General Question

Jack79's avatar

If this is not magic, then what is it? (sceptics needed)

Asked by Jack79 (11004points) July 6th, 2009

I have a “magic ring”. I don’t know what else to call it. I’m actually writing a book about it and its powers. It started off as a normal wedding ring, then became the symbol of my own personal strength, and then it started granting me wishes. Big ones. But always at a cost.
I won’t go into the details, or mention the big things this ring has done, but I’ll give you a few small examples that defy the “purely coincidence” theory (and I may add I’m a sceptic myself, which is why I’m trying to find a non-metaphysical explanation).

eg1: I was taking a flight last Thursday and sat there in the airport and felt pretty lonely and miserable. My flight was at 11.35. I put on the ring at 11.17 (not for any particular reason, but I did wish I had someone to talk to at the time) and at 11.19 an ex gf called. At 11.21 another girl (one I like and want to think of as my “girlfriend to be”) sent me a message and at 11.27 my last gf sent me a message and my mother called me. I then switched off the phone to go into the plane and by the time I got out I had 2 more missed calls from my mum (ok nothing extraordinary here), another 2 from a friend who never calls me and just wanted to see how I was all of a sudden, and one more from yet another friend who wanted to ask me to go swimming with her that day. Coincidence?
eg2: The Thursday before that the ring “asked me” (I cannot think of a better word) to take it to the highest mountain. I did. I found the highest mountain and climbed it, I felt I had to do it that particular day. The next morning I got information that I had won the trial which had been in a stalemate for the past 7 months.
eg3: so today I didn’t know what to do, or which way to go. So put on my ring and got into my car. I left Prague and headed north to Dresden, but instead of taking the normal (new) highway, I decided to take the old one, which I hadn’t used for almost a decade. I got stopped at the border and the police said there was something wrong with my car and confiscated it. They still don’t know what was wrong, they have to figure it out. Luckily they let me go though. Because of all this, I ended up in Dresden, where I took a tram (something I’d never do) and accidentally saw a bridge where I used to sing, the home where I used to live and two bars where I used to sing (one was not accidental, I was heading there, the other however just happened). And I’m writing this now because I’m pretty certain that tomorrow I’ll get the official verdict for the trial I had 3 weeks ago. I’m saying all this now so you don’t say I made it up afterwards.

All theories, however crazy, welcome. I’ve given up on logic on this one.

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84 Answers

nebule's avatar

hmmmm I would probably say it’s less to do with the ring and more to do with the positive energy you emanate into the world (when you put the ring on believing it will ‘do’ something for you…) which is then the positive energy returned back to you…and interesting great things occur….

Ivan's avatar

Classic case of selective memory. You remember the coincidences and forget all of the instances when no coincidence happened. So, when you look back, it appears as though it’s just one long string of coincidences, but really there were far more ‘non-coincidences’ then there were coincidences. Add to that the fact that our memories become embellished over time.

That being said, your second and third examples didn’t even seem like coincidences. Two completely separate and independent events happened within a day or two of each other, and even though neither had any impact whatsoever on the other, you draw a connection for some reason. You could have easily drawn the same connection with what you ate for breakfast or something equally as trivial.

Bespinoza55's avatar

Well, maybe you are willing these things to happen. Maybe do some reading into ESP. It all could be some coincidences. Both sides could very well be true. Hope you find something and get some answers.

brettvdb's avatar

It’s coincidence.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

There’s rationalization happening here, but no magic.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Confirmation bias?

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t see any relationship between the events you describe and the wearing of the magic ring. I’m not sure why winning a lawsuit or getting a phone call is “magical.” I can think of lots of non-magic reasons those things would happen.

But if you still think it’s magical, try this. Decide ahead of time what makes something magical (e.g. lawsuit victory = magic, eating a banana = not magic). Wear your ring every day for a month and write down all the magic things that happen. Then take your ring off for a month and do the same. Compare lists. Google spreadsheets is good for this.

nebule's avatar

@nikipedia loving your idea… I might try some form of this myself…I have a belief system at the moment that the world is conspiring against me…so it might be useful here to note all the things that go in my favour and all that do not…although it could get complicated…hmmm

Jeruba's avatar

It’s easy to see why you’re attracted by the idea that the ring has special powers. Experiences like these have led people to magical and religious beliefs for as long as our pattern-seeking minds have been taking in and interpreting phenomena.

I can only answer your belief with my belief, a lame enough response. The belief in question is my belief in the physical properties of material substances, in this case gold or platinum or whatever your ring is made of. I believe that those properties have been fully described by science and systematically corroborated. I have not conducted the observations myself, and so I am taking them on faith. I believe that those properties do not include an ability to respond to a human’s wishes or to exert influence at a distance over the actions of others or anything in the environment.

The connection between the ring and your experiences is made purely in your mind by a process of creating false hypotheses and validating them selectively by including data that fits the theory and excluding data that doesn’t. This is a very human activity that has its explanation in our minds and not in our external physical world.

