Category: Editorials

(Submitted by Friend of the Blog, Brian Hart)

Not twins.

Not twins.

Haven’t we all heard the old saw that everyone has an exact double somewhere in the world? Lookalikes are a form of coincidence – coinciding features that make people look so much alike that they seem to be twins, except they  are unrelated. They are having a special experience, and as photographer Francois Brunelle articulates below, it is not that they look like a celebrity – they look just like someone else. Brian Hart submitted this article a few months ago, and I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. This is our gift to you – whatever holiday you are celebrating, or none, enjoy this special piece of photojournalism.

“Brunelle has studied the human face since he started out as a photographer in 1968, at the age of 18. He said he was ‘fascinated by the resemblance between look-alikes.’

‘It is not about looking like famous people,’ he said. ‘The project is about looking like other people.

‘The fact that two persons, totally unrelated to each other, sometimes born in different countries, share the same physical appearance is really the essence of (it).'” – from the article.


(Submitted by friend of the blog, George Hrab, of Geologic Podcast)

Leave it to our good friend George Hrab to send us a music-related coincidence, and one of the nicest ones you’ll ever see.

According to the source article, this Berlin street performer was minding his own business playing “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat when who should walk by? Jimmy Somerville, the group’s lead singer. I’ll let the video (sadly filmed sideways) explain the rest:


I can only imagine both people were just as thrilled by the moment, but for entirely different reasons.

(Submitted by guest contributor Ben Radford)

Though my skepticism didn’t really come until full bloom until I was in college, I was more or less skeptical of many things by high school, including psychics. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and though I hadn’t yet picked up my first skeptical publication I loved books about curiosities, trivia, and little-known facts (or, as I’d later realize, sometimes “facts”).

When I was a junior in high school I took an art class, partly because it was an easy A and partly because I wanted to try my hand at clay and modeling. Students didn’t have individual desks but instead were seated two to a side on stools around large square metal-covered worktables. There was one kid (I forget his name, but we always called him “Drac” because he was blond and had a vaguely vampiric visage) who sat at my table. We were casual acquaintances, and didn’t know much more about each other than our first names (apparently not even that).

However one day out of the blue, in the middle of class while cutting a piece of metal into the shape of a Picassoesque horse, I said to him, “Hey—I’ll bet I know your mom’s middle name.” He looked at me sideways and gave a quick laugh. “Yeah? What is it?” he challenged. Without missing a beat—and while staring him directly in the eyes—I said simply, “It’s Ann.”

His laugh stopped, his face grew slack, and the blood drained from his face. His eyes grew wide, and then narrowed. “How did you know that?” he demanded. I just gave a brief mysterious smile and went back to working on my horse. “How did you know that?” he asked again. I just ignored him.

I don’t know if he thought I was psychic, or I had investigated his family, or what, but the next week he moved to a different table, avoided me in the halls, and never spoke to me again.

Of course, I didn’t know his mother’s middle name; I had read that the most common women’s middle name was Ann. I played the odds, acted confident and authoritative about my knowledge, and passed myself off as knowing something I didn’t. That experience still serves me 25 years later as I observe psychics doing hot and cold readings, and informs my investigations into the psychology of psychic experiences. It made quite an impression on him, and I wonder if, to this day, he tells the story to others, offering it as his personal experience with real, unexplainable psychic powers.


Ben Radford

Ben Radford

Benjamin Radford is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of six books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and

Based on the massive increase in hits today (by 9:30 Pacific we had surpassed our previous record for an entire DAY), most of you are probably now well aware that we were on this week’s episode of Skepticality, talking up our work and revealing our big news.

Going forward we’ll now be a regular feature of each episode of Skepticality, highlighting some of our favorite stories and, more excitingly, debuting some of our stories directly on the podcast.

