Friday, July 23, 2010

ZenTiger What a coincidence?

I often come across those particular moments of synchronicity which generate amazing coincidences. Sometimes, they are not as amazing as first thought though. Consider the classic urban myth that circulates from time to time:

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

Both were shot in the head.

Lincoln's secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to the theatre.
Kennedy's secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.

Both were succeeded by Southerners.

Both successors were named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are comprised of fifteen letters

Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

Lincoln was in Monroe a week before his assassination, and err, so was Kennedy (wink wink).

All quite impressive at first glance. But let's take a closer look:

• Given elections are every 4 years, there would likely be a few key periods that seem to have a numerical relationship
• Marilyn dies a year before Kennedy, so Kennedy cannot have been with her a week earlier - Aug 1962 vs Nov 1963 (and it was a pretty weak link between person and city, when you think about it)
• Kennedy did not have an aide called Lincoln (so it appears to be an outright tall tale!)
• Booth was born in 1838 (not 1839) and was a northerner who only lived for a time in the south
• Booth was caught in something closer to a shed than a warehouse
• Certain combinations of letters in the names may equate to each other, but other combinations don’t. So using the count of last names for Kennedy and Lincoln and a full count of letters for Booth and Oswald illustrates the point)

Still, it makes for a good story.

Snopes have a fuller account of the inconsistencies, as well as pointing out lots of other dates and facts that don't stack up in this story.

On the other hand, I was given a book last year discussing coincidences (the story above was not one of them) and I might dig up a few genuinely interesting or amusing ones to mull over if I'm ever short on blog posts.

3 comment(s):

Ciaron said...

• Kennedy did not have an aide called Lincoln (so it appears to be an outright tall tale!)

From Death of a President by William Manchester
World Books 1968

Evelyn Lincoln

Position at 12 noon, Nov 22, 1963
Personal secretary to President Kennedy

Date of interview

list of sources p 726

Anonymous said...

Ever stopped to ask WHY a coincidence is called a coincidence?

Seeing patterns, even where patterns don't exist is a trait of the human brain, it explains why we see shapes in cluds and why so many people still believe fairy tales are true.

ZenTiger said...

Does the pattern to your comment actually add up to an idea, or am I just seeing chaos and chance at work?

Your logic seems to be that if one story is a fairy tale, then an unrelated story is probably a fairy tale.

Yesterday, every star we had ever examined was no larger than a certain size. We devised a theory to work out the maximum theoretical size of a star was 150 solar masses. That was the limit.

Today, we have found a star 300 solar masses in size. Significantly larger than what was previously discovered, and what was previously thought possible.

A fairy tale come true, apparently.

If there are patterns in somethings, does that mean they mean nothing because it is a trait of the human brain to see patterns?

Ever stopped to ask WHY a coincidence is called a coincidence?

Coincidentally, my opening sentences give some clue to the answer to that question. Of course there are coincidences that are nothing more than coincidences.

Although perhaps Ciaron has completely blown that thought wide open :-)

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