Darwin's avatar

They confiscated your car? And you were wearing this “magic” ring? It doesn’t sound so great to me.

Besides, haven’t you been working on these trials diligently for quite some time?

I suspect it is a combination of coincidence and selective memory. However, owning a “magic” object can certainly soothe our souls because we feel as if we might have some control over what seems to be uncontrollable. Thus, if you want to believe your ring is helping you, great. Just don’t ever lose it or you will think yourself into a hole.

kevbo's avatar

Keep the faith, my man. Also, you should watch “Dumbo.”

I agree with @lynneblundell up top.

syz's avatar

Coincidence. And, perhaps, wishful thinking.

nebule's avatar

@kevbo ahh thanks <<blush>>

Master's avatar

Is your name Frodo?

Jack79's avatar

@ivan et al: you see, that’s the whole point. You’d have to be here to see it. It’s not as if I realise things after they happen. Not selective memory at all. I know things will happen. Yes, winning a lawsuit is not special. Winning a lawsuit after 7 months of waiting for the result, on the day you expect it to happen, is. I’ve checked it and things do happen, it’s just funny. I was at the police station today laughing and the cops didn’t know why.
The way it works is not random at all: and there’s always something negative with the positive (to answer Darwin). I’m glad that I had this little “car adventure” (I was on my way to sell that car to make some money) because now I know something good will happen tomorrow. And I don’t mean just finding a wallet full of cash or something. I am certain that tomorrow I will get the official verdict I’ve been waiting all along so I can get my daughter back. I’m so certain now I’d actually be surprised if it doesn’t happen. (and disappointed of course).
The uncanny part is that I can control it, just as much as it controls me. Today I felt the urge to take an unconventional route. I knew something odd would happen. And I wasn’t even going on that trip at all, I decided to force the ring to work today. Ok, now the other half of you think I’m crazy, but I’m still looking for some sort of explanation of how this could ever happen (other than just saying “it didn’t”).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Look, whatever helps you sleep at night, you know?

Jack79's avatar

oh yes, and @niki: I did this, not for a month, for almost a year, and the results are even more impressive as time goes by.

Ivan's avatar


You are falling right into the trap.

“You’d have to be here to see it.”

No, being there is what instills your memory bias. Stepping away and viewing the events for what they really are allows us to see that there’s nothing magical going on here. Your memory of past events (just like everyone else’s) is flawed. We embellish stories, we fill in missing details that might further embellish the story, we blur over details that might remove some of the mysticism. If you really want to believe that you have a magic ring, your memories will conform in a way that justifies that belief. Similarly, if you wanted to believe that you have a magic fork, your memories would conform in a way that makes it seem as if your fork is magical.

I’m not saying you’re lying or making stuff up. I’m saying that your memories are not accurate.

AstroChuck's avatar

Perhaps it’s not the ring but your finger that is magic. Maybe everytime you cover it up it grants you wishes.

chyna's avatar

@Jack79 Please let us know about the lawsuit tomorrow, either way, as it might make a difference in how this question is answered.

Fly's avatar

To me, this seems like you trying to find some way to explain your coincidental luck by using the ring to wish for things, rather than the ring itself causing it.

For example, your first instance. You put the ring on and wished for someone to talk to. Coincidentally, they called. You could have just as easily wished for the same thing and not put the ring on, and for all you know, the same thing would have happened. You putting on a ring and wishing for something does not give others the urge to talk to you- an easy explanation for the occurences is that your friends merely wanted to talk with you. There is just as good a chance that they would choose this day to call you as any other day of the year. You said it yourself- having your mother call you was nothing out of the ordinary, yet you felt the need to post it in correlation to the other occurences.

In your second instance, you state that the ring “asked” you to take it to the tallest mountain. Perhaps you just had in inexplicable urge to climb a tall mountain that day, and explained the urge by placing the blame on the ring. The trial results really have no logical connection to you climbing the tallest mountain, and the fact that you discovered the positive results of the trial a day later is easily pure coincidence.

As for your third example, your urge to take the older route could again easily be an inexplicable urge of your own that you have connected illogically to the ring. Because you already felt that the ring brings you luck, you put it on before driving. Had you not put that ring on, you could have just as easily had the same urge. And, as many of us had pointed out, have your car confiscated is not a good thing. Even if you stumbled upon those old memories, it was purely by happenstance. You could have just as easily found those places if you had been trying to- you clearly remembered where they were, if you were heading towards one of them. It may have been your subconscious the whole time.

The mere statement that you made about being able to make the ring work points away from magic. It seems to me that your mind wants so badly to explain these situations that you put the ring on just so that if something does happen, you can explain it with the ring.

Fly's avatar

And yes, @Jack79, please update us on your official verdict prediction- I’m curious to see what happens tomorrow.

ratboy's avatar

Yes it is magic. Satan now owns your soul.