So what does this mean for the site, itself? Well not a lot will be changing here beyond the expansion of some our content, and hopefully an increase in story submissions and comments afforded to us by having a wider audience tracking our posts. You can still expect several new stories per week and regular editorials, with the new addition of highlighting the posts that we share on the podcast and expanding the editorial content underneath them to include more in-depth analysis of the elements at play. So for those of you who ONLY read the web site, you’ll miss NOTHING. For those of you who listen to the podcast as soon as it’s released, you’ll most likely get to hear the story first as we’ll be posting it to the site the same day.

And for our new Skepticality readers: Welcome! We’re excited to have you here, and we hope you get involved. We have a couple of favors to ask of you as you delve into the site. One is the regular request to please submit your own stories! It’s your content that drives our site, so help us out. Secondly, please comment. We love your comments, even if they’re critical (although PLEASE keep them friendly and respectful). Did we miss something? Get a fact wrong? Get our stats wrong? Have crumbs in our beards? Tell us. Comment underneath and start a dialog and get the conversation flowing. This is a community site where we want to have fun and learn and expand our knowledge, so help out with that goal. Lastly, please share. Use those Like, +1, Tweet, etc. buttons, or share the stories in more old-fashioned forms, but pass along your favorites and help us spread to a wider audience.

Finally, just plain thank you to everyone who’s supported us so far in getting where we are. We’re extremely excited about the future of this site as we expand our audience, and we’re only here because of you. You’re awesome.

Monty Hall

Monty Hall

I have always been amused and intrigued by responses to “The Monty Hall Problem”, especially when I talk about it to audiences with a high concentration of engineers and mathematicians. If you are familiar with it, but you’ve always struggled with an unsettled feeling of “this can’t be right”, read further and let me know if my explanation of the solution helps to alleviate the discomfort. If you are not familiar, I guarantee you will give your brain a workout by reading on.

First posed to statisticians in 1975, “The Monty Hall Problem” is well-known among academics because it still sparks debate. Many seem to think that disagreements about its solution stem from issues in the clarity of the problem, but I contend that it really stems from human flaws in the way that we process information.

I often discuss this problem in statistics and cognitive psychology courses for several reasons. It is a great exercise in probability calculation and it can be used to teach basic mathematical modeling (and its purpose). An added benefit, since almost all of my students were psychology majors, is that it also illustrates a flaw in human cognition as well as a pattern of problem solving.  Even a knowledgeable statistician feels the need to run simulations to see the solution in action. Even then, fully grasping the mechanisms behind the answer often requires brute force cognition.

In general, human beings have a very difficult time wrapping their brains around concepts of probability. It is much like a visual illusion; we know that the lines are parallel/the circles are the same size/there is no motion, but we can’t make our brains process it in a way that represents that reality. It’s just not how our visual system works. I hypothesize that one of the reasons that probability is such a difficult field for most people is that it involves theory and models, which are distinct from observations and we must represent them differently in our minds to properly deal with them. Applications of probability often involve switching gears from the realm of models to data or vice versa and this is where I think most mathematicians get side-swiped in The Monty Hall Problem.

The Poser

In essence, here’s the problem:

View full article »

Last week we were excited to learn that George Hrab mentioned us in episode 251 of the Geologic Podcast. We’re definitely fans of his wide range of work, so the shoutout was a personal moment for the team. Some of us were even mildly verklempt, which was all the more relevant thanks to his mention of Gefilte fish, though less so since we’re not actually Jewish.

After a brief conversation with George via email, he graciously provided us with permission to post a transcript of his thoughts on the subject which I’ve placed below, followed by some additional thoughts by me, assuming you care. Please validate me by caring. Also, please listen to the podcast if you haven’t already since you get the nuances of George’s delivery, along with his general Georgeness.

Geologic Podcast #251 – Coincidence Transcript

I saw an interesting web site–no, a little blog post. There’s a place called The Odds Must Be Crazy. We’ll try to link to that in the show notes. But someone went onto The Odds Must Be Crazy–Brian H–he wrote this. He said, “I was listening to George Hrab’s podcast (episode 240) on my iPod while heading out to one of my familiar lunch spots in Santa Monica, California. In this episode George did a bit called the History Chunk where he tells what happened on this particular date in history, usually in chronological order, and the makes some kind of joke about it. He mentions how in 1982, boxer Duk Koo Kim died after a bout with Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini. Thirty seconds later I see Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini having lunch in the very restaurant I was walking into.  I clandestinely snapped his picture.”

