I have been reading the book Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling where he discusses the possible conditions under which life might be able to originate and replicate, and the likelihood of those conditions existing on other planets in the universe. It turns out that life can exist under conditions that to us humans seem extremely hostile. Organisms have been found on Earth under conditions of extreme heat (thermophiles) or cold (psychrophiles) or high acidity (acidophiles) or basicity (alkaliphiles) and other parameters and such organisms are collectively referred to as extremophiles.
This was my first exposure to the word ‘extremophile’ but the funny thing is that the very next day after learning this word, I was filling the gas tank of my car at a pump that has a little TV screen that shows ads interspersed with bits of trivia. And one of those bits was something called the ‘Word of the Day’ and the word that they displayed was extremophile.
This was quite an extraordinary coincidence, since the word is so esoteric. But the point is that such ‘surprising’ coincidences happen all the time. The number of events that can happen on any given day and that can be considered to be coincidences is astronomically large, impossible to compute, and the odds of experiencing one on any given day are not small, which is why we all have had them fairly regularly. What would be really surprising is if we did not experience such coincidences.
The problem is that for some people, the ubiquity of most coincidences is not generally noticed because they are so mundane that they may not even register in our consciousness and only certain types of coincidences register. For example, if the word of the day had been one that I was familiar with, then I would not have noticed if I had read it the previous day, even though the occurrence may have had a similar probability. People also tend to not notice the coincidences that don’t happen, for example, the non-appearance of another new word that I learned recently, such as sealioning.
Hence only certain coincidences are vested with greater meaning. If people can weave a plausible scenario around the coincidence, that coincidence acquires greater meaning. If someone happens to think of an old friend and that person suddenly calls (or worse, dies), they might think that it might be more than a coincidence and some form of telepathy was at play. This is especially the case with coincidences that have religious overtones where people are prone to think that some kind of message is being sent to them. In the case of the word extremophile, it is hard to concoct a story about what kind of message the universe might be sending me with that coincidence so it is easy to see it as just that, just another coincidence.
The difference between extreme coincidences and ordinary coincidences may not lie in major differences in their probabilities but merely in the their distinctiveness.