Jeruba's avatar

Not to cast any aspersions on Jack or his veracity, but I must point out that we won’t have any independent corroboration of the outcome of his case or the fact that it happened after and not before he posted this prediction.

Anything as potentially huge in the world as having discovered a ring of magical power that really does respond to its master’s wishes and alter the outcome of events ought to be attested to by more than one witness, don’t you think?

Fly's avatar

@Jeruba I was just thinking that same thing. I hope this is not the case, but @Jack79 could easily already know the verdict, could make up the fact that the verdict is settled tomorrow even if it actually isn’t, or could be making the entire story up…none of us can really know.

lloydbird's avatar

@Jack79 What is magic is the fact that we are all discussing this right now, with such ease, over such distances, in such measured ways. As for the ring, it could be.

bea2345's avatar

Enjoy it while it lasts, magic is only too rare. I remember an extraordinary morning when, every time I closed my umbrella, the rain fell; and when I opened it the rain stopped falling.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@Jack79, I believe that humans, like other animals, are capable of nonverbal communication. Some people are receptive to the thoughts of other people. The ring perhaps triggers some ancient means of communicating that those who are close to you have learned to pick up on.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

The ring is just an object with no power.

However when you put on this ring, you sound like you’re more confident. That power is all you. The ring is just a focus. You can make things happen without it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I agree with Ivan, memories are suspect, humans are pattern seeking animals, and we want so much to believe in magic, and miracles, and gods that we rationalize everything that points towards our wish and ignore that which doesn’t fit. Selective memory can be insidious and quite attractive against our better judgment.

No one says you are crazy, you are just falling into a trap that many people fall into over time. I have found myself wondering about coincidences that seem more than mere random chance. A simple case of looking for; and finding, patterns where none exist.

You have a great concept for a nice story there, and every writer knows that the best subject one can write about is himself. Write what you know.

Jack79's avatar

@Ivan but I’m not looking at past events, so it’s not selective memory, I see it as it happens, and can even predict more or less what comes next.

@Jeruba and @Fly this is a philosophical discussion based on the hypothesis that what I’m saying is true. You don’t have to believe me, and I’m not trying to sell magic rings to anyone. But assuming everything I say is true, what other explanation could there be than that it’s magic? (ie ley lines, God, magnetic fields, mind control?)

@lloydbird yes, I often wonder about this miracle myself :)

@PandoraBoxx perhaps you have a point, not sure though, it doesn’t just affect me.

I did get an sms from my lawyer at 7.30am which was really spooky, since he never sends me anything and I was pretty sure it would be what we were talking about. Turns out it was just blank and sent accidentally. The day is still not over yet though, so I’ll just have to go out and see what happens (meet the love of my life, find 1,000,000 euros in the street, or finally get that call).

Oh and I should once again stress that there is always a universal equilibrium that stays balanced, meaning you get as much good luck as you do bad. eg if I break my leg, I’ll win some money, but if I win some money, I’ll break my leg.

brettvdb's avatar

You got a blank text message from your lawyer this morning?

OooOOoOoOOOOooOO the ring is talking to you!!!! OoOOOooOOoOoOooo

Also, if you find 1,000,000 euros in the street – it was the ring.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

There is no such thing as luck, simply opportunity and misfortune, all administered randomly.

CMaz's avatar

You make it what you want to belive it is. That is all.

Ivan's avatar


You remember having predicted what came next.

Darwin's avatar

And if you don’t find 1,000,000 euros in the street – it was the ring.

nebule's avatar

@Darwin made me laugh out loud! xx

Darwin's avatar

@lynneblundell – glad I could make someone laugh today.

Jeruba's avatar

@Jack79, I understand this as hypothetical and already responded in those terms. The issue of corroboration arises only if some event is claimed as proof of the hypothesis but we have no proof of the event.

brettvdb's avatar

The best was when the ring told @Jack79 to climb a mountain…A MOUNTAIN!!!

How funny would it be if the ring was like “I was just messing with you” when he got to the top.

Jack79's avatar

Well, it won’t matter because my theory was not proven today. It’s past 10pm, so if anything amazing were to happen it would have happened today. I managed to sort out the paperwork and get my car back, I saw things on various bus rides (and a lot of walking) that I wouldn’t have seen, I lost some weight, I did find some money actually, that girl I like asked me out on a date, I had an overall good day despite the tiredness and frustration and I ended up singing at this bar (just for fun, nothing planned and I didn’t get paid). So it was ok, but not what I expected. The verdict will be out tomorrow, and if I really wanted to prove a point I could say it’s still the result of the magic ring (after all I’ve waited over 7 months for this breakthrough), but as I said, I’m a sceptic myself and the rule I had set in my theory was that it had to happen within 24 hours. The metaphysical explanation of course is that I told you guys, and therefore jinxed the whole thing (which I am willing to believe actually). But I’ll accept it if you call it all a load of bullshit.
As I was walking to my car however (had to do the last mile or so on foot) I calculated that, since I only get 2–3 messages a day and hardly any calls from my friends, and since none of this is ever between 11–12am, the statistical possibility of those particular 3 girls calling me within 10 mins last Thursday was around 1/5000 (based on how often they contact me). Nothing special thus far. But the statistical possibility of them plus my other 2 friends (I’m not counting my mother here) calling me within that one hour was ½00,000,000. Interesting, isn’t it?

