Coincidences of Life – Ender’s Game and a UPS Truck


UPS Truck . . . without a driver

This afternoon I was waiting at a red light (northbound on Palm at Central in Brea, CA, if the coordinates matter) and listening to the audio-book for the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Just as the light turned green, one character said to the other, “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service.”

This struck me as odd, showing up in a work of science fiction. But stranger still, as I shifted my motorcycle into second, a UPS truck passed me in the intersection going south.

Was it a coincidence? Of course it was. It was quite literally the coinciding of an auditory reference from one source and a visual reference from another source to the same company, UPS. These sensory experiences occurred simultaneously. They each conveyed information, and the information conveyed referred to the same thing. I heard a guy say through my headset, “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service” just as I waved to a guy driving a truck for the United Parcel Service. (Well, actually, I didn’t wave.)

Uncanny?

Sort of.

The Merriam -Webster Dictionary defines “uncanny” in this way: “seeming to have a supernatural character or origin,” or “being beyond what is normal or expected: suggesting superhuman or supernatural powers.”

The concurrence of two causally unrelated references to the same informational content attracts our attention. It is so incredibly unlikely that this would happen, it seems almost to have been planned. Was it planned? And if so, who arranged it? It might take superhuman or supernatural powers to make it happen just so. What other explanation could there be?

“Coincidence,” we say, with palpable matter-of-factness. But of course it’s a coincidence. Saying so merely reports an observation of fact. The real question is, what kind of coincidence is it? What is the explanation for this coincidence?

We do explain coincidences in various ways. Sometimes we say, “It was just a coincidence.” By this we mean that there’s nothing more to it than that, a mere coincidence, with no deep explanation. There is no intelligible cause, and no intelligent agent, involved. There is no meaningful answer to the question, “Why did this happen?”

But the question does present itself. It does to me, anyway. Trivial coincidences like this happen in my experience with remarkable frequency. I say “trivial” because I infer no special significance when they happen. And yet it is both remarkable each time it happens and remarkable that it happens as often as it does.

Why is it remarkable if the coincidence is trivial? It’s remarkable because the concurrence is so improbable. The degree of improbability varies depending on the specific character of the information presented. But the improbability of the concurrence does not, as such, warrant attribution of some special significance.

Why not?

The answer, I think, is two-fold. First, we can think of no special reason why the elements in our experience have occurred together. (Note: No one else in the intersection, I believe, actually heard or thought of the words “United Parcel Service” at that moment.) Second, we can identify no  causal mechanism that would ensure that they did occur together. In other words, there is no apparent point in their concurrence, and no obvious causal account of their concurrence. If we thought their concurrence served some purpose, we would naturally be curious about the cause. And if nothing else will serve, we might say that the cause was superhuman and personal. Given a general reluctance to attribute causes to occult entities, we require that a coincidence be specially significant. Also, if the concurrence was caused for our benefit, then we should find some benefit in their concurrence. That is, if we who experience the coincidence were meant to experience it, then there was some reason why it happened and why it happened in our experience. And this suggests that we should be capable of discerning that purpose.

What purpose could possibly have been served by the coincidence I experienced on my way home this afternoon? Nothing comes to mind. “It’s just a coincidence.”

But wait, now that I think that thought, I recall that there was a UPS package for me when I arrived home not two minutes later. Was the coincidence a warning, then? It certainly didn’t have that effect on me when it happened. In fact, when it happened, my thought was, This is something I could blog about. And in retrospect it doesn’t seem that a warning was required. The contents of the package were innocuous. Some clothing I had ordered. I don’t know if it matters, but the package wasn’t waiting on the front porch, as if it had just been delivered by the very same UPS truck. It had been carried in by another member of my household who wasn’t home. (I know she wasn’t home because no one was home. And I know it was a she because I’m the only he in the household. Aren’t you impressed with my awesome powers of deduction?)

I suppose now I might take care trying on the clothing that was delivered. But I can’t seriously entertain the notion that I’m in some kind of danger.

If there was a message, it was totally lost on me.

Could there be some other purpose, completely unrelated to my goals or interests, so that the purpose might be achieved quite apart from my cognizance of it?

(c) 2009 Katherine Gehl Donovan

Sure. A minor demon might have been taunting some innocent angel with her powers of manipulation, claiming to be able to cause me to hear “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service” and, at the same precise moment, cause me to see a guy driving a truck for the United Parcel Service.

In that event, would it really matter whether I recognized the concurrence of the appearance of a UPS truck just as I was hearing that bit of fictional dialogue? I can imagine a neophyte angel thinking, How did you do that? What if the line I’ve quoted from the story isn’t actually in the novel?

