Monday, October 10, 2016


Once when I was in Vegas playing Twenty-One, the dealer got three blackjacks in a row.  The people at the table started grumbling.  The pit boss came over and said "hey, that could even happen in an honest game."

I put the odds at over 70,000 to 1, but the pit boss is right.  If you play long enough, you'll notice all sorts of statistical anomalies.  That's part of the point of Fluke, a new book by mathematician Joseph Mazur.  People look at mysterious coincidences and often see something deeper, though if they properly analyze them they might not be so mystified.

Still, as Mazur admits, such moments are fascinating.  So I thought I'd mention the two biggest coincidences in my life I can remember.  Perhaps others were just as big, but these are the two that stick with me.

1) Years ago I was walking around Ann Arbor, thinking about an old friend from high school.  Next thing you know, I bump into him.  There was no reason to expect him to be there. He didn't live there and had not attended the University of Michigan.  But there he was, nonetheless.  The next week I flew to Los Angeles.  Walking around Venice Beach, I ran into him again.  Once again, no reason to expect him to be there--he didn't live anywhere near California.

2)  I met a stranger in a used bookstore in Pasadena.  He told me he had some old CDs I might want to look at and consider purchasing. I gave him my number and told him to call me and we could plan to meet.  The next day I get a call and he says meet him at a certain corner in Hollywood.  It happened to be the corner where I lived.  I thought he must have somehow looked up my address (this is before it was easy to do this from a phone number) and was sort of creeped out.  But as it happened, he lived on the same corner, just in a different apartment building.  So I went outside to meet him, and while waiting decided to sit down at a bench outside the local convenience store.  I looked at the guy sitting across from me, drinking a Coke.  It was an old friend from college.  I had no reason to expect he was visiting Los Angeles, and, in fact, he was not in town to see me.  He didn't even know where I lived.  It was a hot day and he had simply stopped there to get a Coke. 

Maybe these two stories are so memorable because they're double coincidences.

By the way, when I was looking at new books in the library and saw Fluke: The Math And Myth Of Coincidence, next on the bookshelf was The Math Myth.  What are the odds two books using the same play on words would be published around the same time?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was with you until the end. Publishers talk to each other and even if they don't deliberately copy ideas, they hear things. I am reading Underground Airlines and the Underground Railroad both alt history/fantasy novels recently released with a fair amount of publicity bases on the historical underground railroad for example

5:00 AM, October 10, 2016  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Choose the blue pill.

6:01 AM, October 10, 2016  

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