12 November 2008

Is a coincidence really a coincidence?

On the weekend I got into a panic about what I was going to read after finishing the Time Traveller's Wife (again) (and crying about it - again).

Having just eaten two very tiny, very dainty cupcakes - from a shop called 'Tart', where the lady at the till was very rude to me, but I digress - I started thinking about Alice in Wonderland. You know: the part where she finds a tiny cake with EAT ME written on it and it makes her grow very tall. So then I got to thinking about Lewis Carroll and wondered whether Through the Looking Glass might still be any good at the ripe old age of 25. Irritatingly, I had left my copy of Carroll's complete works at my parents' house, but no matter, I thought, I'll pick it up on Sunday.

Are you still with me? The relevance will soon become apparent...

Right. So I'm sitting at the dinner table on Sunday, making absolutely no mention of Tart or cake or Lewis Carroll, and my mum says, 'You look like Alice in Wonderland with that hair'. Now, given that I had styled myself with some sort of wild, demi-Winehouse-esque beehive which didn't in anyway resemble Alice's neat golden locks (I should also point out that I am brunette), this was a particularly strange thing to say. And, clearly, made all the more strange by the fact that I had only the day before decided to retrieve Alice in Wonderland from my old room - where it had been standing on a bookshelf gathering dust since the day I left home.

BUT, it doesn't end there. An hour later, I open the Sunday newspaper to find this - Alice herself, the little minx, pictured in a review of a book about British writers. Something, I decided, was afoot.

Perhaps, because I had been thinking about Alice in Wonderland the day before, my subconscious brain had programmed my hands to turn my hair into something that was whispering "Alice" to my mum - however much it was shouting "mess" at me. This didn't seem very likely. But as it turns out, there's a theory that deals with this idea. It's called "coincidence theory". (Ah ha! Finally we get to the point!)

Proponents of coincidence theory believe that "anomalous phenomena", like coincidences, occur when little pieces of information submerged in the unconscious somehow bob up and float out into the physical world. But they also use the term "anomalous phenomena" to refer to clairvoyancy and prayer healing - not things I believe in or want to associate myself with...

I think there's something in coincidence theory though, albeit on a very basic level. Coincidences aren't really coincidences, surely? It's like when you meet someone called Zebediah and then suddenly everyone is called Zebediah - you notice something more when you've recently been thinking about it. So in the same way, I probably wouldn't have noticed Alice when I was leafing through that newspaper if I hadn't already been thinking about picking up my book.

I'm not done with this yet. All this requires further investigation. But for the record: I certainly wouldn't expect to be able to speak to any dead relatives because of coincidence theory. However, I'm willing to concede it might have ruined my beehive.... to be continued...


Anonymous said...

Co-incidence theory happens with numbers too. Mine is 434. Pick a 3 digit number and see how often you notice it. Worth an experiment? More likely to see it if it is also a digital time?

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Matin Durrani said...

Hi Hayley
My colleague Liz Kalaugher said you would be turning up at Goldbrick House on Park Street last Tuesday. But we never saw you there. I wish there was a coincidence story associated with last Tuesday -- like we did we meet someone called Alice -- but there isn't. That's the point though: the millions of uncorrelated events go unrecorded but the coincidences stick in your mind for the very reson that they're rare.
Matin Durrani

Hayley said...

As you say - the uncorrelated events go unrecorded, so perhaps you can forgive and forget about my absence on Tuesday. I'll be at the next one, work (i.e. huge-stack-of-unwritten-articles) permitting.