Critical Thinking History of Psychology Research and Stats

Episode 70: Coincidence or Synchronicity? You Be The Judge

Have you heard that president Abraham Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and president John F. Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln? In this episode of The Psych Files we explore strange coincidences like this one and we also examine Carl Jung's concept of Synchronicity. Does it mean that everything happens for a reason – or is the idea more complex than that? Let’s find out. Oh and by the way – turns out Lincoln never had a secretary named Kennedy. Don’t believe me? Find out more in this episode of The Psych Files.

  • Correction: I said in the podcast that it would take only a group of 23 people for you to find someone with your birthday. This is incorrect. Thanks to Doug and Leen for emailing me to remind me that I should have said that it would take only 23 people to find two people in the group who had the same birthday. (Note: this has been corrected in the audio as of 9/11/08)

Resources for this Episode

  • The place to go to examine all sorts of urban myths and to check your facts is a website called Snopes. Here is the link to their page about the Lincoln and Kennedy coincidences. Check it out. Very neat site.
  • Leavy, J. (1992). Our Spooky Presidential Coincidences Contest. The Skeptical Inquirer, 16 (3), 316-320.
  • Martin, B. (1998). Coincidences: Remarkable or Random? The Skeptical Inquirer, 22 (5), 23-27.
  • Carr, N. (2008). Is Google making us stoopid? The Atlantic, July/August.
  • More information about Carl Jung can be found in the journal Quadrant.
  • You can learn more about Carl Jung and the concept of synchronicity on the Carl Jung Resources site.

  • Doug Drinen, a Psych Files listener, sports fan and mathematician, hosts a football blog called Pro Football Reference and in one post he takes a look at the odd number of occurrences of Friday the 13 among football players in 2006. Check it out – very eerie (or just chance).

Similarities Between John McCain and Barack Obama:

  1. They were both born in the month of August
  2. Obama was born on August 4th and McCain on August 29 – 25 days apart
  3. Obama was born in 1961 and McCain on August 29 – 25 years apart
  4. McCain announced his presidency on April 25th of 2007
  5. Time magazine named McCain as one of the “25 Most Influential People in America”
  6. John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden were named after their fathers and Sarah Palin was named after her mother
  7. Obama wrote a book called Dreams from My Father
  8. McCain wrote a book called Faith of My Fathers
  9. Both Obama’s father and McCain’s father served in World War II.
  10. Barack’s VP candidate’s last name is Biden, McCain’s VP candidate’s last name is Palin. Both of these names have 5 letters and these names rhyme.
  11. Both Obama and McCain have two daughters (of course, McCain also has two sons, but we don’t have to mention that do we?).



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  1. Avatar

    Kevin Marley

    September 9, 2008

    You spent half your episode disproving the notion that coincidences happen for a reason, a notion that Jung conceded at the outset of proposing his most controversial and (according to him) most important theory. Keep up the good work.

  2. Avatar

    Jean-Michel Abrassart

    September 9, 2008


    Very interesting episode! Thanks for doing it! I think you did a good job for introducing this concept to your audience (with pro and cons).

    The only thing I would have objected was the quantum physic part of it. Proponents of the existence of paranormal phenomena always use quantum physic as it could lend some credibility to their claim.

    This is forgetting that there is no proof whatsoever that quantum phenomenum could have any effects on the macroscopic level. In other word: quantum physic (infinitely small) can’t explain something like synchronicity (macroscopical level of reality).

    Well, anyway, good job. Thanks again!


    ps: the parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake claims that telephone thelepaty is a real phenomenom, who can’t be explain away See:

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