It’s a coincidence, right?

A coincidence is generally considered (by the dictionary) to be some sort of event which happens without a causal connection. Hopefully diligent readers of this site have started to learn that the dictionary lies. Experience tells us things generally happen in two ways; with causal connection we know how to define, or with apparent randomness. In this last scenario, it seems reasonable that randomness is an illusion created by imperfect human information. To call upon a simple example; if I know the initial conditions of a particle (location, velocity, acceleration, time) I can predict with perfect accuracy the trajectory of the particle under classical mechanics. Conceal some of these initial conditions from me or introduce a force I am unaware of and my predictions are wrong. Is the particle moving with random motion? Clearly not – this is a trivial example to highlight the introduction of “randomness” as a result of poor knowledge. When we extend to less trivial systems (quantum mechanical, for example) our intuition would tell us that the same logic applies – but there are additional complexities (such as the measurement and observation problem) which mean we cannot state this with certainty.

The universe is a curious place – if it wasn’t we wouldn’t need to rationalise it so this site would have never been set up. So the curiosity of the universe is a necessary condition for you to be reading the to question the universes curiosity. Hold that logic for later. One of the most interesting things about the universe is the seemingly endless list of finely balanced parameters without which life couldn’t have developed. First we outline some of the most startling coincidental results of the universe, before deciding if we should place any credit on an idea that “explains” them all- the anthropic principle.

The Higgs boson

The Higgs boson is the particle named after British physicist Peter Higgs, based at Edinburgh university and now retired (although ever active in the world of particle physics). The Higgs boson is sometimes deemed to be the “mass giver” to particles; which can only really be understood by considering the the associated Higgs field (what is a field?). As a particle passes through the Higgs field, mass is “given” to the particle – a process which also impacts the mass of the Higgs boson. The heavier the particle, the heaver the mass of the Higgs boson and vica versa- so when a top quark interacts, the heaviest of the quarks, the Higgs boson has the greatest mass.

The Higgs boson revealed some interesting features around vacuums – namely the fact that a vacuum indeed has lots of energy.The Higgs field is often depicted as having a Mexican hat shape as seen below, with the point of the hat centered on 0. It is rather interesting – the Higgs field works with having the maximum energy in the massless state, as depicted in the below illustration of the field. So now if a particle were to enter the vacuum, this energy would be transferred to it giving it mass; if that interests you I recommend some reading on the energy of empty space.

The relationship between the heaviest particle in the universe and the Higgs boson is very important; since it is the interaction of the Higgs field and the heaviest particle that alters the mass of the Higgs boson. It seems that if the top quark were slightly heavier, the universe would be unstable an collapse. This graph marks our likely position, although I should note that measurements of this nature are fraught with difficulty, so it is possible that the location is a little different.

As you can see – we are rather precariously placed in the metastability section; frighteningly close to the instability. What this means for the universe is if we had an additional quark, a larger one, or indeed the mass of the top quark was a little heaver we would be kindly nudged into the instability section, goodnight universe. Why should the largest particle have stopped at such a point that the mass did not tip the universe into the dangerous area of instability? Are we just “lucky”?

The flat universe

Einstein showed us that matter and energy distort space and time – which has profound implications for the shape of the universe. The density of any given universe will determine if eventual outcome, most of which are fairly unappealing. If the density is very low then the universe curves up and outwards infinitely expanding. Whilst this might seem excellent news for the inhabitants, death in the universe arrives as the universe constantly cools with the expansion, leading to a realm with no meaningful energy. The second option is that the density is really high, in which case the universe bends inwards. In this scenario, we have a much more dramatic ending – the universe finishes pretty much back to where it started. The matter is eventually pulled back in with the irresistible lure of gravity and crunched up into a little ball (of infinite mass and density – headache). The final option is the perfect medium – hitting the sweet-spot in which the universe does not bend, with expansion eventually tending to zero as time tends to infinity. Get me one of those. Well actually, we might have one.

