The Method Section: Coincedence – Timestamps

00:00 – Introduction

00:58 – Where did coincidence come from?

02:05 – What is coincidence

05:02 – Why we see coincidence

06:38 – Where we must accept randomness and coincidence

10:44 – Explaining examples of coincidence

15:54 – Take-aways and conclusion

17:15 – Outro and goodbye!


You can listen to The Method Section by using the player above, searching for “The Conduct Science Podcast” on any place you listen to your podcasts, using any of the links below or you can download it HERE!This week on The Method Section, Tom explores the reality of coincidences and randomness, and why it is something for scientists to consider. Is it something that we all too often use to explain away seemingly odd things, does it prevent us from looking at things closer and finding their true cause and when does coincidence really come into play? Find out in this episode! Music by: Joakim Karud –






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Tom:                      Hello Ladies and gentlemen and welcome. I am your host Tom Jenks and today I’m going to be talking to you about coincidence. What is it? Why is it so important to consider and do we use it to explain too much about the world around us? Stay tuned to The Method Section.

Tom:                      yes, that’s right. Welcome toThe Method Section, a short form podcast aimed at scientists, old and new. And once again I’m going to say today applies to everyone whether you are a veteran scientist or a new one coming into the field now. So the thing I wanted to speak about as I just said is coincidence. Is it something we rely on too heavily to explain certain things that happen that we don’t understand? Well today I aim to explore that a little bit. So when did coincidence kind of arise? I think that’s a good place to start. We have to assume that coincidence and the word and the and the thought of coincidence actually arose with the starting of the decline of religion. So in that sense, coincidence is relatively new. Now, why do we, why have I said that? Well before that you’ve got to think stuff that we would call coincidences now we were just explained by saying, oh it’s maybe ghosts or it’s a spiritual thing or or a religious thing. This is what is explaining these like a spiritual power is explaining what we might call coincidences today. Now without those spiritual explanations with that moving away from God, as societally we seem to be, we look for answers in these things we formally had an explanation for and in today’s world people either assign that same spirits or one or a scientific one, which is randomness or coincidence.

Tom:                      Now I am talking about them kind of the same here. I know they are different. Coincidence is a type of randomness or one that seems unexplainable that similar circumstances or things have happened that seem to match up with no explanation or cause. Whereas randomness is just purely things happening without any method or explanation that we can figure out in the moment. And that’s an important thing that I’m going to add on to that definition.

Tom:                      So then what is coincidence? If we think of the laws of science that which we have discovered, we can explain but that which we do not yet understand, appears to be random to us and there are some events that we will put as a coincidence. For example, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 75 million years ago and led to our, all the mammals being able to take over the world and eventually to our evolution is heralded as a complete coincidence that earth happened to be in the same region of space that the asteroid was flying through and whilst yes it is, it’s also not because randomness as I just said is any event or circumstance that has arisen without, without a proper method. But if we are to take that assumption, we also know that nature only works through certain laws. It never disobeys these laws. So then randomness becomes events which are unlikely to happen and scientifically that is exactly why we use a 95% confidence hypothesis marker. We statistically work out how likely it is this thing is to happen and our kind of boundary for accepting a theory or a hypothesis is 95% if it happens less than 95% of our simulations or hypothesis or statistics, then we reject it. In the common word outside of science. We kind of used random to explain just kind of everyday things that really if you look a bit deeper aren’t random, it has lost that mathematical value to it. And I guess this is kind of where we started to get a bit philosophical with it is because if we knew everything and we could make the calculations about everything, we would discover that really nothing is truly random in quotation marks. There seems to be perceived randomness, which is the things that we cannot explain and randomness in the sense of ignorance, randomness in the sense of we do not have the knowledge to explain yet, even.

