Another way of thinking about it is: if you flip a coin long enough, eventually, you'll get ten heads in a row.
And the universe flips a lot of coins.
All those coin flips add up to a simple mathematical answer for even the weirdest coincidences. Like this one: On the first anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, the New York State Lottery's winning numbers were 9-1-1.
"In a world where there are lots of people and lots of events happening to lots of people every day, you're going to come across a co-occurrence of events that seems to be extremely unlikely," said professor Koehler.
"You're taking all the fun out of it," laughed Spencer.
So when two former presidents died on the same day, it wasn't mystical, just mathematical. Though we tend to make these things mystical by ignoring annoying little details.
"So when people were comparing Jefferson and Adams, there were lots of things they looked for that they didn't find," said Koehler. "Were their wives born on the same day? No. Scratch that. Did they have the same number of kids? No. Scratch that. Did they name their kids the same thing? No. And the selection fallacy is to select out the interesting parts."
According to science writer Matt Hutson, it's as if human beings are hard-wired to be amazed by coincidences. "Exactly," he told Spencer. "That's the power of human irrationality."
But what about the power of "Godwinks"? Or the force of destiny?
"I can't rule it out, just as I can't rule out unicorns," Hutson said. "But there's no strong evidence for unicorns."
"Wow, you really are a killjoy, aren't you?" laughed Spencer.
"That's my job, I'm a science writer!"
SQuire Rushnell says, "Mathematicians will always have an answer for everything, because they have to. And I put more faith in a grand designer than I do in accidents happening numerically."
For Rushnell, the stories are evidence enough, like this one about actress Diane Lane, whose father drove a New York City taxi when she was a kid: "He would come and pick her up after school and she would stand on her tippy-toes looking for that one cab out of all those cabs." The medallion number: 6F99.
Shortly after her father died, Lane was in a car in Manhattan, thinking about her dad. "At that moment, her car pulled to the curb, she stepped out, and her heart leapt. Pulling in right in front was cab number 6F99. Now, what are the odds that that one cab -- her father's exact medallion -- would be at that exact spot, at that exact moment in time, to give her a message of hope and reassurance?"
It's all familiar territory to the Solomons, whose list of coincidences seems almost endless.
Their fathers have the same exact birthday, June 10th. Hillary's father went to Boston University (which Bill also attended), and his roommate from college became Bill's dad's roommate.
One thing believers and doubters agree on: You're more likely to find life's amazing coincidences if you're looking for them.
SQuire Rushnell told Spencer that she, too, will have one, but "only if you allow them."
Then, he added, "Once you see a Godwink, you see them all the time."
For more info:
- "When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life" by SQuire Rushnell (Howard Books); Also available in eBook format.
- Follow SQuire Rushnell on Twitter (@GodwinkGuy), Facebook and YouTube
- "The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane" by Matthew Hutson (Hudson River Books); Also available in eBook format
- Read an excerpt (pdf)
- silverjacket.com (Matthew Hutson's blog)
- Follow Matthew Hutson on Twitter (@SilverJacket)
- Jonathan Koehler, Northwestern University School of Law