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That one weird thing that didn’t happen July 7, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: , , , ,

This morning, just before I woke up, I was having some long complicated dream about marble racing.  (That’s not completely out of the blue; I’ve been waching “Let’s Plays” of Myst III Exile, and it has a whole section of rolling ball puzzles.) As part of the dream, however, one of the things that came up was that Dan Barker had just died.  (Dan is a co-founder of FFRF, if you don’t recognize the name.)

After I got up, I checked the internet, and as far as I can tell, he’s fine.  Not dead.  This was a total non-event.

This kind of thing happens to people all the time.  Someone or something pops into our minds and for a moment it seems significant.  And then it turns out that it isn’t significant, and we FORGET.  All those old songs you thought about, but didn’t then hear on the radio.  All those old friends you were just thinking of that didn’t call you.  That famous person you were reminded of, and who didn’t have any big news that day.  This is normal, boring, and we just have no reason to remember these things, or how often they happen.

So the few times when, by coincidence, you DO happen to hear that old song, or get a call from that old friend, it seems completely amazing!  Hey everybody, I must be psychic!  I was just thinking about that person, and here’s a news story about them!  What are the odds?

The odds are, that since so many people are thinking about so many things, that once in awhile that coincidence should happen.   What would be weird would be if those coincidences never happened.

As an example, how many people do you think are listening to a Michael Jackson song right now?  Probably quite a lot.  How many people were listening to one, or had just listened to one, when the news broke that Michael Jackson had died?  Probably a similar number.  And a lot of of those people probably told everyone they knew about their amazing coincidence, and how it meant something.

But all it meant was that human brains are very susceptible to confirmation bias.  We remember the hits, and forget all the misses.  We forget all the boring stuff and remember only what was interesting and different.  The price of keeping our brains free of everyday clutter is that it messes with our understanding of coincidences.


1. john zande - July 7, 2018

Spot on. As Francis Bacon put it:

“The General root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other.”

Liked by 3 people

2. Infidel753 - July 8, 2018

Very true, and of course very much a point that wouldn’t occur to most people when they experience such a coincidence, especially people not trained in critical thinking. Over the millennia this effect must have played quite a role in the growth of belief in psychic powers, spirits, and the like.

An understanding of coincidence and confirmation bias should be part of general education for everybody.

Liked by 3 people

Ubi Dubium - July 8, 2018

I think it should be part of the curriculum starting around sixth grade.

Liked by 3 people

3. jim- - July 27, 2018

I just saw your name pop up on my blog, and since I haven’t heard from you for a while I thought I sneak over here and see if I missed anything and, yep, I missed this post. Coincidence? Ha! I was inspired. Great points Ubi. There is enough coincidence in the world of 8billion to keep the miracle train rolling in forever.

Liked by 3 people

4. Lander7 - August 1, 2018

Until it isn’t. I have found that just because one thing is true doesn’t mean another is false. Let’s say you are right about what you said but (only for you) or only (for you that day). Then there can be days where people are dreaming of an actual event.

We may be better served if we know what conditions cause useful clarity from dreams. I will provide one dream that happened to me and it helped with other dreams.


Liked by 1 person

Ubi Dubium - August 1, 2018

I’ve looked at your account, and I do not find it convincing. Here’s why:

1. You described one dream that kind of fit a real life event. You have probably had many thousands of dreams that don’t fit any real life events, and so you don’t remember them. Have you had vivid dreams about people who didn’t then die? You probably have, but you’ve probably forgotten. That’s the basis of confirmation bias.
2. Humans are really good a pattern recognition. Our brains are so primed for this that we find patterns everywhere, including places where there aren’t any. (Which explains a lot of conspiracy theories.) Religion is really good at this, for instance think about all the people taking some current event, finding something in the bible that can sort of be matched up to it, and then announcing it’s a prophecy.
3. It’s really hard to remember all the specifics of a dream, especially a couple of days later. We only remember snatches and fragments. So we confabulate. Our brains take the random bits that we are able to remember, and try to fill in the gaps to make it back into something coherent. If you were thinking about the death of your cousin, you would be more likely to fill in those gaps in a way that lines up with the actual events. And every time you recall it and tell your story, that recall becomes part of the memory, so our memories can shift over time. There’s no way to be sure that your current memory of the dream lines up with the actual dream you originally had.

But there are ways you can check to see if you are really having something significant in your dreams, instead of all this stuff I just talked about. Keep a dream journal beside your bed, and the next time you have an especially vivid dream, write it down immediately. Write it down before the details fade from your memory, and before you check to see if it corresponds to a real world event. That gives you your best version of the dream, unaltered by association with any later events. Then you can really see how well what you dreamed does (or doesn’t) match to real events.

And even if there is not correspondence to real events, that doesn’t mean that your dreams can’t give you personal insights. Your dreams include bits and pieces of things that have been on your mind, so they may just be bringing you clarity about yourself.

Liked by 2 people

Lander7 - August 1, 2018

You stated — “You have probably had many thousands of dreams that don’t fit any real life events, and so you don’t remember them.”
My response — I’m a bit on the other side of that scale. I have vivid dreams where I know I’m dreaming and can enjoy the dream more than normal. Most of the dreams I have are not dramatic to where life and death are an issue but they do have a high propensity to connect to real life events for some reason.

Therefore, I reached out to you, I have no desire to convince you of anything, I was just letting you know that you left out a 3rd valid option. Truth is greater than perceived belief and your post was missing an option.

You stated– “Humans are really good a pattern recognition.”
My response — True. We are good at finding patterns that provide information and that gives us an advantage over other species. I study non-structured data and I work in the IT field, so I’m aware of our advantages. At the same time, I understand your reluctance to engage in such data since you have a bias against religion (me too by the way) but one thing does not necessarily make another true. Just because religious people force dots to connect doesn’t mean that we can’t find patterns that provide useable information.

You stated — “It’s really hard to remember all the specifics of a dream, especially a couple of days later. We only remember snatches and fragments.”
My response — This may be true for you but not for me. I can remember dreams from years ago. Since we are not all the same we can’t pretend to have “one size fits all” understandings.

You stated — “Keep a dream journal beside your bed, and the next time you have an especially vivid dream, write it down immediately. Write it down before the details fade from your memory, and before you check to see if it corresponds to a real world event.”
My response — We passed that stage a long time ago and moved into the early warning stage but now we are trying to push past that into something more practical. But this is off topic and not part of your OP. Again, I just wanted to state that you left out a third option, possibly due to bias.

Keep in mind that dreams may not even be what we think they are. What people call religion and magic, may in fact simply be a part of nature that we don’t fully understand.

I look forward to seeing more from you.

Liked by 1 person

5. Anderson Connors - December 15, 2018

Well said! I have these thoughts regularly — the ones that turn out to be *not* significant, and they slip away. But those few times that there IS a connection, it always seems mystical, greater than a coincidence. But it’s probably not.

I once had a dream about some actor I hadn’t heard of in several years, and a day or two later saw an advertisement for a movie (or show) starring that actor. I briefly wondered if I had become suddenly psychic. I realized though that it’s INCREDIBLY more likely I had first seen a poster or ad about that same movie/show without realizing it consciously, *then* had the dream, and *then* saw the second ad and didn’t remember the first one. 🙂

Liked by 2 people


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