Impressions of coincidence

Among some of the other collections of words on pages that I’m currently flipping through (Through the Ruins of the Empire is proving remarkably stimulating so far), I’ve just started re-reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. Here’s a fun quote:

“A single incident may make a recurrence less surprising. Some years ago, my wife and I were vacationing in a small island resort on the Great Barrier Reef. There are only forty guest rooms on the island. When we came to dinner, we were surprised to meet an acquaintance, a psychologist named Jon. We greeted each other warmly and commented on the coincidence. Jon left the resort the next day. About two weeks later, we were in a theater in London. A latecomer sat next to me after the lights went down. When the lights came up for the intermission, I saw that my neighbour was Jon.

My wife and I commented later that we were simultaneously conscious of two facts: first this was a more remarkable coincidence than the first meeting; second, we were distinctly less surprised to meet Jon on the second occasion than we had been on the first. Evidently, the first meeting had somehow changed the idea of Jon in our minds. He was now ‘the psychologist who shows up when we travel abroad.’

We (System 2, effortful thinking), knew this was a ludicrous idea, but our System 1 (automatic thinking)had made it seem almost normal to meet Jon. We would have experienced much more surprise if we had met any acquaintance other than Jon in the next seat of a London theater. By any measure of probability, meeting Jon in the theatre was no more likely than meeting any one of our hundreds of acquaintances – yet meeting  Jon seemed normal.”

p. 72, Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
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