The value omega is used to denote the value we are interested in – the number that determines the eventual fate of the universe. For a fuller description, see the flatness problem, but in short greater than one is the crunch, less than one is the big chill and one is deal. Cosmologists currently believe our value is astonishingly close to 1 – although we would need to be sure it was exactly 1 to have the perfect universe. Current calculations vary from 0.1 to around 1; but the most accurate seem to be settling around 1. What is most astounding is is the sensitivity of omega around one second after the big bang – if you were to tweak this value by just the smallest amount as shown by the below graph the outcome is very different. If omega was a tiny fraction smaller, or a tiny fraction larger we would be in trouble. Why should we be so lucky to have this value, 1 or close to it? It’s a bit like trying to balance a knife on its point for the duration of the universe (don’t invest any time trying this).

A few final coincidences

There are a number of other coincidences that seem to evade logic and rationale. For example we largely believe we have many different dimensions in the universe, however there are only three spacial dimension we experience. How many dimensions you think exist depends on you hymn sheet; but the current brand of superstring theory requires 10. Whilst the number does vary – the common consensus emerges that the number is greater than the spacial dimensions we can traverse. For many reasons it is theorised that life could not exist in two or four spacial dimensions; so why were we fortunate enough to have three?

There deeper and more confusing ratios to ponder – for example the fundamental interactions. The ratio between electromagnetism and gravity is in a fine balance; if it were  to be smaller then we wouldn’t expect a universe to live for every long. The ratio of gravitational energy required to pull a galaxy apart compared to its mass energy – again if this is a little out stars either do not form or they do not survive which would mean no elements being cooked up and ultimately no me and you.There are so many “coincidences” in this big universe of ours that listing them all results in one very long list of facts. The biological ability of carbon, the properties of water, the atmosphere of the Earth, the color of the sun and so grows the list.

Hopefully what is clear is that there are a huge number of factors that if we were to adjust in a very small way would result in total destruction of the universe, or an inability for life to form. If you were a gambler, you would never have put any money on our universe existing the way it does (if you could retrospectively gamble before your existence – probably not a business venture) . So if it is really improbable, why is it so?

Perhaps this section would more aptly named, further considerations. I read a feature recently on an unnamed blog which raised a philosophical point – the anthropic basis. The headline of this theory is things exist as they are because if they did not you would not exist to pose the question. It is very circular logic – and this is intentional. It is argued that the conditions in the universe have to be favorable for the beings posing the question of why the conditions are the way they are – and therefore it is unsurprising to find the conditions the way they are. For example, life would never have appeared earlier than it did because the stars would not have had time to cook up the elements. But on the other hand life wouldn’t have arrived a large amount later, because if this were the case the stars would be dead. So life could only of arrived at this opportune moment.

You can apply this logic reasonably  successfully to a number of different coincidental results – for example if the mass was heavier of the top quark then you wouldn’t be here to pose the question – therefore you can only ask the question of why the top quark has that mass precisely because the top quark has that mass. This is actually the weak anthropic principle – there is a strong anthropic principle along with a whole host of other takes on the anthropic basis; unlike a law we don’t have the luxury of precision. If it is of interest I would suggest you do some further reading – I am not going to discuss any more. Why?

I think it’s a little cheap?  It is an interesting idea but there are some severe issues with this theory. There are for example, various things that could have occurred which meant that our universe was only capable of inhabiting intelligent life for a much shorter length of time than it is. We would have still been around to pose the question; we just might not have felt quite so lucky. There also isn’t much account taken for the various different life forms that could exist – we are interested in why things are exactly the way they are. If you start to flex the anthropic principle with statistics you end up negating it’s very own logic.

My more favored explanation is that the factors inside our own universe are ever so rare – highly improbable but nature has many bites at the apple. If you are to accept a multiverse, then it is feasible that if our universe had a one in a billion chance of creation (illustrative, the probability is lower), but there have been two billion attempts you might start to ask where the hell is the other one. Statistics often give the illusion of fairly random results when performed a small number of times – but roll the dice millions of times and the whole thing starts to look delightfully predictable. Anything that can happen will happen. In fact the mathematics is seducing us in this direction; it is a funny thing when you find mathematics that can feasibly explain your own universe, but also suggests there should be many many others. To ignore the signs given by mathematics is to walk across a motorway with your eyes shut.