btw I’ve climbed the particular mountain a few times. I don’t do the whole thing from the bottom, I go as far as the road will take me and climb the last few hundred metres. Takes like an hour or so.

brettvdb's avatar

@Jack79 what was the math you used to calculate those statistics – they are definitely interesting, but did you take into account the fact that in general, noone really calls between 11pm and 9am? This should have a pretty big impact on your numbers if you didn’t.

nebule's avatar

ok guys..stop picking on Jack now

@Jack79 you’ve got to admit the mountain thing?? it is funny!! no? :-) luv ya gorgeous x

Jack79's avatar

@brettvdb I calculated based on the particular people and how often they call me (that’s why I didn’t count my mum at all, because she might not call me for a week and then call me 3 times within 5 mins to ask if I’ve eaten or brushed my teeth). It is an extremely weird coincidence for all of them to call even in the same week, let alone the same hour. And even if I take out half the hours as you say (or rather 10/24) it would still leave us with 1/100,000,000 chances of this happening.

And yes, I know it’s also 1/100,000,000 chances of me seeing two slugs, a red flower, a used condom and a packet of cigarettes all within the same minute, but what made the ring special is that I willed these things to happen, they all happened consciously.

to go back to Niki’s point:
1) my daughter being born with a tumour-not special
2) my daughter being born with a tumour, doctors saying she’ll die, operation going well and her being a happy and healthy child-good luck
1) my mother getting cancer-happens to everyone
2) my mother getting cancer and having a successful operation-good luck again
3) my mother getting cancer, doctors giving her 6 months on the outside on life support, me wearing the ring and her being back at work within a week-extremely weird.

1) being falsely accused-not special
2) being chased by more than 100 policement-unusual but not special
3)wearing a ring and sneaking under the noses of more than 100 policemen including 4 SWAT teams-very unusual

1)having a car accident-very common
2)having a car accident at 100mph and surviving-also common
3)having a car accident at 100mph on a clear day on perfect road conditions for no apparent reason, then everyone walking out unscathed-not common, but not magical

1)going to a mountain-common
2)getting good news – very common
3)going to a mountain and getting good news-coincidence
4)going to a mountain in order to get good news and getting the good news 16h later after waiting for 7 months-magic

got many of those. But of course I did ask for sceptics in the title, so feel free to laugh at me :)

at least I’m making people smile :)

Jack79's avatar

@lynneblundell you mean what brett said? Yeah, it was a funny thought, though of course I have no illusion that this is the “One Ring that Binds them All” as Master said earlier. I do however feel a lot like Frodo sometimes (not in the same position as far as the ring is concerned, but having to carry a burden all the way through all by myself). I watched that movie fairly recently (with my daughter, just before she got kidnapped) and saw it in a completely new light. btw Lynne you know the universe is not really out to get you, right? It’s just taunting you a bit. All you need is to find its balls and kick it there.

nebule's avatar

yes Jack…what brett said: The best was when the ring told @Jack79 to climb a mountain…A MOUNTAIN!!! How funny would it be if the ring was like “I was just messing with you” when he got to the top.

and thank you…but…where..are ..its balls??? :-)

Jack79's avatar

…you’ll need my ring to find them :P

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

apparently statistics are magic

filmfann's avatar

You said every wish has a cost. The cost of the first wish was…talking to your mother?
I have to go with the Ring of Power idea here. Throw it into the fire, and see if any writing glows on it.

Jack79's avatar

@filmfann no it doesn’t work like that, it’s a long-term balancing act, ie you get one piece of good luck and then a piece of bad luck the next day to balance it out. Trying to simplify things here as much as possible. When I threw it into the fire, it turned blue and the flame itself was green and spherical, haven’t seen a flame do that did ask for it lol

a lot of weird things happen as a result of other weird things: eg because of the car problem, I had to take a taxi yesterday. Turned out the taxi driver lives in the exact same flat I did when I lived in Dresden (not just same street or same building, but my actual flat). And no, statistics are not magic, but something so statistically improbable cannot be a mere coincidence.

You know how in “Lost” the doctor turns out to be that pregnant girl’s half-brother? Or his dad has a last drink with Sawyer before he dies? Well my life’s been a lot like that recently.

