How Does Math Explain Unusual Events, Strange Combinations, and Coincidences in the Lottery
Last updated on January 2, 2021
Some people will argue that winning the lottery involves pure luck and random chance. Others believe in listening to their dreams or consulting with a psychic. Some people trust in using the law of attraction to take home the jackpot. Each of these methods has one surprising thing in common; math.
We are often told that success is a result of hard work and perseverance. So, to think that a simple visualization exercise or psychic reading can supersede an investment of time and the complexity of knowledge seems ridiculous.
I’m not saying that visualization lacks the power to impact the lives of individuals positively. The point is that coincidences and unusual events do occur every day.
And there is often a realistic and even mathematical explanation for the supposed improbabilities of our world.
Let me explain them one by one.
Winning a jackpot with the law of attraction
In 2004, Cynthia Stafford decided to try an alternate method of acquiring the $112 million jackpot. She claims to have spent time meditating and using visualization to envision winning the lottery.
Stafford focused on the imaginative experience of winning and, three years later, took home precisely the amount she had desired.
In an extraordinary feat, Stafford appeared to use the law of attraction (or LOA) to win the lottery.
News of Stafford’s accomplishment caught the attention of lottery gurus and authors across the country.
Everyone wanted to win, but most felt like the magic numbers were just barely out of reach. For so many who heard the recent story, they think that the law of attraction provides a new approach to an old game. Or does it?
Does the law of attraction work?
Much to the dismay of lottery players worldwide, the law of attraction is an ineffective way to win.
According to an online community that is devoted to guiding visitors towards transformation through the power of the law of attraction, manifesting a jackpot win is not impossible.
They argue that if you haven’t yet won using this method, you either don’t want it badly enough, want it too severely, or unknowingly believe it will negatively impact your life.
For LOA practitioner, the law of attraction is intended to focus on energy and open minds to the possibilities of what life can provide. It is a method of perceiving the world abundantly.
While this visualization method might impact those wishing to enrich their lives, it is not a proven way of manipulating mathematical probabilities.
But why do people believe in all these superstitious strategies?
Availability bias is what convinces us based on accessible information that took place just recently.
It is hearing about someone winning the lottery through the law of attraction and therefore believing that it is possible. Between this and confirmation bias, which encourages us to seek verification of our beliefs, it’s no wonder that many superstitious strategies are not only surfacing but also sticking.
The higher volume of people who do all these superstitious methods, the more likely one will win, no matter how absurd the belief might be.
Cynthia Stafford’s experience was a rare and improbable event.
That said, coincidences do happen.
David J. Hand, an emeritus professor of mathematics and senior research investigator at Imperial College London, explains that even events with minuscule probability can undoubtedly occur.
He described this unusual event as the Improbability Principle.
Professor Hand writes:
A set of mathematical laws that I call the Improbability Principle tells us that we should not be surprised by coincidences. In fact, we should expect coincidences to happen. One of the key strands of the principle is the law of truly large numbers. This law says that given enough opportunities, we should expect a specified event to happen, no matter how unlikely it may be at each opportunity.
For example, if only 23 people were in a room, the probability of two sharing the same birthday is higher than fifty percent.
It is, therefore, not unusual that even bizarre or unlikely events occur every day.
In the lottery, a significant number of drawings occur regularly around the world, which means there are ample opportunities for rare events.
Similarly, with so many supporters of the law of attraction dreaming about the lottery, it should not be surprising that one would eventually win.
That doesn’t mean the law of attraction works. It’s the large number of opportunities that allow something to happen.
In his article, Professor Hand cites several examples of unusual events that occurred in the lottery:
On September 6, 2009, the Bulgarian lottery randomly selected the winning numbers and then, four days later, randomly selected the same set of numbers.On October 16, 2010, the same combination of numbers appeared that had previously been drawn a few weeks earlier.In 2007, The North Carolina Cash 5 lottery produced the same winning numbers on July 9th and 11th.In 1980, Maureen Wilcox bought winning numbers for both the Massachusetts State Lottery and the Rhode Island Lottery. Unfortunately, however, the combinations were on the incorrect tickets. The combination for the Massachusetts Lottery matched the winning numbers for the Rhode Island Lottery, and vice versa.
When these incidences occur, many people conclude that the lottery is fixed or pre-determined.
In reality, unusual events and coincidences are possible.
The Improbability Principle proves that given truly abundant opportunities, seemingly impossible events can still happen.
Stafford isn’t the only case. In part due to confirmation and availability bias, people worldwide have used unique methods of taking home the jackpot. Let’s take a look at some of the most unexpected wins in history.
Using dreams to predict winning numbers
In 2014, Terry Vigus had a vivid dream and scooped nearly £1.2m.
Does dream work? Not at all.
