Illustration for article titled The principle of near enough proves anyone is psychic

So you've completed a psychic test. The test has turned up exactly zero psychics. How can you get a psychic data with no psychics? Use the law of "near enough" to expand the parameters of the test!


It's all about things that are almost coincidences — the sort of thing that inspire conspiracy theories the world over. You know the kind of thing I'm talking about: "This man was shot in 1948, but he had a son. How did the son die? Of a gun shot! In 1984!" If there were another unfortunate male in the family line who had been killed in 1498, 1489, or 1849, or 1894, they would probably also be listed. That looks like a coincidence, but isn't. It's just a juggling of numbers. And numbers can be juggled many ways. As long as the overall numbers kind of look like each other people can consider it "near enough."

The assassinations of President Lincoln and President Kennedy famously inspire a lot of "near enough" coincidences. There are lists online, but one item that often gets mentioned is, "Oswald fired the shot from a library and fled to a theater, and Booth fired the shot in a theater and fled to a library." Presumably someone eventually noticed that the Texas Book Depository wasn't a library, but a kind of warehouse for textbooks. That only strengthened the parallel. Osward fired from a warehouse and was caught in a theater. John Wilkes Booth fired from a theater and fled to a lot of places, including people's homes, train cars, and the woods, but he was eventually captured in a warehouse. If by "warehouse," you mean "barn." Eh, near enough.

The point isn't that the stories aren't somewhat similar, the point is that "somewhat similar" is a very easy criterion to meet, especially if people are willing to fish around until something meets it. One famous "near enough" coincidence happened during a psychic test. It was the usual one, with cards that the reviewer would look at and the potential psychics would have to guess. None of the psychics had a guess rate any higher than random chance, which in itself might be the most eerie coincidence of the incident. Test enough people and someone should get a few more than random chance right, just like someone should get a few less than random chance right. Test over, right? No! Another psychic searcher suggested looking at the cards just ahead and just behind of the card that the psychic was being tested on. Suddenly, one psychic did much, much better than random chance. Eerily better. Was he psychic?

Let's say he was near enough.

[Via The Improbability Principle]


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