This site is really interesting, and it talks about sort of the odds of things happening and how it can seem that the odds of something must be so astronomical that there must be some kind of a sign. So this Brian was listening to the show, I say “Boom Boom” Mancini, he looks up, and there’s “Boom Boom” Mancini. Now how could we calculate the odds of that occurring? I don’t know, but they’re astronomical. They’re astronomical. And yet if you think, “how many people that listen to the show didn’t see Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini when I said it?”, that would help to demonstrate the odds being not quite as horrifically set against as you might imagine.

View full article »

Last month an article on one of my favorite websites,, grabbed my attention. It included a discussion of studies and simulations which demonstrate (and provide evidence for) some of those things in life that lead us all to think that fate is trying to tell us something. Specifically, the adage we call “Murphy’s Law” states that what can go wrong will go wrong and it is supported by both mathematical proofs and observations.

“When it comes to long strands of string, from proteins in a person’s cells to the rigging in a ship, this means spontaneous knotting. People have written papers about how string knots up the minute it’s given a chance to jiggle around.”

The article goes on to discuss a simulation of a random walk (direction for each step is determined randomly) in 3-dimensional space with the restriction that no space can be occupied more than once. The path of the walk simulates the placement of a length of string – the beginning and end of the path are the ends of the string and no part of the string can occupy the same space as another part. What the researchers found was that any sufficiently long walk (string) must contain a knot. The longer the walk (string), the more knots.

This can teach us that tossing our Christmas lights into a box is almost certain to result in knots to untangle next year, but it can also teach us a lot about risks, coincidences, and how to think about those things.

Barbara Drescher

When I was nine years old my family lived on the Great Lakes Naval Station (on the shores of Lake Michigan) for about a year before buying a house off the base. Our home was in a cul de sac that was shared by several families. One of the families of which we were particularly fond was a widower with a boy and girl about the same ages as my brother and I. Fast forward to more than four years later, after we had moved twice and now lived 2,000 miles away in Sacramento, California. We drove the three hours from our home to a tiny fishing hole called Blue Lake for a weekend of camping and fishing. About an hour after we arrived, my mother suddenly blurted out, “Hey, isn’t that Bud Neighbor [not his real name]?” Sure enough, camped a few spaces down were our old friends.

I have had quite a few similar experiences, but none as bizarre or unexplainable as this one. Should we have been freaked out and considered some cosmic connection?

To find out, let’s turn back to the article I mentioned and Murphy’s Law. Is it true that anything that can go wrong will go wrong? Well, not exactly. You can get on that plane tomorrow and be confident that you will survive the flight (your odds are approximately 9.2 million to 1). However, if you “tempt fate” enough, even the least likely disaster will eventually happen. Of course, your plan to commit suicide via commercial airliner will require you to fly every day for more than 25,000 days to ensure success, and even then you have no guarantees.

The problem of spontaneous knotting is simply a matter of odds. It relies on something called “The Law of Large Numbers”, which dictates that any event which can occur will occur if given enough opportunities.* String knots up when there’s a lot of it because there are a number of ways in which it can be knotted.

Without going through a bunch of math, let’s look at how we determine probabilities. There are two properties to consider when determining whether an event is unusual (vs. expected):

View full article »

[Today’s article is cross-posted with Mark Edward’s permission with SkepticBlog. If you’re unfamiliar, please go check them out.]

This last weekend was Christmas, a time when I usually sit around doing nothing but feeling blue. This time was different. My girl Susan was coming to visit and the only real plans we had were to go and see “The Artist.” That being planned, the rest of the days off were set for winging it and hanging out when and where we felt like going.

