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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coincidence Threshold

This particular posting appeared in Dilbert blog of Scott Adams.

Coincidence Threshold
Jul 16, 2010 | General Nonsense | Permalink
You probably saw the story about the woman who won the lottery for the fourth time. Some say the odds of that are 1 out of 18 septillion. I think almost everyone who reads this blog assumes it wasn't luck, and that there was some criminal activity involved. But it made me wonder if humans have some sort of innate and similar view of where coincidence fails as an explanation. Let's test that.
Let's say a mysterious man appears at your door and tells you that you have a special power. If you write the name of a person on a piece of paper and put it in a sock overnight, that person will die. You try it once out of curiosity, picking the name of some scoundrel from the news so you won't feel bad if it works. And sure enough, that person dies of a heart attack that very night.
Your first thought might be that as a general rule, scoundrels live risky lifestyles. You might have gotten lucky on that one. So you try it again the next night with a new name, and that person is also dead by morning. You try it twenty times, never telling anyone else of your experiment, and each time it works before sunrise the next day.
You can imagine a variety of explanations for your experience. You might be crazy, or dreaming, or experiencing selective memory. Maybe the mysterious man who told you of this method is somehow watching you and putting out the hit order on the name you choose, for reasons that you can't understand. Maybe you're just good at recognizing when people's time has come. Maybe you are part of some sort of science experiment or reality show. Perhaps there are a dozen other explanations.
My question to you is this: How many times could you repeat this experiment alone, with whatever controls or privacy you could muster, before you believed your actions were causing specific people to die?
For me it would be somewhere around the fourth person.

Earlier too there were similar posts by him on Freaky happenings, one of which I have reproduced in my own posting titled 'Synchronicity".
For some months now, while returning from Cherthala by Aleppey- Chennai express, I travel past Trissur Railway station and get down only at Punkunnam for two reasons. Firstly, I don't have to negotiate the overbridge and secondly my driver can park the car nearby without paying any parking fee. When the train pulls out of Trissur station, I get up and stand by the door of the compartment so that I can quickly get down when the train halts at Punkunnam station. This has been the routine for sometime now. On 11th August, 2010 while standing at the door of the compartment, suddenly for no reason I thought of my train journeys to Mumbai from Madras/Bangalore while on Inspection duties. As the train approached a particular station not very far from Mumbai, the passengers used to pull down the metallic shutters. The precaution was well worth as there was a virtual shower of stones thrown at the train while it approached the station.
That was nearly fifteen years ago. I do not remember the name of the station now.
While my train was passing under the Kottappuram bridge, I idly speculated that if I stood at the door, a little inside the compartment facing in the opposite direction in which the train was travelling, then the velocity of any missile thrown at me will be reduced by the speed of the train and I might escape any serious injury. On the other hand, if I stood facing in the direction of travel of the train the speed of the train would increase the effective velocity of the projectile and it may cause substantial injury. A little sheepishly I changed sides to comply with my silly reasoning. Nothing happened that day and I got down at Punkunnam station and went home.
As I said, that was on the 11th.Aug. Two days later I saw a report in Mathrubhumi about a passenger being hit by a stone. He was travelling by Cannanore-Ernakulam express and he was hit when the train was passing under the Kottappuram Bridge almost exactly at the spot where the random thought came to me a couple of days previously. The stone hit him on the forehead and cracked his skull. He must have been facing the direction of travel of the train and the speed of the train would have given the stone added momentum.
What would be the odds? It may not be one in a septillion but certainly it must rank as a very strange coincidence. To add to the odds, the victim's father is a previous employee of Bank of Cochin/SBI whom I know personally.
The good news. The boy will survive and may soon be out of the hospital. The Railways should offer a substantial reward for information on the stone thrower. If the reward is adequate, there will be squealers. And if the guy is caught he should be charged with attempted murder. The stone could have killed the passenger.


















 

6 comments:

  1. Ram Mohan to raju
    Aug 20

    ur Kottupuram bridge thoughts were interesting. Talking of thoughts while travelling, I have for some time now been experiencing some kind of disorientation while sitting in a plane, which is on take-off or landing. I cannot recall at that moment which place I am & I have to make an effort to remember. Someone gave an explanation that this may be due to lack of oxygen supply to the brain, brought about by the effect of g-forces while on take-off or landing. What is ur take on this ?
    I saw today a report in Mathrubhoomi about the demise of one Venugopal, DGM of SBI, living in Shornur Road, Trichur. U must be knowing him ?
    Rgds, Ram Mohan

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  2. Clairvoyance or just probability at work?
    "Coincidences often surprise us, suddenly springing up to reveal an unexpected connection between people or things. Sometimes they seem so outlandish as to demand a “supernatural” explanation. Yet anyone familiar with probability theory knows how this notoriously counter-intuitive branch of mathematics can spring big surprises on us. One of the most famous and relevant examples is the so called Birthday Paradox, which states that in a random gathering of just 23 people, there are 50:50 odds that at least two of those present have the same birthday........"
    The above quote is an excerpt from a search on coincidences.
    Your post did make me think on the incident and the impact it had on you. This "synchronicity" has been so internalised that you seem to be "looking out " for such coincidences rather than "finding" one. Well, for me number 3 is a lucky number. I look out for number 3 in all significant dates in my life and find one!
    Thanks for the food for thought.

