Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book 4: Beyond Coincidence: Amazing Stories of Coincidence and the Mystery and Mathematics Behind Them

One of the many reasons that I enjoy reading nonfiction is because it gives me an infinite number of topics to discuss and adds a little more depth and range to my knowledge bank. It's comforting to know that I have an arsenal of information at hand to defeat even the most horrifyingly awkward silence! Sure, maybe the stranger sitting next to me on the train doesn't care to hear about the issues that plague London and New York sewer tunnels or the problems with public sanitation in India (read The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George)....luckily, I've got a lot of (geeky) material to fall back on.

With that being said, Book 4 of the 52 Nonfiction Books in 52 Weeks Challenge left a lot to be desired. With THAT being said, I did, in fact, have a fifteen minute conversation about coincidence with two women at the library today. Beyond Coincidence: Amazing Stories of Coincidence and the Mystery and Mathematics Behind Them written by Martin Plimmer and Brian King was published in 2005. It fared poorly with critics, and, while I was lured in by the promise of mathematics, I was pretty disappointed by the  lack of substance in this book.

Here's what I did take away:

1. Our love for coincidence stems from our need for organization and meaning in a chaotic and uncertain world. And, let's face it, we DO love coincidence. It gives us chills. It envelops us in a fuzzy, warm feeling. And, when it's a grave or tragic coincidence, it somehow lends us comfort to know that some things are "meant to be."

2. Human beings are easily impressed. And we are seriously bad at estimating probability.

3. While many "unbelievable" coincidences are mathematically feasible, there are mysteries that are inexplicable when viewed through the lens of modern science/mathematics. There is so much that we just don't understand.

Half of this book is devoted to accounts of coincidences. Many of which contain only first names and little other detail. The authors admit that not all the coincidences shared in their book are verifiable. For me, this took something away from the content.

On the plus side, my new favorite simile: "The Narnia-like world of the atom."

Sharlene Edwards
Program Director

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