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By coincidence is when for a single event multiple events or not the coincidence of causal explanation can be found. As causal explanations for events, depending on the context, the intentions of acting persons or scientific deterministic processes come into question.

The word “chance” in the meaning described in this article did not come into general use until the 17th century and is considered by linguists to be predicated on the Latin ac-cidens in word form and meaning. In the German-speaking world, chance (Middle High German zuoval : "attack") first appeared in Meister Eckhart or in the language of the 14th century mystics as a loan translation of accidens and a scholastic rendering of the Aristotelian symbebêkós .


When speaking of coincidence, it can be specifically meant:

  1. An event happens objectively without a cause. This "objective coincidence" is dealt with in the article indeterminism .
  2. An event happens without any identifiable cause.
  3. An event occurs in which one knows the influencing factors, but cannot measure or control them, so that the result cannot be foreseen (“empirical-pragmatic chance”).
  4. There is no (known) causal relationship between two events.

Case 1 has not yet been observed in the macroscopic world and, in principle, should not be detectable. In quantum mechanics , the existence of objective chance is discussed in the context of its various interpretations . The time when the next radioactive atom will decay from a substance cannot be predicted.

Case 2 means that the causal chain or the influencing factors have not been completely proven, but their existence can be assumed. Examples:

  • Why did the tree develop a branch here in contrast to the neighboring tree?
  • During sexual reproduction, the parents' genetic information is recombined in a way that cannot be predicted.

Case 3 assumes a certain complexity. Examples:

  • Unmanipulated gambling situations: Why a roulette ball will fall on a certain number cannot be foreseen, because in the initial situation (throwing the ball) the smallest variations that cannot be deliberately influenced have a major influence on the result. - When throwing an ideal dice, every value from 1 to 6 occurs with the same probability, before throwing it cannot be predicted which event will occur. There is no explanation for the occurrence of a certain number, as long as one does not use the starting position and the flight and turning speed of the cube to physically calculate the further processes of the throw .
  • Two people - unknown to each other - were in the same train compartment at the same time and started talking through some observed event; soon after they got married and had children.

Case 4 is the attempt to relate things that are independent of one another. (It's one of the forms of magical thinking .) Example: Two people each have a phone number. Whether the older or the younger one has the bigger number is “coincidence”.

If one uses coincidence as a description for the fact that the final situation that has occurred cannot find a reason in the initial situation, then the following must also apply:

  • With the same starting situation, there can be several different ending situations.
  • There is no recognizable cause for the occurrence of a particular end situation.
  • If the same starting situation is repeated, other ending situations can also occur.

The term coincidence is also used colloquially when an event cannot be explained causally . It is difficult to differentiate between unpredictability and unpredictability . If chance is specifically used as a design element in selection processes, the term “ random principle ” is used in this context .

Scientific classification

A systematic investigation of the phenomenon of chance takes place

Random processes in the world

Sections of philosophy deal with the question of whether our world is in its innermost deterministic (that is, causally clearly predetermined) or random. In the case of events that seem random at first glance, the question arises whether the observer simply had too little information to make an exact prediction, or whether the observed system is inherently random.

With the first type - the deterministic systems - the result of an experiment is always the same under identical conditions. An observed variance suggests that the observer measured imprecisely at at least one point. Today chaos research examines chaotic systems deterministically ; these are deterministic systems, but because of their great complexity they behave unpredictably for humans at the moment.

The quantum physics has triggered a renewed discussion about whether the world fundamentally deterministic or random obey the innermost principles. The experimentally proven violation of Bell's inequality implies that nature on the microscopic level cannot be described by a both realistic and local theory. This means that the result of an experiment cannot generally be predicted exactly, even if all the local conditions are known, and accordingly different consequences can follow from identical initial situations. For example, it is not possible to determine the exact time of the decay of an atomic nucleus, not because the properties of the nucleus are still unknown, but because there are no (local) causes. In the context of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, one speaks of an objective coincidence .

Other interpretations of quantum mechanics do not differ in their physical content from the Copenhagen interpretation, but in their evaluation of chance. The many-worlds interpretation assumes, for example, that all quantum mechanical possibilities are always actually realized and only appear randomly in the respective worlds. All worlds together could therefore be described deterministically. Furthermore, there are non-local interpretations (e.g. the De Broglie-Bohm theory ) in which chance is attributed to ignorance of the state of the entire universe.

After all, quantum mechanical chance must not be equated with randomness. Even if the individual measurement results cannot be predicted, the probabilities of their occurrence are strictly determined by the laws of quantum mechanics. At the macroscopic level, quantum effects play no role due to the decoherence , so that the classical world always seems deterministic to us.

Chance and free will

There is a close connection between the terms chance and free will . It can be argued that a free decision is, at least partially, unaffected by other influences (internal and external). So it is not determined . However, this can also be seen as a definition of chance: According to this view, there can be no free will in a universe without chance, since every decision could be predicted with knowledge of all influencing factors. But if our decisions are made by chance, that is certainly not what we imagine of free will.

