liberal studies

What a Coincidence.
Authors:
PATUREL, AMY
Source:
Discover; Sep2018, Vol. 39 Issue 7, p24-26, 2p, 1 Color Photograph
Document Type:
Article
Subject Terms:
COINCIDENCE
SPIRITUALITY
REALITY
EINSTEIN, Albert, 1879-1955
KAMMERER, Paul
Abstract:
The article discusses the notion of uncanny coincidences. Particular focus is given to how this relates to synchronicities, indicators of an invisible network that connects everyone and everything. Additional topics discussed include the fringe claim that invisible forces make things happen,” scientists that have commented on synchronicities, including Albert Einstein and Paul Kammerer, and how those that describe themselves as religious or spiritual are more likely to experience coincidences.
Lexile:
1030
Full Text Word Count:
1479
ISSN:
02747529
Accession Number:
130540815
Notes:
Saint Leo University library subscribes to this title.

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What a Coincidence
Contents
WE ARE ALL CONNECTED
ORDER OUT OF CHAOS
CULTIVATING COINCIDENCE
Connect With Coincidence
Full Text
Section:
COLUMNS & DEPARTMENTS
Whats really going on when we encounter uncanny connections?

It was just a few days shy of my first Thanksgiving without my dad at least as Id known him. Hed had heart surgery in January 2017, followed by complications ranging from strokes to a life-threatening bacterial infection. The repeated assaults on his system transformed him. Last Thanksgiving, he had run circles around my 3-year-old. This year, he sat motionless in a chair, unable to spoon his own mashed potatoes.

I needed a distraction. So I hit eBay in search of a license plate for my boys transportation-themed bedroom. I decided to look for a Massachusetts plate, because I spent a lot of time there with my dad.

When the first one popped up, the numbers nearly leapt off my screen. It was a 1938 plate, the same year my dad was born, with the numbers 143264. My mom was born in February (2) of 1943, and they married in 1964. I contacted the seller, who told me the plate was part of his fathers vintage collection. He had thousands of them.

I lost my dad last December, after a 10-year battle with Parkinsons disease, he wrote. He was my best friend. Every time I box up a plate, it kills me, but I do it for my son and nephews college fund.

Was it a coincidence that almost all of the numbers lined up with different aspects of my parents lives? That the seller and I shared a yearning for dads who were no longer there? The majority of scientists say its simple mathematics. Some researchers subscribe to the fringe claim that invisible forces make things happen. But most camps agree such scenarios are part of our brains innate need to create order out of chaos and we experience them more often when were paying attention.

WE ARE ALL CONNECTED
Stumbling upon that 1938 plate at the moment I was missing my dad and the fact that the plate led me to someone who was also missing his dad isnt a coincidence. At least according to psychiatrist Bernard Beitman, a visiting psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences professor at the University of Virginia, and a coincidence researcher.

He says its synchronicities, indicators of an invisible network that connects everyone and everything. Beitman suspects humans transmit some unobserved energetic information, which other people then process or organize into emotion and behavior.

Just as sharks have ampullae in their skin that detect small electromagnetic changes to help them locate their prey its plausible, maybe even probable, that humans have similar mechanisms that detect coincidences, he says.

Theres no evidence for this, but hes not the first one to pursue this fringe line of thinking. Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer believed coincidences arise out of unknown forces, or waves, that he called seriality. He wrote a book on the subject in 1919. Albert Einstein even commented on it, saying it was by no means absurd. And in the 1950s, psychiatrist Carl Jung came up with a similar idea, his so-called synchronicity theory, to describe these bizarre occurrences.

The most pervasive argument, though, may be a combination of our brains need to seek patterns and order, and plain ol math.

ORDER OUT OF CHAOS
A 2015 study published in New Ideas in Psychology reported that coincidences are an inevitable consequence of the mind searching for causal structure in reality. That search for structure is a mechanism that allows us to learn and adapt to our environment.

The very definition of coincidence relies on us picking out similarities and patterns. Once we spot a regularity, we learn something about what events go together and how likely they are to occur, says Magda Osman, an experimental psychologist at the University of London and one of the studys authors. And these are valuable sources of information to begin to navigate the world.

But its not only recognizing the pattern that makes a coincidence. Its also the meaning we ascribe to it especially meaning that provides solace or clarification. So when we see an unusual configuration, we think it must hold some significance, that it must be special. Yet most statisticians argue that unlikely occurrences happen frequently because there are so many opportunities for surprising events to happen. Its chance, says David Spiegelhalter, a risk researcher at the University of Cambridge.

Spiegelhalter collects anecdotes of coincidences. In fact, hes accumulated more than 5,000 stories since 2012 as part of an ongoing project. In 2016, an independent data firm analyzed these stories and revealed 28 percent of them involve dates and numbers. But no matter what the nature of a coincidence is, Spiegelhalter claims coincidences are in the eye of the beholder.

A classic example: In a room of 23 people, theres just over a 50/50 chance two of them will share a birthday. Most of us would view that as an inexplicable coincidence, but mathematical law suggests such events are random and bound to happen. Any meaning we attribute to them is all in our heads.

Take the tale of my license plate and how the numbers jumped out at me. Had it instead been the full date of your fathers birth, or your mothers, or your own, or some other combination of these, then you would still have thought it striking, says David Hand, a mathematics professor at the Imperial College London and author of The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles and Rare Events Happen Every Day. The point is, there are lots of ways an interesting number could arise. If any of these lots of ways would make you take notice, then its not so unusual after all.

And as Beitman pointed out, my plate also came with a rub: Where does the number 1 on the plate fit in? I reasoned its from the month of my dads birth (October, or 10) or maybe, as a romantic, I could decode 143 as short hand for I love you because of the number of letters in each word.