And what if there wasn’t really a UPS truck crossing the intersection in the opposite direction? Maybe the demon’s game was to present me with visual and auditory data that did not correspond with objects matching the data. Who knows what minor demons are capable of?

The point is, if there was a purpose in the coincidence, I have no idea what it was, and this makes it less likely that, if there was a purpose, realization of that purpose depended on my discerning that purpose.

Now, what do I actually believe? Do I believe there was a purpose in the coincidence? I do not. But this is imprecise. Not believing that there was a purpose is not the same as believing there was no purpose. I might simply be agnostic about whether the coincidence served some purpose.

So am I agnostic? No. I believe that no purpose was served.

I should have a reason for believing this, shouldn’t I?

My chief reason for believing that no purpose was served by the event is that attributing a reason does not comport with my worldview. Or rather, my worldview provides no basis for attributing a reason for the coincidence.

What we make of coincidences often is a matter of worldview commitments. Some coincidences do, for me, invite an inference to the agency of some superhuman or supernatural agent. Apparent answers to prayer, for example.

Here’s a question for fellow theists who believe that God exists and is a personal being who created the universe and sustains it in existence, others like me who affirm a doctrine of meticulous divine providence:

How do you decided whether this or that ‘coincidence’ is the occurrence of an event serving some special purpose intended by a superhuman or supernatural being?

Bonus Question: Is the angel/demon image posted here too provocative? Is it poor judgment to use it here?

My Right to Park My Car in Front of My House


There’s a debate in my town about whether residents should be free to park their vehicles in the street in front of their homes, without threat of getting a parking ticket.

Last weekend, The Orange County Register published a story about this— Read more of this post

Best iPhone Sights in Brea


Brea Transportation Department

Brea Transportation Department

Now that I’ve got this iPhone that can do everything except transport me to the Starship Enterprise, I thought I should test its photo power by snapping some pics of the best places in my town. Some of these are taken at dusk.

Reflections on My House

A Rebel Perspective on My House

 

Downtown Brea:

 

This Building Is Still Up for Lease

This Building Is Still Up for Lease

Gateway to Birch

Gateway to Birch Street

"To Protect and to Serve"

"To Protect and to Serve"

Best Milkshakes

Best Milkshakes

Laboratory for Film Research

Laboratory for Film Research

Edwards10.Brea

Close-up of the Lab

Palms on Birch Street?

Palms on Birch Street?

Brea and Birch Parking

Vital Information

Vantage Point (AKA "Parking Structure")

Vantage Point (AKA "Parking Structure")

Brea Skyline

Brea Skyline

Brea Promenade

Brea Promenade

The Improv

The Improv

The Yard House

The Yard House

Brea Flag

Brea Flag

Brea Sunset

Brea Sunset

Brea Sunset

Brea Sunset

$1.00 Per Scoop on Tuesday Nights

$1.00 Per Scoop on Tuesday Nights

For the Serious Aquarist

For the Serious Aquarist

Best Movies Set in Venice


rialto_1Ever been to Venice? Ever get a hankering to be there, like, right now? Sometimes that happens to me. Today it happened to one of my daughters.

Last night I saw the new Star Trek movie. Not to ruin the plot or anything, but you find out (sort of) how the transporter technology was devised by Scotty. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just beam yourself to a nostalgic place for a day? “Southern California too boring for you? How about Venice? Beam me up, Scotty!”

Unfortunately, there isn’t an iPhone application for that. I checked. (Apple, are you listening?) But there is another option, another way to “take you there,” and that is to select a movie that is set in Venice.

200px-ItalianjobSo tonight we’ll be watching The Italian Job. It’ll bring back pleasant memories of our leisurely time strolling the Piazza San Marco, shopping the Rialto Bridge, and taking in the half-believable vista of the Grand Canal.

Or not.

“The Italian Job is hardly a film to slow your heartbeat.” Agreed. So our recollection of Venice will be accompanied by a high level of manufactured adrenalin. Anything wrong with that?

The 1969 version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and Noël Coward, is different in interesting ways. (This was Noël Cowards last movie.) In fact, it’s different in so many ways that seeing the 2003 film, with Mark Wahlberg and Charliz Theron, does nothing to make the 1969 film predictable. Fortunately, there is one great similarity, and that is the role cast for the Mini Coopers used in the heist. The two movies begin and end very differently.

