Cambridge Coincidences Collection

Well I Never!

Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University wants to know about your coincidences!


My mind must work in a strange way. One Saturday morning I was thinking that because Gautama Buddha developed a philosophy that was truly revolutionary he was probably much smarter than Jesus. Even today, Buddha's empiricism and scepticism seem very modern. An hour or so after thinking this I entered my local post office and picked up a book of lists, and the compiler obviously had the same idea that I had just had because Buddha's IQ was listed as about 160 (from memory) but Jesus' was about 130.


I was travelling on a 747 between Sydney, Australia, and London when a noticed a family sitting a few seats away from me, who had got on the plane at Sydney. On arrival in London, I caught a tube to St Pancras station and then a train to Nottingham. I eventually arrived at my friend's house in Beeston. He told me that his next door neighbour had that day returned from Australia. Lo and behold! It was the person who had been on the same plane as me. The chances of this happening are very small indeed.


There are two aspects of this coincidence. Firstly, from my point of view I was behaving completely out of character, and secondly the actual coincidence is fairly unlikely. However, the chance of both situations arising is unusual. One morning, probably well before Justin Timberlake was born, I was obsessed by the name 'Timberlake' that would not stop going through my mind. At one stage I was climbing a flight of stairs and I stopped and told myself to get the name out of my head.

The Butterfly and the Diving Bell

I'm at the doc, waiting. Nurse comes in to do vitals, sees my Kindle, asks what I'm reading. Then while she does vitals, tells me at length about book she just read, "The Butterfly and the Diving Bell", which I'd never heard of. Two hours later at home, reading a different book, a character describes a book that sounds just like "Butterfly", and then names it.


Living next door. On 23rd June 2018 I was waiting for a ferry from the Shetland Mainland to Yell. Got into conversation with a Yell resident. In time she asked me where I was from and then informed me her daughter's partner had just got a job in that town. Six months later her daughter and partner purchased the house next door to me: there had been no contact between the woman on Yell and me since that conversation in June, and her daughter and partner did not know I was their next door neighbour until the day they moved in.


Sharing a Cabin. On Monday 10th June 2017 I sailed from Aberdeen to Lerwick and had booked a shared female cabin. My cabin mate was a Shetland resident returning to the islands after 6 weeks away sailing on the west coast of Scotland. On Monday 11th June 2018 I made the same journey and found myself sharing with the same woman, this time she was returning to Shetland from a weekend in Edinburgh. We had not been in contact in the intervening year.

He waited 50 years for someone to read his dissertation

Sitting at a conference lunch table, chatting. Gent opposite mentions he wrote a dissertation on an obscure long-gone New York City newspaper. Which one, I asked. "PM, he said". Hey, my father worked for PM before WW II -- I'd like to read it. So now he's looking for it. There were probably 200 people in the room spread out over 25 tables. And there we were at same table, opposite, chatting.

I am you

From article I wrote for AARP on coincidences: Early in my use of the Internet, I was astonished by its ability to create coincidences -- true story! I was consulting for an online service which gave me an email address used only for their work. I received a note at that address with the intriguing subject, "I am you", from another <my name> (Nowadays, that's the sort of spoofed email I'd likely delete without reading.) He'd checked his entry in the service's directory and found my entry next to his.

Brooklyn! Brooklyn Tech! 1964!

Sitting restaurant in Sedona, AZ -- overheard conversation between people at next table and waiter about New York City bridges. I'm from NY so I joined in. After a while -- "Hey, where are you from?". Brooklyn. "Hey, me too -- where'd you go to high school?". Brooklyn Tech. "Hey, me too -- what year did you graduate?" 1964. "Hey, me too". So we were classmates -- but in a graduating class of 1200, hadn't known each other. Still, what are the odds -- 50+ years later and a continent away, there we are.

Leon Trotsky double-header

Leon Trotsky came up in conversation over lunch (hardly an every-day/week/month/year occurrence) and the next day his house in Mexico appears in Washington Post travel section.