Darwin's avatar

@Jack79 – Perhaps you have been written into the script without realizing it.

benjaminlevi's avatar

@Jack79 “but something so statistically improbable cannot be a mere coincidence.”
Yes, yes they can.
Why couldn’t they? There are millions of people riding in hundreds of thousands of taxis, who are driven by taxis drivers who probably live in flats such as your own.Yes, the vast majority of the time you can assume that the person driving the taxi you are in will live in a different building, but it makes you sound rather foolish to attribute this to “magic”.

unless this is all just a joke

Jack79's avatar

No, I can assure you it is not a joke. The reason I asked the question (just like any question) is because I was actually looking for an answer, believe it or not. Unfortunately the conversation stayed at “this is not really happening” or “you’re imagining this”. Which is of course the rational approach. But I was hoping for some other, non-rational explanation (yet at the same time one that would not involve traditional notions of “magic”).

As I said, I am not trying to sell anyone magic rings, and why would I make a fool of myself in a community that isn’t even very spiritual to start with? (I’m surprised how nobody mentioned “God’s will” yet). I can really see a pattern emerging, and it’s been going on for almost a year now. If it is a coincidence, then it’s huge. And in fact something major did happen on Tuesday, but I just found about it today. It’s just odd, that’s all.

Let me tell you a completely different story:
There was this woman in Colombia (didn’t know her personally, she was the friend of a girl I went to uni with). She was extremely beautiful. She got married quite young, out of love, to a man who was also very handsome, and they hoped to live happily ever after. But very soon, he got killed in a car blast (some terrorist attack in Bogota and he happened to be close). She was devastated and didn’t want to remarry. But she was still young and still beautiful, and her friends persuaded her to pick up the pieces and move on. She found a second husband, only a couple of years after the first one had died, and married again. Her second husband died of a heart attack within 8 months of their wedding. At this point she starts to think she’s cursed and swears never to marry again. Losing 2 husbands in 3 years was just too much. But once again, the wounds were healed and eventually a few years after that she married for the 3rd time. And that guy drowns, about a year later. Now of course this is all a “coincidence” as she didn’t mean for any of those men to die, nor did she go and marry soldiers during a war, or men with some other hazardous occupation. She didn’t even marry members of the cartel or anything, just regular guys. But try telling her that. I don’t even know what happened after that (when I heard the story she was still 31, so she could have had more husbands by now).

Jack79's avatar

@darwin yes, sometimes I feel like that too. But in a way I philosophically believe we’re all in the Truman show. What I mean is that I am the centre of the Universe. Everything evolves around me, and everyone on fluther is nothing more than extras in this great story of existance called “Jack’s life”. In fact, everything that happened before, from the Big Bang to the dinosaurs and even Einstein, was all just the prelude leading up to the most important event of all: my being born.

The fact that there are other parallel universes that could have other centres, eg one revolving around someone called Darwin or another revovling around someone called benjaminlevi, is irrelevant. The only universe that matters is the one I’m in. And that’s my universe. In that sense, our whole perspective on Life is a very subjective one, and probably even truer than what scientists tell us is the “objective reality”. I may even live in a universe where there are magic rings, and I own one, whereas in your universe they simply don’t work.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Jack79—and I hear a story long ago about a woman that had like 14 husbands all of which died of cancer and the village shunner her, this was in Russia…turns out there were chemical leaks, radioactivity, everyone had to die of cancer—

benjaminlevi's avatar

@Jack79 You know how the vast number of people never get stuck by lightning? Well every so often someone does get stuck by lightning. It is ridiculously improbable that the object the bolt stuck would be a person, and that the person it would strike would be you, but that goes to show improbable things do happen. (Remember, someone has to win the lottery)

Sorry, I just ahve a hard time detecting sarcasm online

Jack79's avatar

@benjaminlevi not being sarcastic at all, all I’ve written in this thread is stuff I truly believe in. I am honestly trying to find the answer to my question, but unfortunately have not been able to receive a satisfactory explanation yet.

My uncle was struck by lightning. No big deal. And I know people who’ve been struck several times. It also wouldn’t be a big deal if my uncle was struck by lightning several times and he happened to have a metal plate in his head and live on the top of a mountain. Would be amazing however if my uncle lived in the Sahara where it rains like once a year, and got struck by lightning three times on the three occasions that lightning ever struck his village. What I’m saying is that there are things that are a coincidence (yes, like you said, someone has to win the lottery) and things that are beyond that (eg someone winning the lottery every week for a year).

brettvdb's avatar

@Jack79 while I appreciate you trying very hard to find an answer to your question, and you are, I think you are focusing too much on finding the answer you WANT to hear rather than an answer that is actually real.

The truth is that your ring is not magical, and it is not the reason any of this stuff is happening to you. It may be simply coincidence as many people have said, or it may be selective memory as others have suggested, or it may be a combination of a number of things. But I think its quite clear to everyone besides you that the ring is not swaying the rhythm of the universe to work in your favor.

It can be hard to see things sometimes when you believe the opposite of what everyone else does, but I would think by now if you really were a skeptic that you wouldn’t still be talking about this. Perhaps you’re not as much of a skeptic as you think?