Tom:                      There are a few reasons why in psychology that they say we see coincidence a lot on, I want to run through a couple of them here because I just found it incredibly interesting. So firstly, we have confirmation bias and this is if we really want to see the couple of things lineup that appear random in our brain, we will convince ourselves that they are connected somehow just because we want to see it. Then you have selection bias. We will overly look at the times that something did happen, but kind of disregard the times that it didn’t. And because we do that subconsciously, we remember the times it did happen. Even if that was minuscule compared to the times that it didn’t. And we’ll still hold that in our head as such a profound thing. One of the last ones I want to mention is the law of near enough. This is where things don’t have to be exact for us to believe that there is a connection and this is why, again, it’s so important for science and as scientists to challenge coincidences. Not just say, oh, that’s a coincidence, but look and say, oh, that’s coincidental. Why am I seeing this? And that is exactly why we have the 95% confidence hypothesis marker or even the 99% because once we shed light and open up a new paradigm, that is where the illusion of randomness will disappear.

Tom:                      Now on the other hand, of course we are not there yet at all and that is looking at randomness from a complete mathematical point of view and if you had all the knowledge you would know exactly how to calculate everything and nothing is truly, truly random but just probability. However, there is coincidence and randomness in the sense that we don’t know and will never be at the conscious capability. We’ll never have the conscious capability of being able to figure it out, especially on the fly in everyday situations. So since that is the case, there always will be this type of ignorant randomness to the world and it is completely natural and human to presume that there’s lots of randomness and to spot it. It’s just what our brains do. And one of the reasons why that is kind of hard to accept that there always will be randomness because as I just said, it is in our nature to question our reality. You know, one of the biggest questions that humans have tried to answer and are still trying to answer is why am I here? Why was I born? Why me? Because our perspective is so personal and isolated and obviously our social history has been geared towards us being created, especially here in the Western world under Christianity. So we always kind of ask like, why was I chosen? And people find it scary to think that coincidence is such a powerful force that is complete coincidence that you turned out the way that you are and that humans exist at all. And what I mean by coincidence in that sense is just a complete infinitesimal probability that it was going to happen. But circling back round to this, why me idea is, you know, a woman gave birth to a child and that child had to have a mind. It had to develop into something. And I mean there are 8 billion people in the world. And so while the chances of each individual, one being you is small. I mean it had to happen. There had to be an outcome and there had to be a conscious mind growing in that individual. And it’s turned out to be you. It’s not that you were chosen, it’s that your world built you up.

Tom:                      But that being said, I’m not attacking religion here at all. I think there’s absolutely no reason why science and religion can’t get along. Many of the most famous scientists in history were religious. I mean, Einstein famously says that God doesn’t play dice on this very kind of particular topic. And he was talking about quantum mechanics there and he did come around to the idea eventually. But I think maybe what he meant was in quantum mechanics we say things appear disappear, it’s random. Okay, great. But maybe what Einstein meant by God doesn’t play dice is not only do we not have randomness here, but we just do not understand what is going on. So to us it appears random, but there is a law there and we will figure it out one day. And then of course you have Darwin. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection coauthored by Alfred Russell Wallace won’t forget him, is often held up as the complete opposite of Christianity and I guess it is the opposite of creationism but he was a Christian and he discovered or found the theory of evolution. So there is no reason why in theory and in practice that religion and science cannot get on. And in many ways societaly science has taken the place of religion for many people. However, that is its whole own topic that we might cover on the main podcast at some point.

