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The lyrics of a song by The Chameleons made me wonder:

It's just coincidence

Well you can talk that way

But I have to say

I don't believe in it

After considering these lyrics, I have the following questions:

Is everything just coincidence? Doesn't fate exist? Are all the people meeting just doing so by accident? Does this depend on us only? (if all is just coincidence). I think of a cheese sandwich and at the same time I hear someone giving a cheese sandwich recipe on the radio. Is this coincidence? Can this be examined even? Not by looking for a physical connection but by chance analysis?

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    You might be a Boltzmann brain. A momentary island of coherence in an otherwise formless and chaotic universe, formed a moment ago with the illusion of all your memories. For all you know you'll be winking out in a few microseconds. There is a small but nonzero probability that this is perfectly true. It's not even metaphysics. It's hard physics. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain
    – user4894
    Jun 30 at 20:11
  • @user4894 Do you really think that we can be a statisticlal fluctuation? This assumes that all matter finds itself in an infinite universe. Surely such a universe will gravitationally collapse. Boltzmann didn't know that yet. Jun 30 at 20:28
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    No you are misunderstanding the argument. The entire universe is a vast sea of randomness, and there's a small region of coherence. There's literally no change in the overall distribution of matter. Shouldnt I have an existence lasting just a fleeting second? Why? The point is you can't tell the difference. You "remember" ten years ago, but that memory is just a particular configuration of brain cells in the present moment. Of course this isn't likely, but it's not impossible either. Your personal intuitions don't constitute a logical argument.
    – user4894
    Jun 30 at 21:12
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    You need to read the Boltzmann brain Wiki article. It's the same reason that there's a nonzero probability that all the oxygen atoms in your room will suddenly go to the other side of the room. It's simply a statistical possibility. You couldn't "grow old," your entire existence could be a matter of microseconds or at best seconds. There's no logical reason you are not experiencing this right this moment. It's just highly unlikely.
    – user4894
    Jun 30 at 21:44
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    "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." - Ian Fleming
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 1 at 9:22
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We need to start with definitions and a common understanding what the words mean.

I like the introduction of the Wikipedia article "Coincidence":

A coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances that have no apparent causal connection with one another. The perception of remarkable coincidences may lead to supernatural, occult, or paranormal claims. Or it may lead to belief in fatalism, which is a doctrine that events will happen in the exact manner of a predetermined plan. In general perception of coincidence, for lack of more sophisticated explanations, can serve as link to folk psychology and philosophy.

So the term "coincidence" describes more a feature of the human psyche to view an event as remarkable - it does not so much say anything about objective reality (let's not talk about whether that exists, now...).

For reality, the more pertinent concept is that of "probability". Some events are more probable, some less so. We know a huge amount of facts about reality that let us put very high probabilities on events. For example, if I pick up a stone and let it go, the chance that it falls to the earth is exceedingly high. It is never 100% - all of the atoms could decide to do some weird quantum jump and end up in outer space. An alien could sneak up and teleport the stone away. A clown might jump out of the bush behind me and grab the stone before it hits the floor. And so on. But in almost 100% of all cases it will simply fall down and lie on the ground.

Is everything just coincidence?

No.

  • Some things have a clear causal relationship and behave exactly as we'd expect.
  • Some things have a causal relationship but we simply do not see it (yet).
  • Some things nave no causal relationship, but we think they do.
  • Some things have no causal relationship and we recognize them as such, not even thinking twice about them.

Nothing about this is mystical or even philosophical so far.

Things that we have good reason to expect to happen - because of experience, or because we influenced them to be that way, are not coincidence. Causal chains exists - they are not an illusion. If you put your hand on a hot stove, you get burns, and that will not be a coincidence.

This argument does not care about whether you assume that reality is real or we live in a simulation, or God exists or not. Even if we live in a simulation, there is some code in it that means that if you touch the stove, you hurt. There is no coincidence there.

The same goes for non-human processes as well, from the highest to the lowest levels. Animals, plants, chemical processes, and rocks hurling through the void all follow clear causal chains for most of their behaviour.

There might or might not be "free will", and if you so wish, you can decide to label that as coincidence (i.e., the randomness of quantum processes in your brain leading to random choices). But at this point, we do not know, and you find philosophers who argue pro and contra against that. It is fine for you to simply not decide, or to pick any of the sides.

Doesn't fate exist?

Matter of preference, same as for thinking about what was the root cause of your brain taking a decision with no clear objective reason.

Are all the people meet just met by accident?

Obviously not. If I join a company, it is highly likely that I meet people working in that company. If I am a school child, I will meet my teacher and the other pupils in my class.

You do of course meet random people on the street. If you happen to bump into one of them, fall in love by accident, and spend your next 60 years in deep love => you can decide for yourself if that was an accident or providence. There is no authoritative answer; or rather, there is any imaginable answer out there, claiming to be true at the same time, with none of them having any particular reason to be more true than others.