Either way, good discussion.

Jack79's avatar

@brettvdb thank you for your input. Everyone else too.

brettvdb's avatar

Keep us updated on other crazy stuff that happens to you! Maybe you’ll change our minds!

benjaminlevi's avatar

@Jack79 But if lightning stikes in the Sahara it is going to hit something.
You keep giving an example of something improbable but then give an example of something even more improbable and declare that as “magic”. What do the odds have to be that separate something being “improbable” to it being “magic”? Is it like 1 in a million is improbable but 1 in a trillion is magic? No matter how rediculously improbable something is, if it is repeated over enough times it is almost guaranteed to happen.

I don’t know if that has to do with you thinking you are the center of the universe, and I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t. If you think about the billions and billions of people who have lived on this earth, by now there very well might have been a man who lives somewhere where there is hardly any rain who got struck by lightening three times.

Have you heard of how people say if an infinite number of monkeys were banging away at an infinite number of keyboards they would eventually write the works of Shakespeare?

Jack79's avatar

@benjaminlevi I hate to break it to you, but I am the centre of the universe, Your sole purpose in life is to answer my post here on fluther. You are probably not a real person. You have no past, no future. The only significant act in your life as far my universe is concerned is that you once answered my post. You have to understand the philosophical standpoint of all this. You may just as well be the centre of some different universe, in which my question here on fluther is the only thing I ever did in my life. But the only universe that is real for me is the one that revolves around me and me alone. All the others are imaginary ones, and probably don’t even exist at all.

And yes, I heard the “infinite amount of monkeys” theory. Point is, there have been trillions of monkeys in the last 20 or so million years and not one has ever managed to write their name yet, let alone anything resembling a shakespeare play. Of course by definition the number “infinite” is big enough to allow for every possible outcome eventually. But if one monkey writes even a full sentence on a keyboard, then that’s something special. In my question I already accept that it may not be “magic”. But then we should find another term for it (this is in fact what I’m asking). Because it’s certainly not “coincidence” either. And if I had to pick between the two terms, I think “magic” is a lot more accurate than “coincidence”. “Coincidence” is when me and Bri_L both have daughters born on exactly the same day (27th March 2005). But if we also had wives born on the exact same day, and we were also born on the exact same day, and we had the exact same name and surname, and did the exact same job, then no, I don’t accept “coincidence” as an accurate term.

There are not an infinite amount of people living in the Sahara, so anyone who has been struck by lightning 3 times is a phenomenon. Nor have I been in an infinite amount of Dresden taxis. As a matter of fact I only ever used one in my entire life. And the guy happens to live in my exact flat. This may not be the equivalent of one monkey writing a Shakespeare play on his first try, but it’s certainly the equivalent of the monkey being able to properly put the paper in the typewriter without ever having seen one before.

bea2345's avatar

@Jack79not one has ever managed to write their name yet, Not to rain on your parade, but how do you know that?

Jack79's avatar

@bea2345 ok, so to reverse the question, how do you know they have? I know for a fact and without any reasonable doubt that no monkey ever wrote their name on a typewriter for the simple reason that it would be all over the evening news within minutes. Channels would cut from Michael Jackson’s funeral coverage to go live to the zoo where this would be happening. That’s how I know. So now show me your evidence.
It seems to me we’re just going around in circles here. Then again, it’s probably my fault for formulating the question in the first place.

bea2345's avatar

@Jack79 – I would agree with you except for one thing: that something is highly improbable does not make it impossible. It is very likely that no monkey ever wrote its name on a typewriter but in a universe where infinity is a concept that remains to be disproved, I would hesitate to say that something, anything never happened.

benjaminlevi's avatar

@Jack79 It only uses the example of monkeys as illiterate letter generators. As in a program that generated an infinite number of random strings of letters, spaces and punctuation could (rarely) create sentences. Some might make more than one coherent sentence, and in some even rarer conditions it might make a string of sentences that make sense together. Its not magic, its chaos.

I understand I am just a bunch of 0’s and 1’s showing up on your computer screen, so my purpose in your life will be to leave this thread in a state of complete disgust of your level of intelligence.

Jack79's avatar

Not even’re probably a figment of my imagination. I think you missed the point completely. Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to insult you, but apparently you did.

theabk's avatar

Several people have already explained this, but let me give it one more try: there is no set of circumstances, however unlikely, that could not be a coincidence.

And as for the point about selective memory, here’s a perfect example:
@Jack79 says: “But if we also had wives born on the exact same day, and we were also born on the exact same day, and we had the exact same name and surname, and did the exact same job, then no, I don’t accept “coincidence” as an accurate term.”

