You Shouldn't Grade Coincidences (Unless You're a Jerk)
In the middle of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which is a play that hinges on a wild sequence of coincidences, Fabian comments on the madness: "if this were played on a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction" and I'm sure this same idea flashed across the collective consciousness of millions of baseball fans last Thursday night when Derek Jeter, during his final at bat in Yankee stadium, drove in the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning with a walk-off single . . . it seemed too perfect, an "improbable fiction," but-- as Shakespeare well knew-- coincidences happen all the time . . . they are a product of statistical likelihood-- but no one wants to hear about probability if the event in question happened to them personally . . . no one wants their coincidence "graded" because if the coincidence happened to you, then you believe it is special; for example, my wife saw a car the other day with four bumper stickers, each advertising a geographical location: Highland Park, Ireland, Ocean Grove, and Chatham, and she thought it was especially coincidental that she had been to all four of those places but I argued that people who had been to two of them had likely been to all four, and that an astronomical number of people saw the back of this car-- because we live in a densely populated state-- and that many of them had the same experience as her, thus diluting the uniqueness of her coincidence, but this didn't matter to my wife, who found the event special from her point of view . . . if you like this topic, then you'll love the Radiolab podcast A Very Lucky Wind, which explores coincidence in both a rational and emotional manner . . . and includes a metaphor which ruined my older son's appreciation of the magic of coincidences; a golfer drives a ball out onto the fairway and it lands on a particular blade of grass and this blade of grass cannot believe that he's been selected out of all the blades of grass in the world, that the ball landed on him, but from our point of view, this isn't special at all, because the ball had to land somewhere . . . so when one of the players on my son's soccer team expressed his amazement at the fact that the guy who moved in next door to him had the exact same name as him, my son Alex was not particularly moved by this event and later said to me, "it's like the golf ball and the blade of grass, people are moving all over the place and eventually someone is going to move next to another person with the same name."