Millions of people play the lottery around the world on a daily basis. There are abundant opportunities for coincidences to happen. What happened to Vigus doesn’t mean the same thing will work for you.
Dreams are personal and often serve as a reflection of your deepest desires. Although dreams develop in an unconscious state, they can represent many of your conscious aspirations. When someone is intently focused on fulfilling a goal during their waking hours, their minds are likely to continue that thread of consciousness while sleeping.
There are stories about people having a vivid dream that they picked the winning numbers in the lottery. However, it is important to set aside biases and recognize that only a small number of those dreams become a reality.
Psychic readings and tarot cards
In 2007, Judy Mayer from Winnipeg, Canada, won $6.8 million using the numbers given by a fortune teller. After a tarot card reading, Katerina had written all but one of the winning numbers on the back of a business card. Mayer took it home and played those numbers for over a year before spontaneously deciding to change the last digit from 45 to 46. That small change was what handed her the win.
Following Mayer’s win, fortune teller Katerina received a flood of requests for readings. Availability bias set in, and the masses began to believe in psychic readings as a strategy for winning the lottery.
What they fail to realize is that the improbability principle will allow another tarot card combination to win. However, it will not be because a fortune teller predicted the numbers, but rather because with truly large opportunities, anything is possible.
The number of people now believing the method to be tried and true only adds to the likelihood that a psychic consultant may be credited with another lottery win. The more predictions being made by fortune tellers, the more likely it is that the next winner will have spoken with one.
Surprisingly, the credit will be given to the method rather than the underlying probability.
In 2010, a man from Syndey, Australia, allegedly won a jackpot after applying elements of Feng Shui into his life.
According to the ancient Chinese practice, gold coins represent wealth and money. When the man glued a gold coin to his doorstep, he created a variable version of the tradition. Other households keep gold coins at their doorsteps for various reasons, but this man believed it would win him the $1.2 million jackpot.
False causality is when unrelated actions are perceived as being responsible for the outcome. In this case, placing a gold coin on the doorstep made no difference to winning the lottery.
With millions of billions of people playing the lottery, it’s not surprising to see a story of someone winning the lottery using Feng Shui.
The truth, Feng Shui has nothing to do with winning. The Improbability Principle takes effect.
China is not one of the wealthiest countries in the world because they practice Feng Shui. Instead, they work hard and accumulate wealth by pursuing aspirational careers and maintaining a business mentality.
With hundreds upon thousands of people all over the world practicing Feng Shui, it was bound to happen that one claimed the jackpot. However, for every winner, hundreds of thousands of disappointed lottery players use Feng Shui as a strategy.
Animals may seem clairvoyant, but most often, it is when they’re searching for food or anxious to get outside.
If you assume that your pet knows the winning lottery numbers because they can sense when it’s dinnertime, you may be slightly disappointed in their performance. It didn’t stop Billy Gibbons from letting his pet chicken, Kiev, walk across his calculator to randomly select the numbers that ultimately won him the jackpot.
Most importantly, please don’t fall for the illusion that pets offer up winning combinations for their owners. Just because someone wins once, doesn’t mean the strategy has validity. Like any ordinary lottery player, such an incident simply became part of a winning statistic.
In the same category as consulting with a psychic, is listening to spirits. One man even credits his late wife for their sudden financial abundance.
Believing that those who have passed remain in communications, and aspire to continue being a part of your life, bring peace of mind to many of those who have experienced loss. However, crediting them with your lottery winnings is a perfect example of false causality with confirmation and availability bias.
If we consider the statistics, more people are likely to credit a tarot card reader with their jackpot than a ghost, as psychics are more easily accessible than speaking with spirits. Still, these instances are entirely coincidental and provide no relation to the real reason that anyone wins the lottery: math.
The darker side of the lottery
Believing in the law of attraction and using visualization to achieve goals can positively impact your life.
Using these strategies to win the lottery can guide you down a darker path. Believing that a psychic will be the answer to your financial troubles, or that your pet holds the numbers in their paws, can lead to trouble.
People get so heavily invested in superstitions and obsessed with breaking down the lottery system that it can become all-consuming very quickly.
A Chinese man once spent ten years living under a bridge attempting to develop an algorithm to predict lottery drawings. He researched for over a decade to crack the code to win. Not even his family knew where he had gone until reporters contacted them.
In 2018, another man mistakenly thought that his calculations had won him the winning ticket. After spending all of his savings and overdrawing his account to celebrate with his family, he discovered that he was off by one number. The money he already spent would never be returned. After threatening to commit suicide, his girlfriend called the police, who ultimately intervened.
Trade the superstitions for mathematical strategies
Rare and unexpected events will occur according to the Improbability Principle. When it comes to the lottery, all instances must happen at one point or another, no matter how seemingly ridiculous. They didn’t occur because a chicken walked across a calculator or a gold coin…