But that scenario is no less likely than the specific one that is actually the case. In other words, the chances of there being two friends, one named John Smith, a stockbroker born on 5/6/58 whose wife was born on 8/9/56 and whose daughter was born on 7/3/80 and the other named Steve Simpson, an electrician born on 11/10/72 whose wife was born on 3/24/75 and whose daughter was born on 4/16/99 are the same as the chances of there being two friends, both named John Smith, both stockbrokers born on 5/6/58 whose wives were both was born on 8/9/56 and and whose daughters were both born on 7/3/80. The difference is that we don’t notice the thousands of situations like the first and we do notice the ones like the second.

brettvdb's avatar

It may be worth mentioning that wild monkeys probably don’t have specific names for each other in the same way that humans do.

Jack79's avatar

@theabk I understand what you’re saying…the big difference here is whether you control these things. Let’s simplify our example. Let’s say I throw a die 10 times. The chances of me bringing 10 6s in a row are exactly the same as the chances of brining 10 1s, or 10 2s, or 1,4,5,6,2,3,2,1,4,3. In fact any sequence of 10 numbers has the same chances of occuring as any other. Ok, I’m with you so far. Agreed.

Now let us say that we’re playing a game where I actually want to bring the highest possible number because I want to win. And I bring 10 6s. That’s extremely rare, and very lucky. And so is winning the lottery for example, but of course if you play the game enough times eventually someone is bound to bring that roll. I’ve actually got a board game with 6 dice and someone brought 6 6s once. And my daughter always seems to roll a 20 on my d20. But even that is not entirely impossible.

My question here is: what would you call it if for example I bring a random number of rolls, just like everyone else, but if I decide to change an irrelevant parameter (eg wear my lucky T-shirt) I get the 10 6s in a row? Every time?

This is not actually the original question, as the discussion has drifted into probability physics, but it would be interesting to hear your views on this nonetheless. The original question has to do with the ability to control your environment. Or rather my ability to control mine. With moves that have been directed in specifically bending reality to my favour – if anyone’s read the Secret, it’s something along those lines, though for me the theory of the Secret is nothing more than wishful thinking and self-fulfilled prophecies, whereas I have found my ring to be a lot more effective in producing consistent results. Yeah ok, we’ve established that nobody believes me anyway, but let’s at least talk about this theoretically for the sake of the argument if you wish.

Darwin's avatar

How much do you want for the ring?

shrubbery's avatar

I’m sorry, my eyes are tired and I didn’t read the entire thread, but here’s something that Terry Pratchett once wrote:

A student of probability soon realises that by its nature
the billion-to-one chance crops up nine times out of ten,
and that the greatest odds boil down to a double sided
statement: it will happen, or it will not.

Just because it’s a one in a million chance doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen and when it does it is magic. It will happen, or it will not.

Jack79's avatar

Yeah but actually in Pratchett books the million-to-one chance is the one that ALWAYS happens. Which if you’ve read as much Pratchett as I have (ie every single word he’s ever written), is explained as the power of Narrative. Which connects to what I was saying earlier about this being MY Universe. If we were living on Discworld, my story would be happening to Carrot or Granny Weatherwax. But because we live in Jackworld, which is the Universe revolving around ME (literally), these things happen to me.

Last week I went down a road twice. I have not been down that road ever before, or ever since. But both times I saw the same girl hitch-hiking in the middle of nowhere, and both times I took her. In my Universe, that’s a coincidence.

But in the parallel Universe called Agnieszkaworld (her name was Agnieszka) it was a lot more than that: she gets stuck in the middle of nowhere, a Polish girl in a foreign land, with nobody to give her a ride. Nobody else stopped (I know it because I’ve also had a mechanical proble here, and hitch-hiking is not common). And who stops? A guy in a Polish car! Wow! A miracle!
The next day, she’s on the same road again, for a completely different reason. And the same guy, in the same car, who actually shouldn’t be there at all that day, shows up again and gives her a ride. The amazing thing is that I had a radio show but it was cancelled due to a last-minute technical failure, so I decided to go to my sister’s instead and visit my niece. It’s not as if I drive down that road everyday around the same time or something.

brettvdb's avatar

What a coincidence.

shrubbery's avatar

Yeah, I know it always happens that’s what I’m saying it doesn’t make it magic if it happens its still just that million to one chance.

theabk's avatar

@Jack79: Certainly, as you say, the chance of getting the specific number you predicted (or wished for) ahead of time is minute compared with the chance of getting a number (any number) other than that one. And if you had a t-shirt (or ring) that could consistently make you get the number you predicted at a higher rate than chance, then that would suggest something is going on. (Although I would still argue that rolling the exact sequence of 10 digits that you predicted, as vanishingly unlikely as that may be, is nevertheless more likely than a die being controlled by a ring.)

However, the key point here is that you are not predicting the exact events that will happen when you put on the ring – you’re just predicting that something that you consider magical will happen, and then attributing anything that seems out of the ordinary to the ring. (This is where the selective observation comes in.) In terms of probability, you are increasing the numerator immensely.

