Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Weird coincidences

Not really an epistemological topic (I think), but I couldn't figure out any other place to write about a few of these weird coincidences.

Today I just finished reading Queen in Danger by Adam Hall. At the end of the book there are a advertisements for 9 books, including 5 books by Tony Hillerman. I've never read any of Hillerman's books, but it turns out that I had just borrowed and have here A Thief of Time, one of Hillerman's books that was advertised at the back of Hall's book. I think I had first read one of Hall's books after reading his obituary (but that was at least some months ago--turned out to be in May of this year, but I encountered it again on my book list as I was working on the second paragraph below), and it was Hillerman's obituary that did motivate me to reserve the Hillerman book. I don't even remember what got me to borrow the book I just finished today, but it sure is a weird coincidence... Okay, so there aren't that many publishers, but it still strikes me as mighty weird--especially because it reminds me of an earlier weird coincidence.

That coincidence was in 2007, when I was reading a terrible book by Harlan Colban (or a name something like that) and I encountered a reference in his book to Anne Tyler, another author who I'd never read before--but that day I just happened to have one of her books in my briefcase in case I didn't like the Colban one. Turned out I didn't, and I still haven't finished it, and not sure that I ever will. However, the Tyler book was rather interesting, and I might read some more of her books later on. Actually, I ground to a halt in that Colban book as I wrote an email message to the author and got a rude reply--which reminds me of some more weird coincidences.

These coincidences involved the book Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. I also wrote him email and got a rude reply. However, in his book he mentioned his other book on black swans, which he defined as highly unlikely events. (I may have heard of that book before, perhaps from Mike Houle.) However, as I was reading his book, I encountered two more rather unlikely mentions of black swans---after he had just described black swans as being highly unlikely events. Both of those references were in other books. One was in an Agatha Christie book, The Labours of Hercules, where one of the stories starts in a pub called the Black Swan. I'd forgotten about that, but I encountered the story again as I was reading the Japanese translation in August while I was reading the Taleb book. The triple on this coincidence was Shopaholic Abroad by Sophie Kinsella, which I noticed was published by Black Swan Press. That Taleb book might be some kind of coincidence magnet? I remember that one day as I was reading it, I looked at the license numbers of a string of cars near IBM, and they formed a surprising sequential sequence of some kind. Probably only three or four cars at the time, but it still struck me as highly unlikely.

Or maybe it's just a matter of my having become too observant of too many things? If you see too much, you'll surely see odd coincidences?


  1. More weird coincidences to make one wonder about the strangeness and randomness of real life versus the terse precision of fiction... Or perhaps it's something with zen and karma?

    I'm just finishing "Google's PageRank and Beyond", and in the mathematics guide at the end of the book, it mentions that M-matrices are named in honor of Minkowski, who turns out to be the same mathematician who was mentioned in a Kumon page that I was studying yesterday as a teacher of Einstein when he was at Zurich, where IBM has a major lab. (I couldn't recognize the name of the city in Japanese, but the mathematician's name itself was distinctive enough to pick up on.) Meanwhile, in a book about Isamu Noguchi, I just encountered a 1964 photo of him at IBM headquarters in Armonk. A few days ago, I was reading a book about Blue Note album covers, where one of the albums was named "Think!", the old IBM motto from the Senior days. Also, Big Blue is one of IBM's nicknames and the color is given special significance here, for example with 'blue space' referring to a business area where we have a well established presence in contrast to fresh 'white space' that we want to target. Linking back to Japan, there was an album called "Tokyo Blues" with a couple of kimono-clad women on the cover, whereas blue is how some of us Yamato people may be feeling in the face our coming relocation to Tokyo...

  2. Weird coincidence that my recent addition of weird coincidences disappeared? On the one hand, right now I can't recall where the chain of weirdness began, though I remember it ended at IBM in several ways. On the other hand, why wouldn't I expect Google to lose it again?

    I remember that the IBM parts involved a book about Blue Note (a famous jazz label) covers and "Think!" as IBM's old motto (from Senior) and also used as the title of an album, along with the picture of Isamu Noguchi at IBM headquarters at Armonk (around the time Senior passed away).

    Ah, from my BookList I was jogged into remembering that the front part of the chain was a Kumon page that mentioned one of Einstein's teachers who was mentioned in a book about Google's PageRank that I was reading the next day. I couldn't recognize Zürich in Japanese, but I did manage to match the name Minkowski.

    The linkage between the two parts was probably that the Japanese language is linked to "Tokyo Blues", another album whose cover (with two young Japanese women in kimonos) appeared in the book. The blue topic is related to IBM's Big Blue nickname and the 'blue space' of IBM's existing business in relation to 'white space' where IBM is seeking new business.

    I think there may have been some other linkage to at least one of two other recent books, one about Marc Chagall or Sandel's book about justice. Can't remember now...