I think of a cheese sandwich and at the same time I hear someone giving a cheese sandwich recepy on the radio. Is this coincidence? Can this be examined even? Not by looking for a physical connection but by chance analysis?

This depends on your own outlook on reality. If you subscribe to scientific principles, then by Occam's Razor it is coincidence. To prove that it is not, you would do an awesomely complicated experiment and track the occurrence of those two events until you have a reason to believe that there is a causal chain between them.

If you are not so scientifically inclined, you are absolutely free to believe what you will. People do it all the time. Maybe not in the case of cheese sandwiches, but for example when they hear of the death of a person on the radio, while at the same time hearing the dog of the deceased owner barking wildly. The human brain has a very strong tendency to find patterns in the world - this is a great part of our intelligence. Occam's Razor tells me that such a dog-barking event is coincidence. But it's a meme predating the internet that such a thing is not. Whether the one or the other is true is a matter of belief or your own character.

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    Grest answer! Im inclined to accept but wait a little still. Jul 1 at 13:14
  • I suggest that the pertinent concept is predictability, although it's closely related. If there's a lottery, it's highly probable that someone will win. But predicting a specific winner is hard; if you do, it's a coincidence.
    – Barmar
    Jul 1 at 15:00
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    OTOH, when a meteorogist predicts the weather, being correct is not a coincidence.
    – Barmar
    Jul 1 at 15:01
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    @Barmer, hah, where I am, recently, it tends to be a coincidence if meteorologists are correct. :D
    – AnoE
    Jul 1 at 15:21
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The recovering ex-engineer weighs in:

Coincidence furnishes an unacceptable basis for running a factory where the cost of downtime is of order ~$1500/minute. In this context, the job of the engineer is to eliminate in no uncertain terms the influence of random chance i.e., coincidence in the functioning of an engineered system.

Even non-engineer humans strive to do the same in their daily lives, except in the case of a gambling addict, whose neurological arousal networks are jumper-wired into their risk-assessment circuits in such a way that they achieve arousal by wagering in favor of a certain type of coincidence. Engineers, on the other hand, have their arousal networks hardwired into their anticoincidence detection centers: they are happiest when nothing is left to chance.

Except in the case of an engineer who is also a gambling addict. I worked for one of those once in a previous lifetime, and the less said about that experience, the better.

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  • "Except when the engineer is also a gambling addict". Already for that+1! Im not sure I would drive his car...I dont dare to ask. Are you recovering because of him? Jun 30 at 22:40
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    His car was a half-wrecked scheisswagen toyota 4-coor corolla sedan and every friday he would leave work and drive at top speed from the san francisco bay area straight up to Reno or Tahoe in Nevada where gambling was legal, and spend the weekend gambling, then drive back ready for work on Monday again. I worked for him for 9 months, then got laid off on July 2nd, 1976 at 1:45 in the afternoon. Jun 30 at 22:45
  • F&$K! Jesus man... What a story! I hope you are feeling good now! Its a pity my wife asks me to come to bed and move mu ass from behind the phone. For the fifth time...Tomorrow I send you an email. Tot morgen! Jun 30 at 22:57
  • Ja ja, til morgen, sov godt! -Niels Jakob Jun 30 at 23:20
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In the strict sense of the word it may be. As there are many events that coincide from the proverbial "end" of the cosmos unto the ends of this earth. Or so I presume. So yes and no. I suppose it may depend on the circumstances and what may have lead to them (insert context here). In the case of the cheese sandwich that would seem to resemble the concept of "synchronicity" proposed by Jung.

These articles go more in depth unto this topic. Hope they help:

"The Scarab: Jung Created a Coincidence within a Coincidence" https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/connecting-coincidence/202011/the-scarab-jung-created-coincidence-within-coincidence

Jung’s Scarab as a Psychotherapeutic Technique https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/connecting-coincidence/201508/jung-s-scarab-psychotherapeutic-technique

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To start, we can't really know nature. We only know what we perceive of nature due to our fragile and largely inexact senses (so, our knowledge of nature is highly biased). See the concepts of noumenon and thing-in-itself: http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/t.htm#thing

Then, regarding what we can know (the opposite: phenomenon and thing-as-it-appears), we DO perceive patterns, and sometimes they take the form of what you call "coincidences". For example, if I bang my head against the wall, il WILL hurt. That is a pattern. The probability is not 100%, so if it don't hurts, it is a "coincidence"? Quite a superficial answer.

Answer 1: according to the patterns we see, NO, everything is not a coincidence: everything seems just to follow natural patterns. Of course, this answer dismisses la possibility of a God.

Answer 2: if you really doubt that nature itself has produced such patterns, and you think there's a GOD that has built nature, then, NO, everything is not a coincidence as well: God did it. Although such dogmatic view is not enough for most philosophers.