If you have not read it, I would recommend Mekhi’s account of the bubbles of the multiverse, which argues perhaps all of the uniqueness we perceive is an observational bias of the universe in which we are stuck.

57 responses to “It’s a coincidence, right?”

• Thank you very much – I am glad you approve!

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• Hi Jiisand; you make an interesting point around the connectivity of occurrences. I suppose it is not always necessary; but then at the same time sometimes it is virtually undeniable they are not. Coincidence is generally the occurrence of something with a very low probability.

Very interesting bit of news – thank you very much for the link. The point it makes about Nobel Prize worthy – knowing the way things go not a chance until string theory is accepted as mainstream. My next post is lined up and it a brief post on entropy…. Penrose made comments about it today and now this – almost seems like we should be calling this a coincidence!

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• Yes, I’d be interested in anything as accessible as this excellent blog on the differences between random chance and sets/sequences of serendipity or ‘coincidences’

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• One of the issues with coincidence is like the airplane collision. You look up at the sky and you see two planes flying towards each other. They get close, and look like they will crash but they don’t. The issue is our perspective.
Coincidence is very relative. What may seem by “chance” to us could be a resultant of certain events we do not perceive, thus resulting in the coincidence, as in they have no other choice.
But even more important, and much more difficult to even visualize, is that the coincidence isnt there at all. The event we perceive is nothing like it truly is. When you look at higher dimensional space, you get a whole different “feel” for coincidence, and even the term random. Time itself starts to act odd.
So as far as the universe being stable, it is, because we perceive it that way. Because at our level of perception we were able to evolve here, in this metastability. Imagine there were other “us”-es and they could perceive higher or lower energetic levels (as abstract as that is) for them, the universe could colapse, or never exist to begin with. Thus, they never really evolved they never existed. That leaves us, at this level, at this perception. It no longer seems coincidental. Its the only way that we could exist, it becomes a matter of resultants leading us to this point.

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• Thank you!

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1. Since 21012 when I encountered nearly two dozen sequential coincidences, rather like a couple of ‘logic-trees’, I’ve been looking forward to reading a mathematician’s explanation of coincidences – especially those which convey instruction and insights.

It motivated me to blog about the many that have appeared, often like pieces of an invisible jigsaw being placed in position – sometimes 8 at a time!

So will ponder this post carefully…

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• I am afraid you might find more questions than answers Richard! Although paradoxically if there were more answers than questions maybe I wouldn’t have been compelled to set this blog up on the first place. I completely concur about the jigsaw; it’s a bit like trying to do a really complex jigsaw puzzle without actually knowing if all the pieces are from the same puzzle

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• Very good. Have read and marked up copy when offline and would comment at length, but for now a few thoughts.:

Your closing remarks about meta-stability – imho Genesis 1 and John 1 cover this, especially Colossians 1:16 ‘For by him (Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things created by and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together’.

Omega value and eventual fate of the universe – interesting that one of Jesus Christ’s title is ‘The Alpha and The Omega’!

So considering the anthropic principle is especially interesting as it incorporates all known data, which of necessity implies human and ‘other-dimensional’ intelligence and thus hints strongly at an underlying design.

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2. Lol, yeah, just how it lied about love! My theory is that to become perfect, we must accept that we’re not.

Anyways, back to your topic… So, basically, nothing seems to be what it is and coincidences are events that must be explored to its maximum true potential of what it really is or not is? Or am I way out the park and way over think it? Lol

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• True perfection has to be imperfect – pretty sure that’s an Oasis lyric but I am not even going to pretend I understand the opening sentence! You are not out of the park at all you are right – a coincidence seems to be essentially a relativistic phenomena in which what one person perceives as coincidence another does not due to an asymmetry of information between the two people. Unlike relativity it is possible no “life form” as we define them has the information – therefore it is allowable to have the illusion of coincidence to all observers

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• Wow! Keep blowing my mind I like it! Heh heh heh
No, but really, wow this is so true!!!

