We’ve all had it happen – you talk about a song you haven’t heard in a long time and the next day you hear it – “We were just talking about this!” Or you are vacationing thousands of miles away from home, and totally unexpectedly run into someone from your hometown! Coincidences often make a good story, but do they mean something more?
According to philosopher and author Dr. Sharon Rawlette, the mathematical odds behind many coincidences are nothing short of a miracle.
A coincidence changed the course of her career: In 2015, on a weekend getaway in Pennsylvania with a friend, Dr. Rawlette and her friend were trying to find a grocery store. Using her phone’s voice command her friend asked GPS to locate the nearest grocery store, then handed the phone to Dr. Rawlette to read. The map showed grocery stores not in Pennsylvania, but in Carhaix, France. In the weeks before the trip, Dr. Rawlette had been thinking of a friend in France. They had fallen out of touch, but he was on her mind. The incident with the phone prompted her to contact her friend. He was happy to hear from her, and as they caught up, he told her about his recent trip – to Carhaix! They discovered he was actually visiting there the same day her phone GPS showed her the town.
Intrigued, Dr. Rawlette spent the next five years collecting accounts and reviewing research on coincidences. This resulted in her book “The Source and Significance of Coincidences.”
Dr. Rawlette found the events she studied were both highly improbable and highly significant. In some cases, she found that the odds that an improbable event occurred, and that it had significance to the experiencer, were astronomical. So unlikely that it appears to point to a divine force working behind the scenes.
“The improbability factor can be calculated mathematically. Of course, each situation is unique, but here’s a hypothetical. Let’s say you’re thinking of calling a friend but you keep putting it off. You happen to play a board game with your family. Each turn in the game requires you to roll the dice seven times. During one of your turns, you realize that, when strung together, your rolls add up exactly to your friend’s phone number.
Incredible, right? Dr. Rawlette calculates that the probability of any combination of numbers on seven dice rolls is 1 in 279,936. That’s pretty unlikely. But what’s the probability of rolling that combination of numbers at the same time that you’re thinking of calling your friend? What’s the probability that this string of random numbers will mean something to you?”
That speaks to the next part of the calculation – significance. Many coincidences are not only improbable, but also carry a strong emotional weight for the person experiencing the coincidence. Dr. Rawlette describes another case, “…a woman who, feeling lonely and dejected, was staring out her window at a magnolia tree. She wished for a sign from God, something to let her know he was with her. As soon as she had that thought, she watched one of the tree’s flower buds, tightly closed just moments before, unfurl before her eyes. Not only was this woman improbably there and watching at the precise moment the flower opened, but the event satisfied a deep spiritual need for her as well.”
Whether initially calming or strange, these experiences ultimately lead us to a place of strong faith and healing. “They help us learn something about ourselves and our relationship to God,” says Dr. Rawlette. “Our spirit is expanded by the way those experiences influence us.”
For Dr. Rawlette, these events also bring a newfound comfort by showing us the intricate interconnectivity between all things. “Look at how the outside world is reflecting what you feel inside! We’re all connected,” says Dr. Rawlette. “We are never as isolated as we feel.”
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications
Source: Guideposts. The Probability and Significance of Coincidences.