Math Explains Coincidences, Getting Fat, and Death

Curated by CLAI

SURPRISING COINCIDENCES: We tend to fail to understand how the basic laws of probability work and our selective attention, which lead to great surprise at many coincidences. Stunning coincidences are only natural — like stumbling into a close friend halfway around the world or meeting someone with the same birthday can be explained by simple mathematics.

  • In a group of 366 people, there’s 100 percent probability that two people will have the same birthday — since there are only 365 days in a year, excluding leap year. In a group of 23 people, there’s >50% two people in the room have the same birthday
  • We also have selective attention — we notice and remember coincidences, but we hardly ever heed their absence.

Credits: Guillaume Jacquenot (Wikimedia Commons)

FAT TEMPTATION: Drop a bunch of kale into your cart and you’re more likely to head next to the ice cream or beer section. The more “virtuous” products you have in your basket, the stronger your temptation to succumb to vice. When shown a burger, their average guess was 734 calories; when shown the same burger alongside three celery sticks, the average guess dropped to 619. These are not rational calculations; they betray the shortcuts your brain takes in its running tally of vice and virtue.

LIFE EXPECTANCY OF MUSICIANS BY GENRE: Musicians from the older genres – blues, jazz (including bebop and dixieland), country (including country and western, boogie woogie, honky tonk and bluegrass), and gospel (including spiritual and Christian rock) – enjoyed, on average, similar lifespans as those from the U.S. population with the same year of birth and gender.

  • The next group – R&B (including doo wop and soul), pop, folk (including ballad and polka) and world music – had lower life expectancies compared with the U.S. population.
  • Thereafter, the gap between population lifespans and average age of death for the more recent genres – rock (including rockabilly), electronic (including experimental, techno, disco, and funk), punk, metal, rap and hip hop – widens.
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