Coincidence?

Purdue dorm room circa 1983
My dorm room freshman year at Purdue, 1983


I began my college career at Purdue University in the fall of 1983. I had a disastrous academic career, if you gauge by most typical academic standards. Before I fell into many of my harmful patterns, I signed up for an extra one-credit class run by TAs from psychology 101. I don't remember anything about it except for the story I'm about to tell, but I'm assuming that they did lots of unethical experiments on us throughout the semester. 


If you are math averse, it is almost 40 years since I started at Purdue. I've been exploring the idea of memory, so here are a couple of things about my memories of that time that are interesting to me:

  • I only spent five years at college, even with my stalling and mishaps. I've now had 11 distinct five-year periods in my life, but that time of debauchery holds a lot of space in my memory. Not the actual memories, but the weight I give to that time. It's true that when I was, say, 28, college played a huge role in my life, but now, against 56 years, it's just a time away at drunk camp in the relative scheme of things.

  • I don't remember many specifics, but only a memory or two from any class I took. I have only managed to save a few photos from that time, which means that many memorable events are hidden deep in my memory without triggers. Occasionally, they pop up suddenly. 

 In the psychology add-on class one day, they asked us about intuition/premonition vs. coincidence. I had a recent story that seemed like it had to be more than a coincidence. A few weeks earlier, I was driving around my hometown and couldn't get the thought of a math teacher from my senior year of high school out of my head. Suddenly, while waiting to make a left turn, she drove by me from the opposite direction. That's it. I'm trying to guess why that so moved me. In hindsight, it probably didn’t paint me in the best light with my classmates or the TA. 

To make it worse, as I write the story, I realize that I don't know that it was her, but I was convinced enough of it at the time that it took 40 years for any doubt to creep in. 

I explained that it seemed like more than a mere coincidence that I'd have such a strong feeling right before seeing her. The TA was probably glad that someone volunteered to talk, even if it was a lame example of the paranormal or telepathy or whatever our exploration covered.

The TA patiently asked me to consider all of the times I'd been thinking about someone, even intensely, that the person didn't materialize in a car driving the opposite direction. He blew my tiny mind! This story dovetails into another favorite theme of mine--the need for people (me!) to insert meaning in their life when none exists. 

Back to the recent past, last Halloween I started recording the number of steps that I take every day. My goal was to average over 10k per day, and I did it. Then at six months, I decided to break my step data into six-month periods to motivate myself by setting new records. During the first six months, which ended this past April 30th, I averaged 10,258 steps a day. I’m pretty sure that I can beat that average during the next six months.

On June 26th, which is also the 57th day of the new period, I decided to check out how I was doing compared to the same day during the 1st six months. Here is what I found:

June 26th, 57th day of the period--11,859.26 average steps per day.

December 25th, 57th day of the period--11,859.32 average steps per day.

That 0.06 difference is 3 steps out of over 65,000!

Today, just a week later, here are the numbers, already quite a bit apart:

July 3rd, 64th day of the period--11,924.78

January 1, 64th day of the period--11,791.72

So, on the day that I checked, I walked the same number of steps as during the same number of days six months earlier. With the number of days as high as 57, it seems like an unlikely coincidence, especially since I hadn't checked the numbers across periods before then. 

What does it all mean? That I need to walk more if I want to increase steps over the first 6-month period. Besides that, not much. It made me check the numbers a few times because it didn't seem possible. No other days from 1 through 64 match up. What meaning could I give to it? It seems less probable that I'd match step numbers than that I'd drive by a teacher in my hometown just a few months after I'd graduated. I'm losing the ability to see magic in the ordinary, I guess.


  

 

 

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