Other options for movies set in Venice include Casino Royale (for it’s ending), A Death in Venice (not a happy film), Everyone Says I Love You (a Woody Allen musical), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (more action and adventure in Venice), Just Married (a romantic comedy), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (yep, the one with Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain), A Little Romance, (a comedy in which a 13-year-old American girl enjoys reading Heidegger!), The Merchant of Venice (Venice in 1596), Moonraker (James Bond movie #11, featuring Venice and a gondola/hovercraft contraption), Othello (take your pick: 1952 with Orson Welles, 1965 with Laurence Olivier, or 1995 with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh), Pokémon Heroes (the fictional location “Johto” is supposed to be based on Venice), Sharks in Venice (for those who like implausible great white shark movies), Summertime (with Katherine Hepburn and probably the best cinematic exploitation  of Venice), The Thief Lord (co-written by children’s adventure novelist Cornelia Funke), The Venetian Affair (spy thriller starring Robert Vaughn and Elke Sommer, vintage 1967, and hard to find), The Wings of the Dove (“Venice has never been portrayed so beautifully, or romantically,” says Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide).

Myself, I’ve seen exactly four of the movies on this list. Wanna’ guess which ones? I’ll send an Amazon gift card for $5 to the first person who gets it right, within 24 hours of this post. I’ll announce the winner—if there is one—at the end of 24 hours. (Setting my mobile phone timer . . . now.)

Good luck!

Oh, and by the way, you also have to explain why you picked the four you did AND tell me your favorite movie with a Venetian setting.

The Brea Fire—15 November 2008


We’re monitoring the Brea fire very closely here. It concerned us when it jumped the 57 freeway in a westerly direction. We live about two miles from that spot. The Brea-Olinda High School was a base station for firefighters to keep the school buildings protected. I think they were successful in that endeavor.

There’s a spot up the road in our neighborhood that I’ve been visiting periodically for a good view. If, from that location, I see fire, we’ll be heaving things into our vehicles and “taking our leave.” We have our things gathered in case that becomes necessary.

20081115brea-fire-mapI’ve attached a fire map that’s about six hours old at this point — 10:15 p.m. (click image to enlarge). If you’re interested in our location on this map, visualize a vertical axis extending north directly above the “t” in the street name “W. Lambert Rd,” and a horizontal axis extending east along Whittier Blvd (seen on the left side of the image). Where these two axes meet is right on our spot.

My vista point to keep track of its proximity to us is north from that point along the same vertical axis, and then east about the same distance. At the end of that road there’s a large undeveloped area with a tall hill. I’m watching the crest of that hill.

As a point of reference for people who don’t know the area, Carbon Canyon is the spot of greatest concern nearest to us. That will be watched throughout the night and covered on television. In the early hours of the morning there’s the significant possibility of high winds like we had earlier today. That would not be good.

I’d rather not evac. And it looks like a long night of staying alert. But I’m optimistic.

* * *

Note: While our Brea PD is busy with the fire activity, I’ve seen police patrol vehicles from distant places. I spoke with an officer who came up from San Clement to provide backup duty. So the coordination has been excellent.

Update:

Here’s the map after the events of today, twenty-four hours later:

Bold red lines are road current road closures

Bold red lines are current road closures

I Like Living in California


I like living in California. There—I said it. And I found myself thinking it a lot yesterday. This was something of a surprise to me. I was born here and have lived here most of my life. I lived for six years in Mexico as a teenager. I went to college out-of-state. And I taught for two years in Indiana. So you might expect me to be partial to California. But if there’s any region I’m partial to, it’s the Great Pacific Northwest, especially western Washington. Read more of this post

Eyewitness Earthquake Report


It’s all over the news. An earthquake of moderate magnitude occurred shortly before noon today in the Los Angeles area. I was at home in Brea working at my desk. The quake is said to have centered in Chino Hills, about 12 miles by road from where I live. As the crow flies, we’re within 10 miles of the epicenter.

My two daughters and our niece were here with me, upstairs from my study. My first reaction was to get to them and gather everyone together.

I’d say the quake was felt at our house for about 20-30 seconds. Some minutes later we felt a distinct but brief aftershock. This quake produced a general shake of our house, and I did wonder while it was happening how long it could continue without causing severe damage to our home. There was a lot of creaking and things were falling from walls and shelves. But we don’t have any visible damage. Most impressive was the sloshing of the water in our in-ground pool.

The initial report was that the earthquake was of a 5.8 magnitude. It’s now been officially designated a 5.4 quake. There are TV news reports of numerous ongoing aftershocks in the Chino Hills area. But we’ve only felt the one. There’s also a report of a fire caused by the quake in the nearby town of La Habra Heights. A Ralph’s market in Diamond Bar, also close by, has closed to assess damage to products and restore order.

News coverage of the event has been interesting. Some of it has been a little melodramatic. But it does inform people about the behavior of earthquakes and remind them of the need for preparedness should there be a more sizable quake in the future.

Now might be a good time to enjoy an earthquake movie! Grab the popcorn and relax while you watch the 1974 film Earthquake, starring Charleton Heston and Ava Gardner, about a quake in Los Angeles that wreaks unimaginable havoc.

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