Probability of the Unexpected

Alternative title: Why did the three cars, a pedestrian, and a cyclist all pass at the same point in time (or same time in point)?

Expect the unexpected, its a coincidence, déjà vu. These are clichéd phrases and words. Scientific and logical minds want to reject these things all the time and skeptic club members around the world will debunk everything with pretty convincing arguments.  But weird things happen to me a lot and in many different places. And I have a scientific, logical mind that resists the idea of magic (resists, not rejects).

Picture this. You live on a farm on an island outside of Stockholm. At the end of the long dirt road is the main paved road with two lanes. Turn left and you can drive for 20 km to a ferry that takes you to another island beyond your island. Or turn right and about 7 km away is a park-and-ride where you can catch a bus and buy pizza. It is the main artery road for the entire island and it is quite busy during peak working hours, but it is often deserted, with few vehicles passing one another.

About every half hour, there is a cluster of cars that travel together after leaving the ferry, and in the mornings I know I am a little early for work when I am leading the cluster to the park-and-ride. There is a rhythm to the road movement and a general schedule we all follow that delivers us to and from work, or to shop or to play. But even with the routine and the schedules, every day I make random decisions and things are not always planned in advance. And a person walking along the road or cycling probably are on even less of a schedule than I am. Add the element of chance and free will to every driver, walker or rider (and delays to ferries and Sunday drivers), and this rhythm is not always exactly the same.

So, why is it that, more often than not (remember, this is not an actual experiment, only a pondering) when I approach the end of my dirt road to turn right (it is not rush hour, nor is it a regularly scheduled exit), do two cars going in opposite directions almost always pass at the same time, and immediately afterwards there are no cars or vehicles in either direction? What is it that brings us to the same place at the same time?

I concede that there is probably an algorithm or a statistical program that could calculate the probability of this, but I have noticed this same phenomena at the peak of a bridge in Vancouver, on country roads in England, and when walking on a sidewalk (add a pram/baby carriage, cyclist, and a dog walker with 10 dogs to the “vehicles” all passing at the same point at the same time). Does anyone else have any ponderings to add to this?


2 thoughts on “Probability of the Unexpected

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