But 1 isnt 10, and 143 could, with my logic, mean other things, like I hate you. And thats the predisposition of those who want to see a coincidence, Beitman says. The brain sees a pattern that does not exist.

CULTIVATING COINCIDENCE
Regardless of what triggers coincidences, research suggests theyre more likely to happen to certain people. People who describe themselves as religious or spiritual, those who are more connected with the world around them and those who are seeking meaning or in distress and searching for signs are more likely to experience coincidences, Beitman says. Back in 2002, researchers published a study in Perceptual and Motor Skills noting that people who are more likely to be surprised by coincidences are also more likely to believe in the paranormal.

So perhaps its not surprising I homed in on that plate. I was emotional, missing my dad, and I do hold strong paranormal beliefs. Had the seller shared my dads birthday, I would have likely felt that, too, was an uncanny coincidence. And admittedly, when I asked my husband and sister if they recognized the plate as destined for me, both were stumped. They didnt see the sequence as anything unique.

The irony of my story? Through a comedy of errors involving insufficient knowledge of eBay logistics and a busy holiday weekend, I lost the auction. Channeling my dads fighting spirit, I contacted the winner through the seller. The 1938 Massachusetts plate is now on my boys wall. D

Amy Paturel is a health and science writer based in Murrieta, California.

Connect With Coincidence
Certain people are more coincidence-prone than others, but all of us can learn how to cultivate them. The more you notice the events, the more they happen, says mathematician David Hand. Want the world to feel like a more magical place? Try these strategies:

Pay attention. Coincidences happen to people who are mindful and notice things. When you go about your daily activities, keep your senses open to coincidental opportunities.
Talk to strangers. According to work by risk researcher David Spiegelhalter, coincidences often arise out of talking to someone you dont know. If you dont introduce yourself to your neighbor, you cant possibly know both of you were born in the same hospital, on the same day, in a city several hundred miles away from your current homes.
Seek meaning. Whether you see a string of numbers on a license plate or hear a song on the radio, ask yourself if you can make meaning out of the experience.
Write it down. Keep a log of the coincidences that occur in your daily life. The more you notice coincidences, the more likely they are to happen to you. A. P.

Out of His Mind.
Authors:
WALTER, JENNIFER
Source:
Discover; Jun2020, Vol. 41 Issue 4, p14-14, 1p, 4 Color Photographs
Document Type:
Article
Subject Terms:
MIND & body
BRAIN
Abstract:
Scientists created mini brains out of cells donated by writer Philip Ball. Dementia researchers will use them to study brain development. This stained microscope image shows cells growing in a cross-section of a brain organoid, with neurons visible in red. [Extracted from the article]

Copyright of Discover is the property of Kalmbach Publishing Co. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)
Lexile:
1000
Full Text Word Count:
549
ISSN:
02747529
Accession Number:
142788978
Notes:
Saint Leo University library subscribes to this title.

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Out of His Mind
Full Text
Section:
COLUMNS & DEPARTMENTS
PERSONAL

A multidisciplinary project gives a science writer a new brain.

It isn’t every day that writer Philip Ball is asked to contribute to scientific experiments typically, he’s reporting on them instead. But in 2015, scientists from a London-based project called Created Out of Mind asked Ball and a few other creatives if they’d participate in their work and then reflect on the experience. He agreed.

Ball first gave a sample, made up of cells from his skin, which was reprogrammed into stem cells that were subsequently grown into a brain organoid or, as the research team called it, a miniature “brain in a dish.” These futuristic-sounding specimens aren’t literal brains, and they don’t look it, either.

The round, cream-colored clusters of neurons simply resemble little blobs. They’re not conscious. But they can be studied to better understand brain development such as where and when certain proteins misfold, which can signal whether a person will develop dementia.

The researchers then asked Ball to reflect on his experience through writing. What started as a few blogs for Created Out of Mind eventually bloomed into a book, How to Grow a Human. Here, Ball recounts his time spent with his mini brain, and how the process gave him new insight into the future of lab-grown life.

IN HIS OWN WORDS

I’d pop into the lab from time to time and see how things were going. At one point, I stopped by and one of the researchers told me that the organoids weren’t looking great for some reason, they weren’t growing as they thought they might. We weren’t sure quite how they were going to turn out, and in the end many of them died before they could fully form.

But one day, out of the blue, one of the project leaders dropped me an email with photos and said, “Look, here’s your mini brain.” And there it was I wish there was some drama to it, but the researchers were pretty casual about it because they grow these things all the time. And I wish I could say that I remember thinking, “Oh my God, this is my second brain,” but I think I was more relieved than anything that it actually grew into an organoid. The fact that they actually got one that had these really clear, discernible structures in it was pretty remarkable. If anything, I felt a little bit proud of myself that we actually created something in the end.

For me, one of the really interesting things I gleaned from the project was that the stuff we are made from is incredibly versatile. The technology of transforming cells from virtually any other tissue in the body is relatively new, and it’s leading to all sorts of directions in medicine and research. I was fascinated to see firsthand what extraordinary things cells even mature, adult cells are capable of.

Scientists created mini brains out of cells donated by writer Philip Ball. Dementia researchers will use them to study brain development.

Respond to the following questions two short essays of 2-3 paragraphs each:

From “What a Coincidence”:

1) According to the article, what is a coincidence and why do they occur? To whom are they most likely to occur?

2) Think back to the last surprising coincidence you experienced. What happened? Does the definition of coincidence from this article help you understand what happened? Do you believe in coincidences?

This stained microscope image shows cells growing in a cross-section of a brain organoid, with neurons visible in red.

From “Out of His Mind”:

1) What is the significance of the experiment that Philip Ball participated in? What is the lesson Ball learned from his observations in the lab?

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