On Thursday morning, I mentioned to Susan that I wanted to remember to call my friend Ray Bradbury and wish him a happy holiday. Next day on Friday, we drove into downtown L.A. to see the Weegee exhibition at MOCA. Leaving at around noon, we made our way downtown and began the process of looking for a cheap place to park. We finally randomly settled on a spot across the street from Grand Central Market on Hill Street.

Mark Edward

This classic melting pot of L.A. has always been one of my favorite places to wander around and watch the bustling activity, grab a quick bite and best of all; it lies conveniently a few blocks around the corner from the more expensive MOCA district where it has been since 1917. Being a photographer by profession, Susan snaps away at anything that sparks her fertile creative mind and after partaking of a latte and croissant, we found ourselves outside on the busy east side of South Broadway. I chanced to glance across the street and remembered (for the first time in twenty or thirty years) the wonderfully bizarre interior of The Bradbury Building. I had been there a few times in my past and had a connection with the place. Being a fan of the ’60s television series The Outer Limits and having had the privilege of a friendship with the series’ producer Joseph Stefano, I knew a bit about the strange workings of science fiction writers and how they had used the building as a location not only in the seminal black and white episode of The Outer Limits: The Demon with the Glass Hand, (1964) but also countless other productions including D.O.A. (1950),Blade Runner(1982) and Wolf (1994).

The building has an odd background. Some might even call it a “paranormal” one. Wiki says:

“A local architect, Sumner Hunt, was first hired to complete a design for the building, but (the originally commissioned Lewis L.)Bradbury dismissed Hunt’s plans as inadequate to the grandeur of his vision. He then hired George Wyman, one of Hunt’s draftsmen, to design the building. Wyman at first refused the offer, but then supposedly had a ghostly talk with his brother Mark Wyman (who had died six years previously), while using a planchette board (Ouija) with his wife. The ghost’s message supposedly said “Mark Wyman / take the / Bradbury building / and you will be / successful” with the word “successful” written upside down. After the episode, Wyman took the job, and is now regarded as the architect of the Bradbury Building. Wyman’s grandson, the science fiction publisher Forrest J. Ackerman, owned the original document containing the message until his death. Coincidentally, Ackerman was a close friend of science fiction author Ray Bradbury.”

Suffice it to say that this building, its history and general noir demeanor are to say the least: bizarre. I hadn’t made any conscious linking between Ray Bradbury and the Bradbury building as we crossed the street and entered the cavernous lobby. That could have been interpreted by some as a coincidence, albeit a rather weak one. No, hang on – it gets weirder.

We lingered for a half hour or so and took some nice shadowy photos, particularly shooting from one stairway landing that overlooks the lobby from the second floor. We left the building enchanted with the visual charm of the beautiful wrought iron and stone work and quite invigorated by the experience.

The next day was Saturday, Christmas Eve. We decided we would go and see a matinee of “The Artist.” The film itself is a silent film and shot in black-and-white that captures the era when silent films began to morph into “talkies” (1927-1932) and how the main characters deal with the rocky transition.

In stunned amazement, we both sat in awe as a five minute scene unfolded in front of our eyes shot virtually on the exact spot we had been standing on the second floor landing in the Bradbury Building just 24 hours before. What are the odds? Spooky…

Mark Edward is a professional mentalist who specializes in magic of the mind. He continues to be consulted by the media for his knowledge of spiritualism, psychic fraud and ghost lore.

More from Mark can be found at SkepticBlog and

Are coincidences spooky supernatural experiences, or just interesting accidents of timing and geography? I have noticed them all my life, but I’ve never tried to quantify or identify them in any organized way before.

It’s not too unusual to bump into friends in the neighborhood. I seemed to run into my friend Connie pretty regularly at the old garden shop that used to be in our neighborhood before it was razed a few years ago. Frequently, every couple of months, we see each other at the Gelson’s grocery at around five o’clock. My excuse is that I’d discover at the last minute that I was short one or two ingredients for dinner and have to zoom to the market on a mission. I was chugging along pushing my basket one time, and felt somebody’s hand in my pocket and screamed — it was Connie — she was sneaking up on me. A shopper who saw her thought she was trying to steal something from me, and laughed when we hugged each other.