    Happy Onam to you and Family.

    Unni
    On Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 11:53 AM, raju wrote:

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  3. raj1948k@gmail.com to Unnikrishnan Vappala
    9:19pm

    Probably you are right. The para quoted below is from Scott's earlier post tittled Freaky Happenings.

    Skeptics will point out, rightly, that it would be more amazing if coincidences didn’t happen. You don’t notice all the things that could have been coincidences but weren’t, so when they happen they seem special in our minds

    I have read the Birthday Paradox earlier somewhere, probably as one of the comments to Scott's posting. You know, the Newtoian laws were quite adequate to explain the physical world as we perceive it; but they were totaly inadequate to explain the behaviour of particles of sub-atomic size and speeds approaching the speed of light.Quantum theory and Special Theory of Relativity was needed. One difficulty was it was not possible to measure the exact position of the particle or its speed as the very fact of measuring, perhaps even thought waves, affected both. In the very micro level as well as the very macro level, time, space etc have no rrelevance.

    Shall we say, as the Prince of Denmark said "There are more things in heaven and earth than are spoken of by your philosophy, Horatio". and leave it at that

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  4. my response to Raju's comment on my blog today :
    Your readings and interests are so vast, deep and divergent that the chances of you 'looking out' and 'finding' coincidences are immense. My post just happened! I'm sure you are not convinced.
    Here is what Paulo Coelho had to say : " When we are interested in something, everything around appears to refer to it ... the mystics call these phenomenon 'signs', the skeptics 'coincidence' and the psychologist 'concentrated focus'........
    Coincidently, I read the book 'The Witch of Portobello' around the same time as our above mentioned interaction. Synchronicity?

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  5. Unnikrishnan Vappala to raju
    Apr 29

    I wanted to post this on your blog Coincidence Threshold too; I coudn't do.

    my response to Raju's comment :Your readings and interests are so vast, deep and divergent that the chances of you 'looking out' and 'finding' coincidences are immense. My post just happened! I'm sure you are not convinced.
    Here is what Paulo Coelho had to say : " When we are interested in something, everything around appears to refer to it ... the mystics call these phenomenon 'signs', the skeptics 'coincidence' and the psychologist 'concentrated focus'........
    Coincidently, I read the book 'The Witch of Portobello' around the same time as our above mentioned interaction. Synchronicity?
    April 29, 2011 6:48 PM

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  6. raju said...
    കേരള സാഹിത്യ അക്കാദമിയുടെ, ജനവരി-ഏപ്രില്‍ ലക്കം സാഹിത്യ ലോകം രണ്ടു ദിവസം മുന്‍പാണ് കിട്ടിയത്. ഇന്നലെ വായിച്ചു തുടങ്ങി. ആദ്യം വായിച്ചത് ദിവ്യ.എം. ചേലക്കരയുടെ ഒരു പoനം . 'പള്ളിവാളും കാല്‍ചിലമ്പും' എന്നാ കഥയെ കുറിച്ച്. വൈകുന്നേരം ഇ മെയിലില്‍ ഒരു അറിയിപ്പ്. വാപ്പാല ഉണ്ണികൃഷ്ണന്‍ സ്വന്തം ബ്ലോഗില്‍ എന്തോ എഴുതിയിട്ടുണ്ടെന്ന്. "വെളിച്ചപാട് - ഒരു മിന്നല്‍ പിന്‍നോട്ടം" കുറച്ചു മാസങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് മുമ്പ് ഈ കക്ഷി എന്റെ ഒരു പോസ്ടിങ്ങിനെ പറ്റി കമ്മന്റ് ചെയ്ത കൂട്ടത്തില്‍ പറഞ്ഞു 'This "synchronicity" has been so internalised that you seem to be "looking out " for such coincidences rather than "finding" one" ഇത് കൂടി കക്ഷിയുടെ ചിന്തകള്‍ക്ക് ആഹാരമായിക്കോട്ടേ

    ദിവ്യ പറയുന്നു. "ഒരു കഥയെ നില നിര്‍ത്തുന്നത് അതിന്റെ വായനാ പരതയാണ്. .....എം. ടി. യുടെ കഥകള്‍ കാലാതിവര്‍ത്തിയാകും എന്നത് നിസ്തര്‍ക്കമാണ്". ഞാന്‍ വാപ്പാലയോട് യോജിക്കുന്നു. രാമായണം, മഹാഭാരതം തുടങ്ങി ചില പുസ്തകങ്ങള്‍ അല്ലാതെ മറ്റൊന്നും കാലാതിവര്‍ത്തിയല്ല.
    April 29, 2011 1:09 PM

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