Wednesday, July 25, 2007
A Poor Sort of Memory
So I want a brief on meaningful coincidence for reasons that will become clear. I wiki it, and I read an odd little entry on Jung's theory of Synchronicity, which includes a reference to Magical Thinking, I click and idly skim the article, the "Magical thinking exists in most people" section captures my flitting interest and includes a link to the Birthday Paradox. I know what this is, but, I realise, I have no real understanding of it. Having been informed by the current article that folks like me "rarely have a deep understanding of statistics" I dive in, in the futile hope of getting the maths straight in my head. The maths is impenetrable, the probability equations are thickly wooded with brackets and overgrown with unknown powers. Fortunately there's a paragraph just for me, "Understanding the paradox", which has almost no maths in it at all. Seriously, it's about 2% maths. So now I have a grasp of the problem, albeit a trivial grasp. But I want more so I explore an external link at the bottom of the page which bills itself as "A humorous article explaining the paradox". How can I resist? It's pretty funny, particularly the part about the calculator threatening the author. Lurking at the bottom of this page is a list of related articles, one entitled "The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon", I click again, which discusses a feeling that must be familiar to everyone: -
"one happens upon some obscure piece of information - often an unfamiliar word or name - and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly..."
The author explains it away with that old chestnut, cognitive bias. But here's the thing. Scrolling down I notice a list of suggested further reading. The second item on the list? The original wikipedia article on Synchronicity!
Spooky. Or a meaningless coincidence, depending on your perspective.
I'm at Hammersmith bus station when my wife calls, on my way to a softball game in darkest Barnes.
"There are two envelopes here," she says. "One from Birkbeck and one from the solicitors. Shall I open them?"
I nod, then realise she can't see me.
The Birkbeck letter is a formal unconditional offer of a place on the 2007 BA English degree course. The solicitor's letter is the Administration Accounts for my mother's estate, including a cheque, the final residuary distribution, they call it. The cheque is for a sum closely approximate to my total college fees. It's a kick in the head, obviously, but a good one, I think. A shakabuku, even, at a stretch.