Are These Incredible Historical Coincidences Actually Due to Synchronicity or Mathematical Probability?
Coincidences are a concurrence of circumstances which are so unpredictable that they often become associated with the supernatural and paranormal. History is composed with brilliant acts of skill and is also full of bizarre ‘coincidences’ that often seem so incredible that many people have been convinced higher powers were at play.
Mathematicians describe coincidences as probabilities and deem them as inevitable, meaning they can be given odds of occurring. It is when the odds of an occurrence are highest that events are thought of as being coincidental, and if the odds are through the roof then some events can appear almost miraculous.
So far as mathematicians and near miracles are concerned, Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest scientific minds in all of history, would have struggled to work out the chances of his own birthday, January 8, 1942, falling on the 300th anniversary of the death of another great scientist, Galileo Galilei. What is more, his death occurred on Einstein’s 139th birthday, March 14, Pi day, when the calendar reads 3.14.
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Tomb of Galileo Galilei in Santa Croce, Florence, Italy. Stephen Hawking was born on the same day Galileo died, 300 years later – a strange historical coincidence? (stanthejeep/CC BY SA 2.5)
Before we look at what exactly a coincidence is, scientifically, and why they occur so frequently, let’s first look at some of history’s most perplexing and apparently extraordinary coincidences, that seem to stretch mathematical probability to its very extremes.
‘Romulus’ was the founder of Rome and the first king, and the first emperor of the Roman Empire was ‘Augustus.’ When the Roman Empire collapsed, coincidentally, the emperor who watched it burn to the ground was Romulus Augustus!
Romulus, Victor over Acron, hauls the rich booty to the temple of Jupiter. (Public Domain)
What is more, according to an article on History.Com, Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the United States of America died on the 50th anniversary of the 4th of July, and so did John Adams. Following in the footsteps of this morbid tradition, fellow founder and president James Monroe died five years later, again, on the 4th of July.
Genghis Khan famously and violently rampaged throughout the Eurasian continent and his direct descendant Amir Timur (1336 - 1405) was the first ruler of the Turco-Mongol Timurid dynasty from 1370 until his death. On June 20, 1941, Soviet Union archaeologists uncovered his tomb and found an inscription reading: “Whoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.” According to Fascinate.Com “Two days later, the Nazis launched their invasion of the USSR with Operation Barbarossa.”
Portrait of Genghis Khan. (Public Domain)
In the sky, we have the coincidence that sun and moon have nearly the same visual diameter, so that a solar eclipse allows us to see the effect of the solar corona. What is more, although their material constitution is completely different, the Moon and clouds in daylight have the same color and brightness. Further celestial coincidences were laid out by John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston, in his book The Engines of Our Ingenuity, which tells the fascinating coincidence of Mark Twain’s birth and death.
On November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri, Mark Twain was born with Halley’s Comet in the sky, which returns to Earth’s vicinity about every 75 years. By 1909, Twain had lived for 74 years and in his 20’s he predicted that in his death, like his birth, the comet would be visible in the sky. He was quoted as saying: “It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.” Twain suffered a heart attack on April 21, 1910, only 12 hours after Halley’s Comet emerged from the far side of the Sun.
Comet 1P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network. (Public Domain)
Another head scratcher is that the mass of the Great Pyramid is estimated at nearly six million tons and if one multiplies this by one hundred million, you get the approximate mass of the Earth. Furthermore, the exact geographical coordinates of the Great Pyramid of Giza is 29.9792458°N and the speed of light is: 299,792,458 meters per second. At first glance these facts seems far too accurate to be mere coincidence, but watch how easy all this is rationalized.
The Skeptical Tools Of Synchronicity And Serendipity
Firstly, ancient Egyptian builders measured in cubits, between 444 mm (17.48 inches) and 529.2 mm (20.83 inches) long. The meter measurement was not made official until the 1700s. Website MetaBunk argues: “If they actually knew about the meter one would expect them to use such unit for measurement as well. They simply did not.” It adds: “A matching sequence of five digits is not particularly strange or extraordinary. People have won the lottery matching far longer sequences than just five digits. Sometimes numbers simply match up without any connection whatsoever. So because this argument requires some forcing we can conclude that this is likely nothing but a coincidence.”
Aerial photograph of the pyramids of Giza taken from Eduard Spelterini's balloon on 21 November 1904. (Public Domain)
Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was a member of the British House of Commons in the 18th century who had a habit of ‘finding what he needed, just when he needed it’. Walpole gave a name to his uncanny ability to find things unexpectedly - “serendipity” - which meant ‘finding something by informed observation’ (sagacity as he called it) and by accident. According to an article on Coincider.Com “The main ingredients of ‘serendipity’ include luck, chance, active searching and informed observation.”
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Measuring the chance, or the probability, of a coincidence allows for the discernment between coincidences and causally connected events. The paradox of probability theory is used to predict the ‘outcomes’ of a large number of individual occurrences, even though each one itself might be unpredictable. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, the Austrian-born Swiss and American theoretical physicist, theorized that remarkable coincidences occur through “synchronicity,” which they defined as an “a causal” connecting principle. The Jung-Pauli theory of “synchronicity" states that while coincidences lacked apparent causal connection, their occurrences together have meaning for observers. To become “synchronicity,” the apparently unrelated events should be “unlikely to occur together by chance.”
Even though Jung and Pauli were two of the brightest people to have graced our species, their theory is often questioned, because if something happened, there had to have been a chance, no matter how small the odds of that chance occurring. According to scholars David Lane and Andrea Diem Lane, in their 2010 book Desultory Decussation: Where Littlewood’s Law of Miracles meets Jung’s Synchronicity, skeptics argue that what one perceives “synchronicity” is merely an instance of apophenia, the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things and that the probability and statistical theory presented in Littlewood’s Law explains such ‘perceived’ remarkable coincidences.
Top Image: A 1909 photo of Mark Twain. (Public Domain) Background: Halley’s Comet as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network. (Public Domain) It’s an interesting historical coincidence that Mark Twain was born and died alongside appearances of Halley’s Comet.
By Ashley Cowie
Connecting with Coincidence. (2018) ‘History.’ Connecting with Coincidence. Available at:
Lane, D. & A. Diem Lane. (2010) ‘Desultory Decussation: Where Littlewood’s Law of Miracles meets Jung’s Synchronicity.’ Integral World. Available at: http://www.integralworld.net/lane15.html
Leinhard, J.H. (n.d.) ‘No. 1642: Halley’s Comet.’ Engines of Our Ingenuity. Available at: https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1642.htm
Metabunk.org (2013) ‘Debunked: The Great pyramid of Giza and the Speed of Light.’ Metabunk.org. Available at: https://www.metabunk.org/debunked-the-great-pyramid-of-giza-and-the-speed-of-light.t2154/
Pruitt, S. (2015) ‘6 Famous Coincidences.’ History. Available at: https://www.history.com/news/6-famous-coincidences