Immanuel Kant suggests the following way out in the Critique of Pure Reason : The contradiction between determinism and indeterminacy of the will (“ antinomy ” of free will) only arises where appearances (of the world of experience) are equated with the “ thing in itself ”. “Because if appearances are things in themselves, freedom cannot be saved. [...] If, on the other hand, appearances are no longer valid for anything than they actually are, namely not for things in themselves, but mere representations that are connected according to empirical laws, then they themselves must still have reasons that are not appearances. "( B 564f, Critique of Pure Reason). According to this, free will means “the ability to begin a state of one's own accord” (B 561, Critique of Pure Reason).

How free the human will really is, and how much human decisions are shaped by experiences, feelings, and instincts, is a subject of investigation in psychology . A person with free will may only have an extensive wealth of experience, moral principles and a keen mind that allow him to make independent, differentiated decisions on a well-founded basis, which may be absolutely deterministic. Such a will is at least somewhat free from social constraints, habits, etc.

The Christian religion does not presuppose any free will in man as far as it is a question of the possibility of turning to God or turning away from him. Paul, Augustine and the reformers are important representatives of man's lack of will in Christian terms. But since this lack of will leads to difficulties with the concepts of sin , guilt and forgiveness , free will is positively represented in today's Catholicism, in some non-Reformation expressions of Protestantism and in other denominations. In addition to determinism and chance as “natural forces” and the free will of humans, the work of higher beings appears as a further causal principle in religious ideas.

Perception of chance

The study of the human ability to judge chance phenomena falls into the field of cognitive psychology . Significant contributions to this come from the scientists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman . Humans have a basic ability to assess probabilities, but various systematic misjudgments have been identified in detail. Prominent examples are on the one hand the failure to take into account conditional probabilities or the reversal of the final direction of statements with these, as illustrated by the well-known goat problem .

Furthermore, test persons tend to perceive regularities in random patterns ( apophenia ) and to infer a systematic production process from them. Related to this is the observation formulated by H. Reichenbach in 1934 that people, when trying to think up random sequences of numbers, show a tendency to underestimate the frequency of successive identical numbers. A classic data set for statistical evidence consists of a large number of sequences of numbers sent in as part of an experiment to prove thought transference, the Zenith Radio Experiment of 1937, the results of which were initially examined in this regard by LD Goodfellow.

Another class of misjudgment arises from the application of flawed variants of the law of large numbers .

Even trained mathematicians make such mistakes. A better known example is that of Paul Erdős , who took several attempts to understand the goat problem. Persi Diaconis sums up the situation as follows: “Our brains are just not wired to do probability problems very well.” (Something like: “Our brains are simply not wired to deal with probability problems very well.”) Tversky and Kahneman examined automatic thought processes, so-called judgment heuristics .

T. Griffiths and J. Tenenbaum try to resolve the discrepancy between human intuition and the stochastic viewpoint in such a way that the human assessments are consistent with mathematical predictions of the question of the likelihood of a certain generating process (and not with the probability of an event under a given generating process Process).

Chance in the right

In German civil law, coincidence ( lat. Casus fortuitus ) is the cause of events that is not based on intent or negligence on the part of a person . Basically, everyone who suffers damage by chance bears this damage themselves; however, z. B. the debtor in default and the thief . According to Roman law, the latter is liable for semper in mora because he is always in default (namely in default of return). As a result, the thief is always liable for the accidental loss of the thing, even if the loss of the thing was neither avoidable nor foreseeable for him.


Contemporary works

Classical works

Web links

Wiktionary: Random  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Chance  - Learning and Teaching Materials

Individual evidence

  1. coincidence. In: Digital dictionary of the German language . Retrieved November 19, 2019
  2. Nabil Osman (Ed.): Small lexicon of German words of Arabic origin. CH Beck, Munich 1971 and (7th, unchanged edition) 1993, p. 239.
  3. ^ Franz Dornseiff : The Greek words in German. Berlin 1950, p. 32.
  4. Ulrich Lüke on Philosophical Radio in WDR 5 on February 15, 2013.
  5. Craig R. Fox, Jonathan Levav: Partition-Edit-Count. Naive Extensional Reasoning in Judgment of Conditional Probability . In: Journal of Experimental Psychology / General , Volume 133, (2004), Issue 4, pp. 626-642, ISSN  0096-3445 .
  6. a b Thomas L. Griffiths, Josuah B. Tenenbaum: Randomness and coincidences. Reconciling intuition and probability theory. In: Joanna D. Moore, Keith Stenning (Eds.): Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, August 1-4, 2001 . Erlbaum Press, Mahwah, NJ 2001, pp. 370-375, ISBN 0-8058-4152-0 ; Article in Psychology Today (PDF; 69 kB).
    Hans Reichenbach: The theory of probability . University of California Press, Berkeley 1934/1949 (German edition. Probability. An investigation into the logical and mathematical foundations of the calculation
    of probability . Sijthoff, Leiden 1935).
  7. Louis D. Goodfellow: A Psychological Interpretation Of The Results Of The Zenith Radio Experiments In Telepathy . In: Journal of Experimental Psychology , Volume (23), 1938, Issue 6, pp. 601-632, ISSN  0096-3445 .