But — is it less common to see friends on the freeway? There approximately 2,000 vehicles per hour (vph) per lane* in rush hour — cars full of strangers, and it seems unlikely that I would see anyone I recognize in one of the cars; but I have seen my daughter in her car on the 101 westbound, which is probably not too unusual because we live in the same neighborhood, except I didn’t know she was about to go out at the same time I was. One time I was on my way to work in the morning, and I was driving along from Studio City on the 134 eastbound toward Eagle Rock. I had the radio on, concentrating on not missing my off ramp, and didn’t notice right away that two guys in a truck next to me on the drivers’ side were yelling and waving “Hey Wendy!” They were my boyfriend’s nephew and godson on their way to a glass installation job, and they recognized me in my car on the freeway!

Another time, I was on the Hollywood freeway, 170 North, and the SUV in front of me had a familiar name stenciled on it, Sharp FX, our friend Nick’s special effects business, except Nick had been living in China for over a year. I called my boyfriend and told him I saw Nicky’s car, and that I think he’s back home.

I was resting on a bus bench with my friend Gilda when we were on a shopping trip along Melrose Avenue, a popular retail area. We were talking with each other, and enjoying peoplewatching. She was sitting turned toward me and I was facing the street, so I didn’t see the boys coming close when one of them leaned over the back of the bench to give me a hug and a kiss. It was my friend PJ… and I recognized him right away, but Gilda didn’t know him, and she thought he was trying to steal my purse.  It seemed normal at the time, but as I look back on it, I go back and forth. I think that these experiences of bumping into friends in public, both in stores, on the sidewalk away from your normal neighborhood, seeing friends on the freeways, are worth counting to see just how unusual, or usual, they are.

Our paths cross by accidents of timing and geography — the phone rings and it’s someone you were talking about five minutes ago — but does that mean it can help you predict the future? Does that mean putting on the shirt you were wearing when you fell in love will bring back your long lost sweetheart? I can understand the surprising nature of unlikely circumstance — bumping into an old friend in a public place, or just noticing the wacky juxtaposition of a pattern of events that seem at once connected, and yet unrelated. Some people seem to have friends everywhere –  can they be the hubs of the six degrees of separation — the people who can hand off a package, and through a series of only single friend-to-friend transitions, transmit it from New York City to a jungle settlement in Zaire? I believe it’s true. There are people who know more than the usual number of other people, and people who nurture loose friendships that are the fiber of such human networks as these seeming coincidences are made of.

But I also understand that there is a “bigger picture”; that once we stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe, that it would be ridiculous to think that it is unusual that our paths would not cross more than once, or only when we make and keep planned dates. That seems to be an exaggeration of our ability to control our environment, or maybe an expression of our need to control it. Seen in a context of the randomness, the stochasticity of  all the possible experiences people can have, the tiny, random events that surprise us seem to be just failures of our own imagination, a misunderstanding of the depth of time and the size of the universe. I am not sure what the message is – except that I will probably bump into you soon!

Yes, I already know what you are thinking. I’m a mentalist, right? Coincidence? What’s so unusual about it? You are thinking there’s nothing particularly paranormal about coincidence. Science, skeptics and psychologists have taken the concept apart and dissected it down to its constituent elements. It’s been already explained away and nothing worth debating. Yet despite such drab things as facts to the contrary, I’m not as easily convinced that coincidence is just an accidental event as some of my skeptical friends.

As a performing mentalist, I get the chance to play around with terms and concepts like coincidence, synchronicity, worm holes and other wild thinking. It’s all part of the plausibility factors I work to invoke to get the audience to buy into what I do. Some might even suggest that sensitizing an audience to these ideas creates a “psi-conducive” awareness that might even allow such things to happen in rare instances. In my travels I picked up the line: “Coincidence is a word scientists use to explain what they can’t explain.”  Sounds like bull, huh? Well okay.  Engrained habits die hard. That line worked for awhile, but now I think I know better. Or do I?