I think of a cheese sandwich and at the same time I hear someone giving a cheese sandwich recepy on the radio. Is this coincidence?

No. It is just the effect of natural laws, including probabilities. You are expressing a simple idea with a biased language, so, you are implicitly giving an answer (God would exist, because the probabilities that you think cheese and someone say cheese would be zero; your reasoning is just wrong).

The only way for that fact (you think of cheese and someone says cheese) never to happen is only the ABSOLUTE exclusion of probabilities larger than 0 (that is, you would NEVER IN YOUR LIFE experience a "coincidence"). Now, take a minute to get that (not being pedantic: it is a fantastic idea, but that means that all existence would be impossible).

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  • So only if no coincidences would occur would be no coincidence? Jul 1 at 6:50
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    Interesting. This is equivalent: if causality is true, would that be causal?
    – RodolfoAP
    Jul 1 at 7:14
  • I only saw your comment now. Indeed! So, would that be causal? Or maybe metacausal (whatever that means)? Jul 1 at 12:59
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Is everything just coincidence?

Yes. No. Maybe.

It depends on your particular philosophical (more specifically metaphysical) inclination. Here are some interesting related concepts:

  • synchronicity, a concept introduced by Carl Jung to describe 'circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection';

  • pareidolia, the phenomenon of 'seeing' faces or other shapes in things such as clouds, pieces of toast (or typographical symbols :-) ), and

  • mathematical coincidence, where two quantities which are (or appear to be) unrelated show a high degree of quantitative similarity (i.e. they are approximately equal).

What these three ideas have in common is that it's stated that there is no 'actual' causal relationship between the events or objects in question; they are not 'causally connected'. But how can we tell? Is it merely a matter of probability? Ignoring the issues with the concept of probability itself (is it subjective or objective? What does it actually tell us?), we might ask what the probability must be for us to be able to say that there is a causal connection between two things.

However, there is no number that will rule out every coincidence and include every causal connection. An example might be this experiment: Your friend is stood on a hill with a ball which they will push down if you give them the order to do so. Unfortunately, the walkie-talkies you use to communicate are very poor and will only relay your message 50% of the time. Now, is there a causal connection between your order and the ball rolling down the hill? What if we say the message is relayed p% of the time, and we let p become very small (or very large). What happens to the causal connection, then? Does this make sense?

The Stanford Encyclopedia page on the metaphysics of causation is likely the best place to continue your inquiry into the nature of causation.

Doesn't fate exist? Are all the people meet just met by accident? Does this depend on us only? (if all is just coincidence). I think of a cheese sandwich and at the same time I hear someone giving a cheese sandwich recepy on the radio. Is this coincidence? Can this be examined even? Not by looking for a physical connection but by chance analysis?

Based on your other questions, you might also be interested in reading 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being', by Milan Kundera. In it he explores the nature of fate, causality and coincidence (among other philosophical concepts). It is also quite a good read.

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  • I have seen the movie. Good one! Im curious now for the book. With words you can go deeper I guess. Jul 1 at 17:25
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"Is everything just coincidence? Doesn't fate exist?"

Physics answer: Assuming all things are explained by natural phenomenon (no deity, deities, or other supernatural figure(s) unbound by causation tipping the scales), there's really only two possibilities:

  1. If the universe is (effectively) deterministic (all interactions of energy and matter proceed the same way given the same setup, even if we can't detect all the elements of the setup), then literally everything is both fated and coincidence (a coincidence of the initial conditions that determined everything that came after).

  2. If the universe has non-deterministic elements (some interactions with identical setups, down to subatomic particle energy level, position and momentum, can result in more than one possible outcome), even if the non-deterministic aspect is purely at the quantum level (we have no evidence this happens above the quantum level), then chaos theory applies; the near future is close enough to the deterministic (with a moment of omniscience and the ability to store and model that state over time, you could predict the future), but the further out you go, the more those small non-deterministic differences matter (the butterfly flapping in China that creates a hurricane in the Atlantic weeks, months or years later, but in this case, the butterfly is a quark that jigged left instead of right).

    In that case, everything is still coincidence (a few changes in subatomic interactions back in 1987 could change the winner of the World Cup in the present day; even if the change occurred in particles on a distant star, it could make differences to Earth in theory as soon as the time required for light to make it from the scene of the event to Earth elapsed, though we'd never know it happened), but fate doesn't exist over the long term (whatever the deterministic macro-scale timeline might have been, as time passes, the quantum perturbations disrupt it).

If you modify the scenario to allow for an omniscient, omnipotent deity as the creator, who put things in motion then withdrew, then the scenarios modify slightly:

In case #1, everything remains fated (everything that will happen could be known from the initial conditions), but nothing would be coincidence (because it would have been predictable from the initial conditions and working according to whatever plan the creator had).

In case #2, nothing changes; whatever intent the creator had, the random elements would have made uncountable tweaks to the end result over the billions of years the Universe has existed.

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