Coincidences. Déjà vu. Freak occurrences. They happen to all of us. How should we think about them?
Trinity, in The Matrix, says, “a déjà vu is usually a glitch in the matrix. It happens when they change something.” She’s implying déjà vu is by design. A lot of people believe some version of this, and we’re not going to be critical of that view here. Set the religious / mystical / universal explanations aside for a minute.
George Carlin inverts the concept to help us get bit more towards what we’re considering. He says, “…you ever get that funny little feeling vuja de? No, not déjà vu. This is the strange feeling that somehow, this has never happened before. And then it’s gone.”
It happens to all of us, and often times we’re left saying, “wow. What are the odds?”
Without using statistics, we can focus on a logical error called “the lottery fallacy.”
The most common type of lottery is where a large group of people wager a small amount of money in hopes of winning a large pot of money. If 1 million people play (for a small price), we might expect one of those million people to win a big prize (a big payoff).
The lottery fallacy reminds us that it’s extremely unlikely for me or you to be the lucky winner, but it’s extremely likely for someone to be the winner.
The lottery fallacy reminds us that someone is not anyone.
We call it a fallacy because it’s a mistake to confuse the reality that anyone could be someone, with the incredibly small odds of the likelihood of knowing which one in advance.
Lottery winners are rare by definition of the game, but since there are lots of games going on (as evidenced by the games behind my local gas station’s counter), there are going to be lots of someone’s who are actually winning on any given day with way more anyone’s losing at those same games.
The same goes for hearing a song you were just thinking of on the radio, knowing who is going to call before you answer a ringing phone (without caller ID, maybe this one isn’t really a thing anymore), and being shocked that the person you just met has a brother who shares your very birthday.
When we experience coincidences or déjà vu, we have to ask ourselves what the odds are that this thing would have happened to someone. Not ourselves, not just anyone, but someone. Some. One.
The crazy coincidences are far more common than we naturally give them credit for. Be wary of people, marketers, advertisers, or others who distort these odds into a convenient story that appeals to our basic instincts.
We’re all suckers for a story, and one that’s rooted in rarified odds can have magical properties. You’ve been warned.