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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

A Higher Intelligence May Be Signaling This Statistician

A very low probability coincidence involving him still fails to sway him.

Statistician David Hand is convinced that all coincidences can be best explained by probability, even when confronted with an outlandish one directly involving him. In an article published 10/16/17 on-line in the Wall Street Journal, Hand notes the uncanny parallels between his life and the life of a fictional statistician. "The same month his (Hand's) improbability book (The Improbability Principle) was published, a novel “Coincidence” was published in the U.S., which told the story of a London-based professor who is making a study of coincidences, like Prof. Hand. The female protagonist teaches at the same university as Prof. Hand’s wife. The fictional and real professor shared the same birthday—June 30. J.W. Ironmonger, who wrote “Coincidence,” says he never came across Prof. Hand or his work before the book was published." The parallels:

  1. Male professor studying coincidences,

  2. female protagonist teaches as same University as Hand's wife,

  3. 1/365 chance of having the same birthday, and

  4. both books published the same month!

Multiply the probabilities of each to get the total improbability. That number will be very small. That low probability suggests, does not prove, that other explanations need to be considered. But no. As much as the professor is touched by the coincidence, he sees no other explanation than probability. Bias characterizes human thinking. The most puzzling version involves valid information that challenges a belief but has no effect in changing the person's cherished point of view. I believe that J.W. Ironmonger tuned into information existing in the Psychosphere, our mental atmosphere, to help him create the character and the novel. Our minds can creatively thrive in this mental atmosphere. Professor Hand's own experience challenges his dearly held belief in the total explanatory power of statistics. He mistakes the part for the whole. Every coincidence has a probability of having happened. That key characteristic should not be mistaken for the entire explanation.

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