Tom:                      Now before we kind of like rounded this up, I just kind of wanted to go over some amazing examples of some coincidences and show that true coincidences really are a thing and that we just kind of have to be careful how we categorize different things and that if something seems like a coincidence, it can often be fabricated or made that way and well, you’ll see what I mean. So firstly, the digits in the speed of light exactly match the latitude of the pyramid of Giza. Now to some, that might seem absolutely amazing and incredible and more proof that aliens built the pyramids. However, there are some things that if you look a bit deeper, you realize it’s not a coincidence. So in this, in the latitude they went to about nine decimal places, maybe even more. But once you get to four decimal places on the latitude number, it only moves at most a couple of meters, right? And The pyramid of Giza is many hundreds of meters across. So it covers a large, large area and they went to about nine decimal places. So they are probably moving millimeters, which means within that area of the pyramid of Giza, it was very easy for them to match up the exact number of the digits of the speed of light and the latitude of the pyramid of Giza. Then there was, you know, a whole nother one where with Neil Armstrong and him coming on the moon and if you play his clip where he is stepping out onto the moon and he says “one small step for man”. And if you take that little bit and you play it backwards, it sounds like “man will space walk”. And people are like, ah, it’s a hidden message. It’s all of this. Uh, but no, it’s just coincidental. This is a true coincidence in this sense that one small step for man played backwards no matter who says it sounds like, man will space walk. That is just a true coincidence in the truest sense. And that can be described mathematically. Uh, there’s also Apothenia, which is where we see faces in objects that don’t have faces. You know, maybe the front of the car has got the two headlights and the grill in the middle. We like, ah, that’s a happy car. It’s smiling. It’s not really, it just coincidentally looks like that and our brains pick up on it because evolutionarily it might be quite advantageous to spot the faces in the bush or phases that we recognize all the, you know, many millions of emotions can that can be expressed within the face. And this next one’s kind of funny actually, when apple first released their shuffle play option on iTunes and all iPods and phones and things like this, it was totally random. It was well as random as you can make a computer program more so than us anyway, very random. But they received tons and tons of complaints because they would see artists line up. Like you’d get artists the same artists consecutive times in a row and they would say it doesn’t feel random because it doesn’t match what humans think random is. So they went back, they wrote a new code, they reworked it and they made it less random. So it felt more random. So in the sense that it wasn’t completely random, they made an algorithm that shows certain songs that is more likely to feel more random to us.

Tom:                      And the last one I want to talk about is on the face of it seems incredibly extraordinary and unlikely, but once you dig down into it, you realize it’s not. So there was this man called Walter Summerford and he got hit by lightning three times in his life, it never killed him. His gravestone got hit by lightning for a fourth time. Now obviously everyone in the village and everyone has kind of heard of that has gone, oh my God, that. So coincidental, it’s the same person who’s been hit four times, well three whilst alive and once whilst dead. But then if you kind of zoom out, if you kind of take a look at the situation properly, just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And if you think lightning hits earth hundreds of times every second, and there are billions of humans to hit, and there are thousands of years of recorded history, it must have happened once. A story must have happened like this once, but to people in the immediate area, of course it’s going to be unlikely. But if you look at that, this is an isolated case, of course you’re like, oh my God. Wow. Whereas once you kind of take everything into account, even though it’s so small, such a small chance of occurring, it must have happened once. Just the chance that it must have.

Tom:                      So that leads us onto our takeaways. As you guys know, this is a shorter form podcast I try and aim for 15 to 20 minutes. And I think the main message here is just because something seems unlikely to us, our natural instinct is to kind of, you know, say it’s coincidence or chance or random, but this should inspire our curiosity as scientists to find out the randomness that does exist in our universe and open that new paradigm so we don’t look at it as random anymore. On the other hand, randomness is a thing. There are some things we just cannot predict and take into account. So it will give us that sense of randomness that we innately have as humans. And that human randomness is different to true randomness. True randomness. Maybe one day we can figure out, but human randomness, what we feel is random, what we expect to be random isn’t. So take that into consideration within your research, within your work, within your everyday life, wherever it’s going to help you. I think this is an important thing just to kind of touch on in mind. If you’re a veteran scientist, just kind of remind you, I’m sure you’ve figured this out and amazing and if you’re a new scientist, take this into consideration when you venture through your career.

Tom:                      However, that is everything I wanted to cover this week guys, so thank you so much for listening. If you want to check out all the latest goings on, you can go to you can find us on Facebook and Twitter by searching @conductscience and if you have any questions, please use the #AskConductScience. I’d be more than happy to help answer them either on this show or the main podcast with Mitch. If you guys are listening on iTunes or Spotify or any other podcasts database, please make sure to give us a follow or a rating. It really helps us out. So that’s it from me this week. So I’ll see you guys…. A-next time.