Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Nature Of Coincidence

Coincidence has always struck me as an interesting human observation. We find connections in things, some of which are there, and some of which are not. Either way, we enjoy connections. I find the concept of coincidence specifically interesting when put into the context of religion or superstition. Someone may associate a coincidence with an act of God, an answering of a prayer, or the result of a superstition or curse. Typically, if the observer is less swayed by the supernatural they may simply find the array of connections interesting. Now, for the most part this is a harmless occurrence, though, the perpetuation of a false belief in the context of mere coincidences could be harmful to ones long term development. By this I mean that continually believing that the root of a coincidence is something other than just a random improbable connection of events could limit ones imagination. This prevents you from looking beyond the resulting action and eliminates the need to look deeper. It is then that we may learn something new.

Let’s take an extreme example. Someone sees a rainbow. If they immediately account its creation to a higher being they may never think to study it closer. They would lose out on the opportunity to learn about the rainbow, thereby understanding that it is the result of an entire series of events. A rainbow is a fascinating event, photons reflecting and refracting slightly different at different wavelengths, splitting apart the spectrum. There are a myriad of physical processes which all play their role and create a rainbow. By immediately associating a coincidence to something more that a rare series of events we miss out on some of the hidden beauty in life. They say that ignorance is bliss, but in this case you must sacrifice a deep profound beauty which is evident in the multitude of subtle interactions for that bliss.

This problem is a result of the nature of coincidence, and maybe a little bit about how we act as humans. A coincidence may happen once in a while and it stands out among the normal. Thus, we notice it. Though, we don’t necessarily perceive the multitude of times in which things happen to be perfectly normal. Therefore, we do not have an appropriate perception of the rarity of the coincidence. This manifests itself in the context of belief. If we see coincidences often and presume them to be common we make it easier to account them to something greater than random, thereby invoking a connection between the connections. This can potentially create scenarios, and we do this often, where we see more in things than there really is.

This in no way discredits God or any belief for that matter, he might just as well be behind all the events which lead to a coincidence. What this does show is that humans are naturally predisposed towards believing in a superior force or being primarily due to a lack of understanding of probability. At least, that’s what I believe.

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