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• Lol I didn’t post comment. I refreshed by accident.

I was saying if you have a post about the circle of life.. if not at followers request… Would you write something like it since you have more understanding of the universe?

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• Sorry I was a little slow on the approval button! I think the answer to the majority of the points on circularity – and certainly the planets is gravity. Because gravity forms a disturbance in 3D space you have the effect of all matter being pulled into a central point. When the mass of the matter is great enough it forms itself into a sphere. An eyeball on the other had, I would assume is an evolutionary phenomena – since the light wouldn’t reflect internally to hit the back of the eye without rounded edges – note though many people have rugby ball shaped eyes; to varying degrees known as astigmatism. The circle has many attractive properties which means it naturally forms; that said a perfect circle is hard to come by, you are normally looking at curvature

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• Damn. I’m gonna sit here and let that very intellectual explanation sink in ok.

#goes on thinking coma mode

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• All this thinking gave me a brain over load. Lol I’m going back to sleep. Wth am I doing thinking and stuff!!! I gotta be up and ready to work in 3 hrs. It’s 4:30 am here in tx

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• That is very late indeed to be thinking about circles!

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3. What is going to blow your mind is that 1 hr ago, in my recording memo. I took note to write about the circle lol what is the circle? What people call snow angel, i see a circle. Why do we form inside a circled/sphere shape? Why are the planets round? Why does the clock go in a circle? Why is it called the circle of life? Then it hit me like a bus!!!!! Life is a circle like the our own seeing eye!!!! WHY? COINCIDENCE? or is there a mystery why our eyeballs are round like the planets we “SEE?”

Anyways, idk why I think of stuff like that or if it even matters. Lol what ever the case… I still like to question it lol nice topic! Love it dear thanks for posting 😁😁😁

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4. Why are theories so intriguing? Lol it never fails!!! Everytime I come to your blog, it makes me feel like grabbing an extra large bag of popcorn!!!

And I wonder if anybody have had that question in their mind? You the circle I explained. You have a better understanding of planets I think you should write about the circle of life if you don’t already have such topic… Would be my honor to share this idea with you. I think you know what I’m boiling in my head if it makes any sense… You would explain it better 😁

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5. Good night all from tx warm hugs! 🙌💞

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6. DONT GET BRAIN OVERLOADS… Joseph has that effect on people tee-hee. Ok now I’m done. Nite nite

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7. I read the same in a book called “La fin du hasard” (the end of hazard) written by the controversial Igor & Grishka Bogdanov.
Now, as a philosophy teacher and as a human being, I can’t accept that hazard doesn’t exist and it is just the result of the lack of information about an event. this idea takes the freedom away and the element of surprise in life. What do you think?

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• I think there is probably a subtlety underlying how you define a hazard. But if you take it to be an event that will cause you harm I do not think perfect information necessarily resolves the hazard. As an example; if a meteor will strike Earth and we have the knowledge; if we don’t have the ability to do anything to prevent it I think it still fits the definition of a hazard. Freedom and the element of surprise however can be removed without removing the hazard – which in this example they have been. Of course; this is all under my definition

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• Thank you very much for your comment! I am glad you like the blog, that’s good encouragement to have

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8. Joseph you are a scientist to the very core, by that I mean the unexplained cannot be tolerated and ‘ we must rationalise’.
Probability is viewed with an uneasy eye in the same way as Einstein viewed ‘playing with dice’. Now as a layman it seems to me the ultimate cop- out is the multiverse I wonder what Einstein would have made of that? ‘ Anything that can happen will happen ‘ my goodness it Bowles me over. If I present you with a pack of cards and you pull out the queen of clubs I might say fantastic how did you do it since there was only a chance of 1:52 of getting that card. So after the event has happened probability has no meaning . Events that seem impossibly unlikely must occur all the time or to carry this crazy argument to its conclusion what ever the future is its extremely unlikely.
Would you that spangle of Existence spend
A hair perhaps divides the False and True–
And upon what , or prithee , may life depend?

