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The most common coincidences involve people interacting with media. The chances are high for these coincidences because we so often interact with various media. 

Media coincidences vary in their probability.  Thinking of a popular song and then hearing it on the radio has a high probability. Thinking about an old song and then hearing it on the radio has a lower probability especially if you are not listening to an oldies station. The lower the probability, the more likely something besides random chance is contributing to the coincidence.

The current data about media coincidences

1) In a 1993 study done by Jane Henry and colleagues at the Open University in the U.K., the most common coincidence reported by nearly 1,000 people was “spontaneous association” (for example, when a name comes to mind and you hear it on the radio).

2) In a study based upon more than 4,000 coincidence stories submitted to the Cambridge University website of statistician David Spiegelhalter, 10 percent involved connections with books, TV, radio, or the news. The only higher category involved birthdays, which are more easily explained by probability. 

3) The 1,500 plus respondents to the Weird Coincidence Survey (WCS) on my website reported that the most common of coincidences are: “I think of an idea and hear or see it on the radio, TV, or Internet” and “I think of a question only to have it answered by an external source (i.e. radio, TV, or other people) before I can ask it.”

I am a psychiatrist. If a patient tells me that the man on the TV is talking to him, I have to consider the possibility that he is experiencing a psychotic episode. Yet these preliminary coincidence data (and plenty of anecdotes) suggest that media are “communicating” something personally meaningful to us normal people.

Marketers, in general, and advertisers on social media in particular, try to learn what each of us wants and then tailor their ads to what they know about us. Some convergences between mind and media are not accidental.

The surprising convergences, the ones that do not involve a seller enticing a buyer, are the ones the survey respondents are reporting.

My mind and the New York Times

4/30/13: I am about to write the human GPS (Geospatial Positioning System) section of the theory chapter for my book Connecting with Coincidence. I am trying to explain the many coincidences that suggest that we can find our way to people, things, or ideas that we need without consciously knowing how. I am looking for brain-based evidence for human GPS.

Bored and frustrated, I switch over to the online New York Times. On the front page is an article about grid cells which help rats map themselves in space—the possible brain basis for our GPS-like abilities.

Located in the entorhinal cortex, which is near the hippocampus, grid cells provide neural maps of the places a rat has visited. The discovery of grid cells shows that we may be constantly creating maps for our territories—we may have a built-in GPS.

I had a question. It was answered when I needed it by online media.

The probability of finding just what I needed right when I needed it was pretty low. The low probability pressures us to look for an explanation beyond random chance. It appears that my own GPS system led me to what I needed just when I needed it.

And so it may be for others who find questions answered by the media. When Horace Walpole invented the word “serendipity,” this is what he meant—he was able to find things that he needed just when he needed them. Now modern neuroscience is providing clues for how some serendipities work.

I believe there is yet more to this human mind-media connection. The vastly expanding internet to which we are increasingly paying attention is absorbing our minds. We are becoming part of its connections; each of us is a node among huge numbers of other nodes in this vast system. The common occurrence of media-mind coincidences is another indicator of the increasingly close connection between media and human minds.

Reader's comments:

Jane Clifford reported on Facebook "I've had astonishing synchronicities all my life usually involving events in books exactly matching events or conversations in my life. The most recent involving TV. I was telling a friend on the phone I had watched a sparrowhawk kill a bird right by my house and as I was telling her a sparrowhawk killing a bird appeared on the tv screen!" (12.2.16)

Co-authored by Tara MacIsaac, a reporter and editor for the Beyond Science section of Epoch Times. She explores the new frontiers of science, delving into ideas that could help uncover the mysteries of our world.

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