Jack79's avatar

@theabk I liked your answer because it was open-minded and had the brand of scepticism I was asking for (and not the brand of scepticism which is in fact just another dogma – people fanatically not believing something may be true are just as guillible as people who naively believe it without checking). You’re still talking about something slightly different from what I’ve been trying to put my finger on, but it’s a valid point nonetheless.

There was a mention of Pratchett’s idea of Narrative earlier. If I can be the central hero of my universe, and bend it around me, and get the Happy End because I have made it part of my Narrative, then it doesn’t matter if people call it “magic” or “luck” or “divine intervention” or anything else. The point is I get what I want in the end. I think we’ve focused too much on the terminology rather than the results. If I can get “coincidence” to work to my benefit, then it’s all the same to me. I have not worn the ring recently, and nothing out of the ordinary has happened (obviously that doesn’t prove anything either way). Going to try it again tonight at tell you how it went :)

Shuttle128's avatar

Selective memory + confirmation bias = magic/god/luck

Once you develop a theory pertaining to the magic of something, any further coincidences can be contributed to the “proof” of your theory. This is not a scientific approach to determining things and is a very big no-no in logic (this is at the heart of what most pseudoscience is).

How many times did you put your ring on before and nothing happened? Hundreds? Thousands? Just because good things happened when wearing the ring does not mean good things happened because of the ring. This is one of the biggest fallacies of logic (Affirming the Consequent) and a contributor to lots of illogical beliefs.

I will not discount that, when you are in a state of belief that the ring will do good things for you, you notice good things more. It may be beneficial to you to notice good things when they happen to you, but it does not mean that these good things have a specific cause. Also, the optimism that may occur because you anticipate good things could indeed “alter” your interactions.

Human beings are naturally adept at discovering “correlations.” The way our brains work specifically ingrains these “correlations” in our neural pathways. When you perform an action and another action happens during a similar time frame the brain “records” this in the relative strengths of connections of the neurons. When that pathway is stimulated again the relative strength of other pathways pertaining to the coincidence are also stimulated and can increase the strength or “correlation” of the original action with the coincidence. When one begins to assume that coincidences are caused by the original action any new coincidences will become stimulated when the original action is performed. This is a very strong form of memory that cannot easily be overcome.

Jack79's avatar

Yeah but you are not really telling me anything new. When I asked for “sceptics” I did not want people telling me “that ring is truly magic, it was probably crafted by a witch”. But I also don’t want people telling me “there is no such thing, you’re just imagining things”. I’m looking for a healthy discussion. The “coincidence dogma” described in this thread is just as narrow-minded as the “superstition dogma” that kept pagans in the darkness for centuries. Scepticism works both ways, both to tear down the walls of ignorance, looking for a more scientific and rational approach (but we’ve already done that), but also do go being the new walls of rationality, and into the Unknown.

Telling me I’m just imagining things, and insisting, post after post after post, is not really moving the discussion forward. I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong, but the difference is I’m willing to listen to different viewpoints. Instead, all I get is one: everything is a coincidence, nothing else exists beyond that. How do you know? If this were a theological discussion, you’d be sure there is no God because you’ve never seen one. But that is just as dogmatic as saying there is a God because the Bible says so. Religiously, I’m an agnostic. And I still don’t know for sure whether my ring has “magic” powers or not (I use the word “magic” in quotes because that’s not the word I mean, but there’s no real word for what I’m looking for). Perhaps it doesn’t, but can you be 100% sure of that? How?

“How many times did you put your ring on before and nothing happened? Hundreds? Thousands?” None actually. But that is not what made it special, because that again could be a coincidence.

This world we live in is far more complicated that we sometimes think. Do people try to seek out patterns to make sense of it all? Yes, we do. We see faces in clouds, even though we all know they are random shapes of vapour. But we also try to make sense of our complex world by disregarding as “mere coincidence” or fluke things that cannot be explained rationally. As Terry Pratchett puts it, “one in a million scenarios come true nine times out of ten”. The power of the ring lies in the ability to write the scenario.

And I’ve got writer’s block right now.

Shuttle128's avatar

@Jack79 Sorry, I thought a thorough explanation of why coincidence correlation occurs was an interesting and new addition to the discussion. I did not say that the ring did not cause good things to happen. It is entirely possible that it does cause it and I mentioned a way in which it might.

Fairylover78's avatar

I’m sorry, I’m laughing too hard to answer this question! @Jack79 you are cracking me up, and all the responses this question has gotten is cracking me up too…. Dude, the decisions you make everyday affect your life in some way or another, to think that a ring is granting you wishes is just absurd… not calling you crazy or anything well, not to your face anyway but you have to admit that the more you add to this discussion the ummm, well, less sane you sound. Thank you all for giving me a fit of the giggles today, my co workers probably think I’m the crazy one! ;)

Jack79's avatar

Hey at least I’m not a fairy lover :P

chyna's avatar

JACK79! So glad you are back!

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