the family and they were very influential in both the business community and the church.)

When that sort of thing happens, it just seems to be too much of a co-incidence to be accounted for as a function of some mathematical table of randomn numbers. The place we’re talking about is a village, population 1,000 max, on the edge of a small township population c65,000. in rural Cheshire. What chance???

What about the other ten or twenty people who showed up for that interview? They were at the same place at the same time. Why didn’t they receive the same benifit of luck as you?

In order to even be able to begin to analyze the effect of any alleged luck, we need to define it.

From the dictionary:

Luck (lk) n. 1.The chance happening of fortunate or adverse events; fortune.

“Chance happening” is another way of saying what all of the realists are saying in this thread- that, given enough time & enough people, almost any “amazing” thing will eventually happen.

So if luck is not the results of chance, what is it? Is luck a force of nature like gravity? Is it brought about by the luck faries? Are there as yet undiscovered subatomic luck particles buzzing about, which cause lucky things to happen when they accumulate to sufficient levels? If you win the lottery, were you lucky, and why? What about your neighbor, who not only failed to win the lottery, but is so unlucky that s/he has to live right next to you & listen to your triumphant shouting?

What if instead of winning the lottery, you were struck by lightning (far more likely). Were you lucky for having been electrocuted? Surely not (I assume you’ll agree). That means we don’t consider something to be lucky simply by virtue of its likeliness of occurring.

Luck exists only as another way of saying “something good happened to me”, as eventually it will happen to nearly everybody.

Are you declaring that it is absolutely impossible for such a thing to happen because of random chance? This isn’t an occurence that violates the laws of physics, after all. Weird coincidences will happen!

Think of all the astounding things that don’t happen to you. I just discovered today that nobody I work with has ever been to my home town! I mailed a letter today, and the clerk at the post office had not a single shocking revelation to share! Walking into work this morning, I found exactly $0.00 on the sidewalk! I got into graduate school by busting my butt as an undergraduate and applying to many different schools! I bought a lotto ticket once, and I didn’t win a cent! Isn’t that completely uninteresting?

We remember weird coincidences because they are weird. We tend to forget that 99 days out of 100, nothing strange happens to us. Consider that each day is chock-full of 24 hours in which we might meet a stranger related to us in some way, or find an usual or significant object, or get stopped by a red light just in time to avoid a terrible accident two blocks down the road. But usually, nothing happens. For every person who miraculously finds a long-lost relative, there are a hundred people adopted kids who go through their lives without ever knowing their heritage. For every person who wins the lottery, there are a million other suckers who have thrown a buck down the drain–just like last week, and just like next week, too.

A coincidence on the order of the OP, or walor’s example, is rare and striking, but, come on, things like that will happen to somebody from time to time, with or without the intervening hand of Fate, Destiny, or Joey, the God of Basket-Weaving.

I was sitting at home

thinking about how much I’d like to talk to an old friend

(we drifted apart years and years ago

but I know where she lives)

anyway, I decided the time had come to make contact again
and at the precise instant I picked up the telephone directory
the phone rang
I answered it

it was a wrong number.

What an intetresting thread. You all know the definition of coincidence right—> basically it means seemingly planned.

I do not have much time right now, but please check this book out, it will explain a lot.

Beleiving in Magic the Psychology of Superstition.

It looks at coincidence from a scientific standpoint
Great book.

And of course there is the Celestine Prophecy, eventhough its a novel it is quite good in its message. The following books are good as well…

OK in all honestness, Seriously Everyone. I think the true reason these types of threads are beneficial and so popular is because people across the globe can relate to stories like the OP. As a matter of fact if we all open up our perceptions to happenings like this one we can clearly see it is happening everywhere. All science aside [which for some of you I know must be difficult] All science aside, coincidence and luck and other such happenings could very well be natural occurances that our perceptions tell us are abnormal, but in actuality they are quite natural…

Great thread mothman

I guess I didn’t make this analogy as clear as I should have.

I’m saying that the whole situation – your aunt meeting her cousin – is the equivalent of one of those 40 flips.

I agree that the chances of your aunt and cousin meeting were almost incomprehensibly small. So are the odds that you’ll win the next 8-digit lotto. But someone wins that lotto every time, and they probably don’t ascribe their luck to some kind of supernatural force.

As a collective group of 200 million people, we expect that over the course of a year, dozens of people will win the lotto. Just as we expect dozens of people to experience coincidences like your aunt meeting her cousin.


The lottery has to do with chance. What are the chances of you winning the lottery when you buy one ticket and there are 3 million dispensed… Well when you think about it, look at the amounts in the lottery. Lets say the jackpot was 1million. Then on wednesday’s lotto no one wins [ you see people don’t win every time] then the week after the lotto is 10million, then no one wins. so on and so forth the lottery is all of a sudden up to 102million. Then you get 5,6,7 million people playing because the stakes are higher and low and behold, 1 little old couple wins… What are the odds for that [I am not literally asking] I know the odds are astronomical.

There is of course the gamblers fallacy, basically stated a gambler loses, loses, and then says third time “I’M DUE” third times a charm. Thats a fallacy, he’s not due. He thinks he is…

What I am getting at is when the occurance happens that is way out of the ordinary and mystical most people shuff it off as a pure coincidence. If there is something in the universe that makes this happen, or if there is something the we as humans do to make this happen, I do not know.

Again great thread