Mark Edward

Throughout the history of parapsychology there have been examples that have gone far beyond just the standard cause and effect one-time moments most of us have experienced and wondered about. Odds, probability and chance play into this in mathematical ways I can’t even begin to comprehend. Hey, I’m a magician! I do tricks. I suggest. I transpose. I transubstantiate. I take apart. I recombine. Is it any wonder that weird unplanned things happen now and again? And they do. There are so many of these coincidental synchronized events chronicled in the history of stage mentalists and magicians, a whole television reality series could be put together on just that subject alone. Do magicians and mentalists have a greater penchant for imaginative conceits and are we simply deluding ourselves like the worst of the psychics or do we just think weird stuff all the time? Does fate play some part in these moments of seeming transcendence? And what is fate anyway? It’s not a scientific construct. So is there anything going on besides just a condition of facts coinciding?  Maybe it’s just me. It’s hard to tell. These bizarre moments are by no means confined to performers whose job it is to simulate them. A standard example from BBC radio writer Joan Aiken:

” Wires get crossed, perhaps. The boss of a friend of ours left his office early one day and went home, calling at a fish-and-chips shop on the way. Close to the fish-and-chippery was a phone box and, as he passed it, the phone rang. He picked up the receiver. It was his own secretary, at his office, telling him about an urgent job. By mistake, instead of his phone number, she had dialed his National Insurance number next to it on the index card … which happened to be the number of the call box …”

I know the standard riff skeptics say to this: “Well,  …what if the phone had rung and he hadn’t picked up the receiver?” Point is:  he did. That he did is what makes that situation a coincidence. But it gets better. Things more complex than this simple coincidence pattern have manifested for many people, including myself:

One night many years ago, I was booked doing walk around close-up magic to warm-up the crowd at The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach for Jay Leno. I would roam around the main room doing this and that before Jay came out to do his routine. That night I was working a card trick where I asked someone to “think of a card.”  I have always preferred “think of” card bits because they seem more powerfully “mental” than more sleight of hand methods and thereby, to my way of thinking, more impossible.  In these “experiments” the spectator doesn’t pick a card, they merely think of any card. This is totally random and it could be any card that I will work with. I will never forget the next hour that passed after I asked the first person that question. They responded with, “Okay, …the Nine of Spades.” Fair enough. I did my bit with the Nine of Spades, finished with that table and went across the room to another random spectator. I asked the same question and was given the same answer, the Nine of Spades. Okay. Now we have simple “coincidence” and that’s all. No big deal. It was a little weird to have the same card come up twice in a row, but not that amazing.

I went back into the crowd and this time switched to a “pick a card” routine where any card is pulled from the deck randomly by the spectator and I proceed to identify it by any of dozens of methods. The card chosen by the spectator was once again the Nine of Spades. Okay. I’m thinking to myself, that’s weird; not exactly paranormal, just a little bizarre. But I’m starting to wonder a bit. Of course, in my character of Mr. Magic, I couldn’t very well blurt out, “Wow, that’s really weird, the Nine of Spades again!” It wouldn’t have made any sense to anyone but me. It was a personal thing happening in my head and I was the only one to whom it would be anything other than just one of those stories. I shrugged it off like most of us would and went on deciding I needed to mix things up, get as far away from that side of the room as possible, and try again.

I went to a farthest, noisiest corner I could find away from the rest of the room I had already worked and (asking for trouble) picked the most inebriated person I could find and asked them to think of any card in the deck. They screwed up their face in concentration and eventually named the Nine of Spades. I’m not making this up. It happened.

