Pareidolia and Coincidence

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

  • The thing about coincidences is that we love to talk about them. When they happened to us, we have trouble letting go of them and move on. For us, coincidences are real.
  • It turns out that what we considered as rare events are quite common because there are so many events happened to us on any given day. We do not consider them to be trivial, so why do they matter to us? Because we want there to be a story we can tell. In the complex world like ours, we want there to be an understanding of how the world works.
  • Psychology experiments with the dog told us that dogs salivate when they hear the bell. That is because they were trained to associate the bell with dinner through repetition. For dogs, that is a story where they turn a coincidence repeated into a pattern, and that pattern turns into a story. The same tactic works for humans too.
  • The reason we all want repeated coincidences to be true is that we evolved that way. That turned out to be a really good way to stay alive. It was a good way to make sure that we were averting danger or finding food. What we do is look for patterns as a way of fueling our ability to thrive in a very complicated world. What we want to hear is the narrative of the steps and the understanding of the steps, so that we feel like we have some element of control.
  • One way to stress somebody out is to just put them into an environment where things happened without apparent rhyme or reason. In those environments, we do not know what to do. We do not know how to protect ourselves in an environment like that, so our culture is based on this need for a narrative. If we want to change the culture, it helps if we can bring that narrative to people who can embrace it.
  • When we are making decisions, we need to understand our motive. Are we making this decision because there is a pattern matched here, or because we want to see a narrative? Are we searching for a sense of control or are we deciding based on what is true? We will be manipulated by others if we are in the category of searching for a narrative.
  • If we are not careful, those coincidences will get used against us. That is how Bernie Madoff and others easily scam people when it comes to money. We are going to notice the financial coincidences as they happen, and the scam artists use them to ring a bell and to tell us a story. They are busy spinning to us the occurrences in a row that something worked, so our brains cannot help but jump ahead to concoct a theory. What we need to realize is that, while our culture is interpreted by us as a story, it is a series of largely random events that we are narrating with pictures of the coincidences at every turn.