The High Probability of Coincidence

Coincidences are quite likely.

The odds of any particular coincidence will be quite small. But there are so many possible coincidences that the odds of any coincidence are very high.

Take any deck of cards. Shuffle it, ideally 7 times*. What are the odds that you find a pair of queens on the top of the deck? About half a percent, it turns out. Very small.

CardShuffleBut what are the odds of finding a pair of any kind, anywhere in the deck? I don’t know actually. That’s hard to calculate. But it’s much, much larger.  Go ahead, check for yourself. I just tried it five different times myself, and never failed to find at least one pair. Often more than one.

This is probably fairly obvious. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to lose sight of it.

Before a presidential election, for example, news magazines tend to fill up with stories about weird things that can predict the results. They’re played for laughs, of course. But when you see these articles discussed in comments, you’ll find lots of readers determined to explain “why” these coincidences work.

Some of them may have explanations, it’s true.** But the point is, these coincidences don’t need explaining because their existence is not unlikely.

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