When we find out we have the same name as the person sitting next to us on the bus or went to high school with our newest coworker, we may wonder what led to such a coincidence. But are coincidences signs, or are they just random events that seem more meaningful to us than they are? According to Mathematician Joseph Mazur, it's the latter, Hello Giggles reports.
One common type of coincidence is to see someone we know, but according to Mazur, it's statically likely that this will happen a lot because we all know so many people. "People think that their address book is essentially the people they know, and it turns out any address book is about one percent of the people they know in some way," he told NPR.
Another kind of coincidence is seemingly getting really lucky. A woman named Joan Ginther, for example, won the lottery four times. It might seem like it was her destiny to become filthy rich. But if you think about it, once something like the lottery is around for long enough, unlikely things are bound to start happening — especially given how many people play. As statistician David Hand said, "extremely improbable events are commonplace." Plus, after they've won so much money, many lottery winners buy a lot of tickets again, making their chances higher than the typical one to five million.
Even though coincidences can be explained away by math, Mazur still finds them cool. He's particularly charmed by a string of coincidences that happened to poet Emile Deschamps, who ran into a man named Monsieur de Fortgibu three times. Every single time, they were in the presence of plum pudding. If coincidences are the universe's way of sending us a sign, we'd really like to know what that one meant.