(Submitted by reader Shane Dopson)

My wife and I had a hard time picking our wedding rings. We looked at several options and finally found some at a place that specialized in Irish jewelery. My (now) wife chose a nice gold design, based on a Claddagh ring, and I chose a white and yellow gold Celtic-knot pattern. They took some time to come in, as they were made in Ireland, but we were very happy with them when they arrived.

My band was quite wider than usual and after some months of wearing it, I found that when my hands got wet (washing etc.), the water stayed trapped under the ring and irritated my finger. I started the habit of taking off my ring whenever I was doing the dishes, or just washing my hands, then putting it back on after I had dried my hands.

I was very conscious of not wanting to lose it, so always put it in the same place wherever I was. I did this for two years, without losing it for more than a day only once.

Then one day, in the winter, I lost track of it. I was not immediately concerned, because I thought I would just find it at one of the places I usually left it, but after a few days of not seeing it, I did get worried. I did a thorough search of all my usual places and pockets of all my pants and jackets, but to no avail. It was lost. After telling my wife, who was only a little upset, because I had found her lost ring just a few weeks before 😉 we decided to order a new one from the same store. The store was a fair drive from our house, so it took us a couple of months to find the time to go.

We talked to the store owner and she found a great replacement that had the Celtic-knot cut out of the ring so would not stay wet under it, so no need to take it off anymore. She said that she was going to Ireland in a few months to buy for the store and would contact us when she was back. About five months later she called back, saying she had ordered it, but it had not been ready when she left, so would be about another six weeks for it to arrive. Then, finally she called me at work, and said it was ready to be picked up. I was now working close to the store, so I drove over during lunch and then went back to work.

My coworkers were interested in it and so told them the whole story of losing it and getting the new one. After I was finished, I returned to my desk and I was about to sit down. It was winter again, so I was wearing a sweater I don’t wear often. I went to adjust it, and felt something in the pocket… I put my hand into the pocket with a sinking feeling, and pulled out my lost ring! It had been there for almost a whole year and now I had found it within an hour of getting my new one.

What are the odds?

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 195. Take a look and leave your comments below.

The odds of this happening are really impossible to calculate, but it is an opportunity to talk about some interesting human behaviors we ALL engage in.

Usually when I note that something is difficult to calculate, it’s because we don’t have enough information. In this case, though, it’s mostly because both the arrival of the replacement ring and the timing of finding the ring are open-ended; each could have happened in a matter of a few days, weeks, years, or never.

Replacing the ring is a matter of choice, although I imagine that most people would not replace it immediately because they hope to find it. If the ring is sitting in a pocket somewhere, the probability of finding it about a year later is actually pretty high, given that clothing tends to be worn seasonally. Most of us have probably found something that we thought we’d lost in the pocket of a jacket we rarely wear at least once.

But the interesting part of this story is, of course, that it was found so soon after it was replaced, almost like a car breaking down the day after the warranty expires. Of course, that’s not a coincidence at all; warranty terms are chosen based on expectations for product wear and tear. Nevertheless, when we notice two events that might be related occur close together in time, we feel like one caused the other. We feel that way because we learned that it’s usually the way things work and this helps us to predict, and perhaps control, events.

This feeling is at least partially responsible for things such as vaccine fear. Parents who noticed autistic behavior shortly after their toddler was vaccinated are often convinced that the vaccination caused the symptoms, yet we know from research that the two are unrelated. Autism symptoms tend to appear as children reach a specific developmental stage and vaccines are administered on a recommended schedule, so they tend to occur around the same time.

So, while the odds of this particular series of events can’t really be calculated, the way things like this make us feel is explainable. Of course, explaining it doesn’t make it less cool.

« »