A Coincidence Is A Coincidence, Not The Universe 'Telling You' Something

by Alexia LaFata

If you've ever wondered exactly how the expansive, ever-changing universe operates, look no further than a recent "Inside Amy Schumer sketch," in which Bill Nye the Science Guy graced viewers with this excellent explanation:

For centuries, humankind has strived to understand this vast expansive energy of gas and dust. In recent years, a stunning breakthrough has been made in our concept of what the universe is for... Scientists once believed the universe was a chaotic collection of matter. We now know the universe is essentially a force sending cosmic guidance to white women in their 20s.

No, the universe does not exist to merely provide us with an atmosphere to sustain life; it exists to offer us an explanation for everything, to comfort 20-somethings in their times of crises.

It's true. Bill Nye said it.

Obviously, this is a joke, but it's a wonderfully crafted one: If you've ever found yourself in the midst of a situation in which you attribute a coincidence to something other than the fact that it was just a coincidence, you are the target of Amy Schumer's genius here.

And I am, too. We all are.

Anytime two things happen that seem vaguely connected to each other, I somehow fabricate a convoluted explanation about how they're definitely connected by fate, by the universe or by a "sign" of something greater.

For example, a friend recently told me about how she was supposed to go to an appointment to see a new apartment and then received an email from a different realtor who sounded like he had better places.

She took that as a sign that she shouldn't go to see the first apartment, so she canceled the appointment.

She didn't want to believe that meeting with another realtor was just another thing she had to add to her to-do list. So she found a pattern in her chaos and attributed it to the universe.

These kinds of beliefs in fate and destiny have existed in cultures long before ours, but they've also gone completely mainstream.

Plenty of people have paid for fortune tellers, prophets, foreseers and astrologists to try to attribute random happenings to the universe at work.

Nobody wants to believe life is just a clusterf*ck of chaotic happenings. Believing that everything is random, that there's no meaning in anything we do, is too cynical and disheartening.

A 2012 study supports the idea that meaninglessness is indeed one of the reasons people try to find greater meanings to coincidences.

We want to shift the blame from randomness and nothingness to "the universe," so we feel like there's a reasonable explanation for whatever's happening to us.

Patricia Tueme, a rehabilitation specialist, tells Elite Daily that finding patterns in coincidences is all about how we survive, even when we attribute those patterns to the universe.

When we seek out patterns, she says, we're actually trying to find causation between two events -- in other words, we're trying to predict how something happened.

And finding reasons for why things occurs give us the illusion that we have control over our lives, that we're capable of surviving.

It's as simple as noticing, for example, that you get acne every time you eat french fries.

The repetitive act of eating french fries causes the repetitive experience of getting pimples on your face, and once you notice this, you reason that french fries are causing your breakouts, so you stop eating french fries.

This is a rather simple causation: French fries cause acne. But we've become so good at detecting these kinds of smaller-scale patterns that we start to see ones that aren't actually there.

We start to see a connection between two random events that have nothing to do with each other.

And because we think the odds of something randomly, unexplainably amazing happening are improbable, we say it simply must be a result of something astronomical -- something like the universe.

According to Martin Plimmer and Brian King, authors of “Beyond Coincidence,” if a sample size is very large, even extremely unlikely things start to become likely to occur.

Think about it: It's impossible to calculate the total of every single little thing you've done in your entire life because that number would be an unbelievably huge sample size.

So, with this large sample size, the odds of something as unlikely as, say, an apartment realtor messaging you on the day before you're supposed to go look at an apartment are actually not that small.

A coincidence, so it seems, is not as coincidental as we think.

Now, once we start actively noticing these random, inexplicable patterns in our lives, we start interpreting them more favorably.

We seek out a reality that matches our expectations, and we start interpreting information about the world around us in such a way that confirms those expectations.

To illustrate this theory, Tueme tells Elite Daily:

Example: You were thinking about buying a car. Finally, you are out of Boston, and you need reliable transportation. Suddenly, you notice there are people driving cars EVERYWHERE. You also notice a sudden surplus of car commercials during [a TV] intermission. Is this a cosmic message? Is the universe trying to communicate its plans for you? Nope. Sorry. In your search for causality in a random reality, what you actually did was create a reality around your beliefs. Face it: Everything is a coincidence.

The good news is once you fully accept this, you can start to take back control of your life instead of leaving major decisions up to the cosmos.

You can now play an active role in what happens to you, which would ultimately lead to a more fulfilling existence.

Or maybe that's just a coincidence.