My magician mind began to spin wild conspiracy thoughts. There had to be an explanation. I thought the club owner might have put everyone in on a big prank and was messing with me. Maybe the back of tonight’s ticket stub read: “Say the Nine of Spades if the magician asks you.”  I was getting a bit spooked but bounced back to the opposite side of the room, being careful to avoid anyone near any areas I might have been overheard before and opted for the “pick a card” bit again.  Guess which card came up? Yep, the Nine of Spades!  I realized that the prank hypothesis wouldn’t have covered how two people had now taken totally random cards from a shuffled deck and came up with the Nine of Spades. I must have looked quite pale as I finished with that table.

I reasoned maybe the two “pick a card” folks were just as they were, simply random choices that could fall under standard two event coincidence. That would have made them not that statistically incredible, but adding in the other three “think of a card” people and it was starting to feel like the Twilight Zone. That was five Nines of Spades in a row in the span of around twenty-five minutes. My head was spinning with bewilderment. The nearby cocktail waitress was watching me looking adrift and, convincing myself it couldn’t happen again, I asked her to quickly pick out a card. It couldn’t happen again, but it did. That made six! I just couldn’t figure it. I took a needed break and after collecting myself, stopped by the owner’s office where he and his assistant (who are usually much too busy to even notice I’m there) were busy as usual. I mumbled something to them about there being a joke on me tonight and they looked blankly back at me as if I was crazy. I decided to stop by the Green Room, where Jay and the other comedians hung out. I shuffled my cards nervously, carefully looking them over to make sure they weren’t somehow daubed or marked with mustard or ketchup that might have caused the Nine of Spades card to be more thick, stuck or stand out from the rest.  I found no solution to my befuddlement. Jay asked why I looked so shaky and I told him what had been happening. Laughing at my predicament, he took the cards from me, shuffled them three or four times and said,”…If you go back out there and the Nine of Spades comes up again now, … even I’ll be impressed.”

wandered back out into the crowd in a bemused sensation of dread, afraid to offer anyone a card, but uneasily resolved to do one more ”pick a card any card” routine. What could be the chances?

Things like this aren’t supposed to happen. It throws off my timing! I picked a table, approached rather sheepishly and in almost a whisper, uttered those now detestable words, “Pick a card any card.” To my chagrin, the card chosen wasn’t the Nine of Spades!  It was some other card I don’t remember. I do remember that I was momentarily rendered speechless. The spectator must have wondered why the look on my face was so joyfully flabbergasted. To him it was just a stupid pick a card trick. Apparently (as many believers might conjecture) Jay had taken the “whammy” off the cards and broken the spell. Seven times being “the charm” in this case. Who knows what really happened that night. I realize that there is a chance that selective memory could conceivably be a critical factor in relating all this. I swear the facts related are essentially true and how I remember it happening.  Six of one and six of another and then bingo –  nothing. And BTW, I was stone sober that night. Interestingly enough, the Nine of Spades has hardly ever come up when I have been performing card routines since that night. It’s almost as if I used up all the chances for that particular card to turn up in one hour of my lifetime. What a crazy superstition that is, right?

How do we explain things like this or can we? What’s the probability, math guys? Give me a formula that explains it clearly. It may seem only slightly odd to you, to me this was an authentic event that left me wondering to myself more than once or twice, …who was fooling who?

Of course we can dismiss the whole thing and say, so what? It ultimately means nothing and like coin tossing, has no relevance to magic, skepticism or life’s big questions. Such anecdotal tales are of no scientific value or proof of anything. It’s a blip on the radar screen and absurd. It was just a card trick and doesn’t prove or disprove anything. And we would be right. But still a blip is a blip.

I’m interested in investigating verifiable situations where a “coincidence” happens this way. If you remember Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” the feeling I had that night was analogous. When the odds seem incalculable (if that term is even appropriate) and the specific information repeats itself again and again in a short time frame, the “coincidence” becomes something altogether different from the norm. Am I alone here?  Probably not.

Mark Edward is a professional mentalist who specializes in magic of the mind. He continues to be consulted by the media for his knowledge of spiritualism, psychic fraud and ghost lore.

More from Mark can be found at SkepticBlog and