Why It’s Hard to Recognize the Unlikely

Whenever I fly, I like to talk to the person sitting next to me. Once in a while, I find that we know at least one person in common. If you are like me, perhaps coincidences such as this happen in your life as well.

The most unusual coincidence in my life took place when I flew from Boston, my home, to Chicago to meet Scott Isenberg, the new editor assigned to revise a statistics textbook I had authored a few years earlier. We were having dinner at a restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan, and Scott began to talk nostalgically about the orange groves that graced his neighborhood in a small town in California, where he grew up. I recalled that my wife, Debra, who is also from California, used to talk about orange groves as well. We both smiled and continued our conversation—after all, the state has 38 million people. But every remark he made about his childhood abode reminded me of something that my wife had told me. As we continued to notice more of these

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