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• I am in indeed and of course the unexplained cannot be tolerated! The multiverse however was not designed to fit a problem or to yield a solution. Just like extra dimensions they fell out of sensible mathematics leading us to question what we actually understand about the universe. You are correct in your assertion of probability having no effect post-event of course, a probability is indeed a prediction before the event by construction. But the idea of anything that can happen will happen is particularly pertinent in quantum mechanics where a particle can take a whole range of positions and over time it will at some point occupy all of them. I don’t think we shouldnt be frightened of experimenting with paths that seem unnatural – because what is natural to a human is subjective and can only take us so far.

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9. Interesting and thought provoking article

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• Thank you very much I am glad you enjoyed

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10. Reblogged this on Richard's Watch and commented:
Further to my post on ‘implausible’ but observed properties of the universe, mathematician Joseph conveys scientists’ amazement at its ‘finely balance parameters’ without which it – and ourselves – would not exist. He considers a solution that shows sciences’ slow tendency toward the holy scriptures, based as they are upon the foundational premise that the universe and mankind exists only because of the conscious intention, decision and act of creation (and held up) by the Creator’s own powerful command (Gen 1:1-3 & Heb1:1-3).

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11. Yes, I liked the maths option at the end, that there could have been millions of attempts, or there may be billions of others that we don’t know about, as there are billions of stars we didn’t know about until recently.
There are many brilliant coincidences and things in our world and the universe. It all seems quite perfect, but as you say, maybe that’s because we are living comfortably now.
If we were used to seeing multiple sunsets and nearby planets every day, and communicating with others from outside our world, and we had wings to fly everywhere we wanted, and we could live forever; and then all the extras disappeared, and we were reduced to what we are now, then we would think ourselves diminished and unlucky, lonely and lost!

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• Indeed – when you consider the vast timescales the universe has to play with the improbable may indeed become very probable. I agree with your sentiments entirely – in some senses we are very lucky with all we have; but then on the other hand it does not take too much imagination to see how we could of had so much more!

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12. I think you have misspelled one tag… It is Anthropic Principle, right? Great article! Keep up the great work!

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• Good spot thank you! I am glad you enjoyed the article

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13. Some coincidences are down to probability, I believe others are what SQuire Rushnell calls God winks.

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14. Interesting post! I enjoyed reading. Very educational

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15. Pingback: It’s a coincidence, right? – IDEADECO·

16. Wow, this is some intense science! I believe that there is no coincidence. However, my views are simplistic and metaphysical. I only understand that we are vibrational and therefore pull in what experiences and situations we are creating with thought and feeling. I couldn’t even read the whole article as I’ve only had one cup of coffee. I am now pouring a second cup and going to attempt again.

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• Metaphysics and simplicity don’t often marry up well! Thank you very much for reading – I think we very much share the point of view that coincidences are unlikely to be real! I hope you enjoy – along with the coffee!

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17. Pingback: A descent into chaos·

18. Thanks for this, it’s given me plenty to think about! I have no formal background in physics but I’ve been thinking about entropy recently, and came to the conclusion that although all outcomes within a macroscopic environment are random and equally likely to occur, there are features of that macroscopic environment that are different from another whereby that same outcome is possible, and some others are not. So it is possible to deduce shared likelihood across two different environments and therefore reduce the randomness of these outcomes where environments are combined, but in a reverse way…anyway I’ve tried to explain this here:
https://amiweirdblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/entropy-and-the-singularity/

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• Thank you very much for your comment! I am glad the post got you thinking, it’s what this site is all about. I know where you are coming from in terms of the statistical nature of the law – however in terms of “disorder” it does make intuitive sense that the sets we would regard as ordered in systems where we have millions of free moving particles are very very improbable – to the point we can say effectively null. You do raise a good point around objective randomness – and highlight the statistical nature of the process. Thank you for reading

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• Thanks for the reply 🙂 yeah I agree, in practical application with regards to the entire universe, the laws of statistics are infinitely applied, causing chaos and disorder.

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