Tag Archive: subway

(Submitted by reader Susie Kaufman)

I have a friend who, some 40+ years ago, decided to travel around Europe.  Somewhere along his route, he hooked up with another guy (from London), also interested in art, so the two of them continued their six-weeks-long trek from gallery to gallery, museum to museum, country to country.

When they parted ways, there were promises of staying in touch, but it didn’t happen.

Maybe a decade later, my Los Angeles friend and I got onto a New York City subway.  We seated ourselves across from a chap with a knapsack, who politely asked for directions to an art museum.

Sure enough, it was his old travel-mate!  And THIS time, they stayed in touch.

[EDITOR: Certainly when you combine all the various factors of people who shared a very large city as a home with meeting up in another very large city that’s a common destination, you improve the odds a little bit versus them running into each other in, say, Topeka. But even so, it’s a big planet with 7 billion people in it. Factor down to those with the money and ability to travel and you still have an exceptional number. It can be pretty mind-boggling when this sort of thing happens. But then again, with that many people and that many combinations, it has to happen occasionally to someone. Doesn’t make it any less startling when it does, though.]

(Submitted by reader Bethany G)

I lived in California and went to college, and lived in a small residence of 50 people down the hall from a Japanese student.

About 15 years later I went to Tokyo, and was walking down the subway platform of one of the numerous subway systems in Tokyo, and I literally bumped into him. We were both utterly, utterly astonished that this could happen in a city of 30 million people. I had lost touch with him until then, and actually hadn’t even expected to be in Tokyo at that time, let alone bump into someone I had lived two doors down the hall from for three years in college.

Updated 5/8/2012

Below are the exact notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 182. Take a look and leave your comments below.

Well, it seems that the odds of this happening would be two in 30 million (and it’s a great title for the post), but they really aren’t. Here are some monkey wrenches in that estimate:

  • The odds of running into someone and that person being from that residence hall are 50 times the odds of it being any specific person.
  • The odds of someone from Japan returning to Japan after college are relatively high compared to the odds of students from other countries returning home.
  • Normally, the odds of running into someone you knew is higher than one expects because the fact that you once knew them means that you shared some values or habits of some kind, which increases the probability that one can be found in a given location. However, in this case, the subway is an extremely common mode of travel in Tokyo, so the location is not as influential.
  • The odds of this event occurring at some point also rely on how long the author was in Tokyo, how active she was during that time, how active the friend was during that time, etc.

This story is comparable to the other stories of running into people, like mine. They seem like
stories of fate, but they would really only be astonishing if we predicted them – details intact.