Tom Hanks

Want to talk about probabilities?

Well, I do. Before today, I’ve witnessed a number of times when something happened, seemingly out of the blue, and it was related to some other chance event in my life. And since both events were absolutely random, you start believing in absolute randomness, aka chaos … Or some divine force that makes it all happen. Or that all things are indeed somehow connected, unbeknownst to us. So here’s what happened.

I was looking for a journal or note taking iPad app that looks a little more elegant than built-in Notes. I checked out a few and some were a complete overkill, others – not functional enough. I didn’t go to a great length reviewing them all but scrolled down a few rows just to see what else was there. For no obvious reason, Hanx Writer got my attention. I went into details and realized that Mr Castaway himself produced the app. So I downloaded it and played a bit with it. Its whole premise is to replicate an old-fashioned typewriter, with sounds, keys, end of line carriage return. The app is too cluttered, even awkward, in my opinion, but that’s secondary to the story. That was on a Tuesday.

Exactly a week later, also on a Tuesday, I got into my car, at a very odd time, about 4.45pm, I never get in my car at that time, but I worked from home that day and had to pick up a few groceries before picking up my son at the daycare. So anyway, I get into my car and I have NPR on. And I could have had satellite radio on, or played Pandora, or god knows what else. But I had NPR on, and I can hear a dialogue between a man and a woman, the woman being an anchor. And they are talking about old-fashioned typewriters, and carriage returns, and custom sound settings, and how popular this is going to be with kids (or not). And then, like a lightning bolt, this very distinctive laughter and tonality, you know, “I have made fire!” Tonality, strike me with the realization, “Holy crap, this is Tom Hanks, and they are talking about Hanx Writer”!!!

At that point, I’m thinking to myself, “well I’ve been here before, many times actually”, but I was either way too busy, drunk, lazy etc. to document it or simply didn’t see the whole coincidence meet chaos meet divine force angle to it. And then, thankfully, I decided to retain the experience and put it down on paper.

Back to probabilities- here’s how I view the whole thing.

Let’s write it down – iPad has X number of writing or journal taking apps, so the probability of me finding Hanx Writer is 1/X. The actual probability (sort of out of the blue) of me looking for an app like that is even lower but let’s assume that was predefined.

Further, there are numerous options for what I could’ve been listening to in my car. Let’s give weights to a few major options: Shoutcast, Pandora I’d say 1/10, satellite- 3/10, NPR- 4/10, some other radio or not listening to anything at all – 2/10. So with 40% chance I could’ve been listening to NPR. Not bad odds on its own but …

Now to the timing, probably the hardest to define. I drive every day so the day of the week itself is not important. The fact that I worked from home could’ve been caused by a million different events but lets say for simplicity that it was either me being sick or something else, like flat tire this time. So let’s say it has a 5/260 chance (average days I work from home over 260 work days a year). Now, the odd hour that I left home would arguably have the lowest probability but let’s assume we measure that whole time frame in 15 min increments- being the length of the show- over the span of 2 hours. In that case, the odds of me leaving at 4.45pm are 1/8.

From my statistics course I remember that to calculate the combined probability of multiple events, that is, the probability that they all happened is to simply multiply individual probabilities. So here it goes:

1/x iPad apps x
4/10 listening to NPR x
5/260 working from home x
1/8 leaving at 4.45pm

And that gives us 0.096% / x iPad apps for writing. I don’t know what that x is but my guess is that it’s in the hundreds, if not thousands. So let’s say a round thousand – and then the final probability comes to 0.000096%. In practical terms, this means that the odds are 1 out of a million for the events I just described to happen. I’m not much of a gambler but I’d say the odds aren’t great.

I have no reasonable explanation why these things happen. With the odds as they are, they shouldn’t but they have happened to me and far more than once. I’m positive I haven’t uncovered a conspiracy but I almost sense that there has to be some kind of connection between us that exists outside of our immediate senses. Too bad it’s unlikely that I’ll know what it is in my lifetime.

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