In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.
Dr. Bernard Beitman is a founding father of Coincidence Studies. Working from the University of Virginia, he is creating definitions and methodologies for studying coincidences, and generally making this fascinating phenomenon “look more like a science,” he said.
He’s heard many, many coincidence stories and shared many of them with Epoch Times throughout the course of his research. Here a few outstanding examples.
A Fateful Look in the Trash
Journalist Stephen Diamond arrived in San Francisco with only $10 to his name. He couldn’t afford a notepad to write on, yet inspiration surged through him. He was tempted to steal one, but thought better of it. Then he saw just what he needed—“a pad of paper, face-down on top of a pile of rubbish, clothes, shoes, old books.”
The header on this notepad read, “Stephen Diamond, M.D.” What were the chances of Diamond finding a notepad with his name on it in pristine condition in the trash just when he needed it most?
He wrote the cult classic “What the Trees Said.”
2. Powerful Coincidence Sways a Skeptic
Dr. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the executive director of the Skeptics Society, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American.
He wrote in his column on Sept. 16 about an experience that led him to conclude: “We should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”
His fiancé’s belongings were shipped to the United States from Germany, and among them was her grandfather’s 1978 transistor radio. She was very close with her grandfather, who died when she was 16.
The radio had been silent for decades, and try as he might Shermer could not get it working again. It continued its silence in the back of a desk drawer in the couple’s bedroom.
Three months later (June this year), they were married. After the ceremony, his wife asked to talk with him alone. She was feeling lonely, missing her family back in Germany and also wishing her grandfather could have been alive to give her away. The couple walked to the back of the house where they heard music playing, a love song.
They searched in vain for the source of the music, then his wife “shot me a look I haven’t seen since the supernatural thriller ‘The Exorcist’ startled audiences. ‘That can’t be what I think it is, can it?’ she said.”
It was the transistor radio in the drawer.
“My grandfather is here with us,” she said, tearfully. “I’m not alone.”
Shermer’s daughter had heard music coming from the radio just before the ceremony started, though the couple had been in the room only moments before without hearing any music. The radio continued to work through the wedding night.
“Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since,” Shermer wrote.
3. Penicillin Discovered Under Just the Right Conditions
Penicillin, an antibiotic that made a huge breakthrough in fighting bacterial infections, was discovered over the course of many years, with many accidental or coincidental circumstances helping it along.
Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming had a cold in November 1921. A drop from his runny nose landed in a culture dish full of bacteria. He realized the drop killed the bacteria, leaving a “halo of inhibition” around it. Lysozyme was the component in his mucous that had killed the bacteria, but lysozyme couldn’t be mass-produced as an antibiotic.
Almost a decade later, he was at St. Mary’s Hospital doing research. The lab conditions were poor—cracks in the ceiling and draughts did not make for a perfectly controlled environment.
He had gone on vacation and left petri dishes in the sink. Rather than just washing them out as many scientists would do, he examined them first and found a spot of dead bacteria similar to that left by his mucous. This halo of inhibition appeared around some fungus that had landed on the dishes—spores had traveled through the cracks from an experiment on a lower floor.
The spores had arrived at precisely the right moment and during a period when the temperature was just right. If the bacteria in the dish had been at a different phase in its development, the fungus would not have had the impact it did.
Fleming realized this mold could kill bacteria, but it wasn’t until another group of scientists performing different experiments in the 1940s used the mold (the penicillin) in mice that they realized the mold could survive in a mammal’s body and that it had the potential to treat bacterial infections in humans. They hadn’t meant to investigate this use, it was an accidental discovery.
To summarize, Fleming was looking for this halo of inhibition in bacteria cultures after his runny nose incident, and this perceptiveness helped the later coincidences yield useful results. This relates to one of the reasons Dr. Beitman wants to foster coincidence studies—awareness and perceptiveness can help people notice useful coincidences more, he said.
If the lab had been in better shape, the spores would never have traveled to Fleming’s sink. If Fleming hadn’t been so economical, deciding to study the mold in the sink before washing it away, he wouldn’t have noticed the halo of inhibition. If the mold hadn’t landed at exactly the right time, Fleming wouldn’t have made the discovery (or at least not at that time, perhaps it could have happened some other way at a later date).
Many coincidences plus a little perceptiveness resulted in a discovery that has saved millions of lives.