When you run into somebody you haven’t seen in 10 years, the first thought that comes to your mind is whether this coincidence means anything significant. Were you meant to see them again? Is fate dealing you something you should pick up? You can’t help but wonder what the universe is trying to tell you with these coincidences.
Mathematicians are here to give us a dose of reality, though, because as much as we want to believe this coincidence is magical, there’s some pretty basic statistics that can explain the encounter.
Mathematician Joseph Mazur spoke with NPR about why these incidents aren’t as special as you might make them out to be in your head.
That means 99 percent of the people you’ve known in your lifetime don’t exist in your contacts and aren’t following you on social media. You know way more people than you think, so it’s really not that surprising that you would run into a distant childhood friend when you’re traveling overseas.
Mazur used Joan Ginther as an example. She won the lottery four different times. Four. According to Mazur, the odds against this happening are 18 septillion to one—for those of you who aren’t math pros, a septillion has 24 zeros on the end of it.
However, Mazur put it this way, which will make it seem much less freaky: the odds that anybody will win the lottery four times is about 5 million to one. It doesn’t sound so impossible that way, does it?
All that to say, don’t be so shocked when you run into your ex in another city. And don’t take it to immediately mean that you two should get back together and live happily ever after.