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Roger Payne and the crew of Odyssey the inspect the school of 'Rainbow Runners' which have accompanied the Odyssey for over 1000 miles.
Photo: Chris Johnson

December 11, 2000
The Rainbow Coincidence - Rainbow Runners: Part III
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This morning Jacob came to my cabin with the news that he'd been up the mast and seen 26 rainbow runners on the Starboard side alone. Later in the day Brian reported a total for both sides of 41 rainbow runners.

I have felt relieved all day that they are still with us. For if they had left last night just as we were having our meeting to discuss their fate, as I feared they might, I would have felt it a misfortune, since such an event would have supported the idea in the minds of many that the rainbow runner's had somehow gotten wind of our meeting to discuss whether to catch them and cleared out-in other words; that the rainbow runners' minds were somehow grooving with our minds. Such conclusions based on meaningless coincidences represent fuzzy logic and always bother me deeply. Because they almost always come from the same failure of understanding: the failure to appreciate the difference between two different kinds of coincidences: those which have meaningful consequences, and those that do not. The trouble is that there are, essentially, an infinite number of coincidences, which, of course means that only the most minute fraction of them must have any meaningful consequence. For example: suppose that you and I have the same barber. So what? What can that possibly mean about our present or future lives? There's probably only one or two barbers in town anyway so of course we are likely to have the same one. Or suppose that we find that our mothers went to the same high school. Again; "So what?" Lots of mothers, fewer high schools. Or that we discover that we each prefer blue as a color. Another; "So what?" Or that while watching the Superbowl in our respective houses we discover we were both eating cashews, drinking Coors Light, and sitting on a chair to the right of our television sets. Yet another; "So what?" But now, suppose that I look at the inspector's tag on a new sleeping bag I just bought and discover it was your second cousin who made the bag. That starts to seem to be getting significant, doesn't it? But it's not at all. It's just another meaningless coincidence, just another "So what." None of these coincidences have any relevance to anything important or consequential, in that none of them will change the circumstances of either of our lives or prove that we have some deep connection with each other. They are just coincidences, simple, irrelevant coincidences. Like the rainbow runners leaving our boat had they done so just as we started a meeting to discuss them.

If we had a way to follow all of the lines that connect us to each other and to every object humans make, and to the places we all live and visit, and to the foods we eat, and the clothes we wear, and the people we each know, we would see that the numbers of coincidences were, as I have said, practically infinite. And that therefore the chance that any of them has any real relevance or consequence to our lives is but one coincidence in several million coincidences (if that). Well, one in several million is the chance you will win the lottery if you buy a single ticket. And how many times have you won the lottery? Well, that's the number of times you have probably encountered a coincidence that was actually relevant to your life. Yet I know three couples who built their whole relationships on their awe of the coincidences they discovered between their lives. And all three were later surprised when they realized they didn't really have very much in common and finally separated after years of mismatch.

Let me offer one final example: By chance (and I do mean, by chance, by the way!) I have just read that in 1978 four dolphins led the boat of a South African fisherman named Kobus Stander out of a dense fog and back to his home port. Well, my daughter, who loves dolphins, and has spent a significant part of her life around them was married for some years to a South African named Philip Stander. Suppose it turns out that Kobus Stander was his relative. What possible significance would that have? None. At least none with any foundation in reason, just another interesting, but totally irrelevant coincidence.

The reason that so many people find it so hard to accept the idea that most coincidences mean nothing is that when coincidences do mean something-do have relevance to your life-they are often really important. Forinstance, some of the coincidences our ancestors must have noticed probably saved their lives-when they saw, for example, that there was a high coincidence between numbers of gazelles and the presence in the area of a water hole. Here they were discovering that they should do more hunting around water holes. Or when they noticed that every time they passed a particular tree a bird flew out and dived at them-this was the chance for them to make a connection which, if they then generalized it, would show them how to find birds' nests by searching for them in areas where birds dive at them.

Anyway, it was with these thoughts in my mind that I lay in bed last night thinking about the rainbow runners and how much they are contributing to this voyage. Yet, I concluded as well, that I would prefer they had never joined us than to have them contribute to the anti-reason forces by offering some stunning example of an irrelevant coincidence. Well, of course, they didn't do so. They didn't leave. They're still here.

But I still haven't told you about our meeting. Only a few spoke and most who did were on the side of the rainbow runners. But finally it was decided that since we need six fish for samples (to analyze for contaminants stored in their livers, gills, hearts, and kidneys) that we would catch a total of 6 rainbow runners and then stop. So Jacob went fishing and shortly landed... Adrian (who was given a name by those opposed to fishing-to make Jacob feel guiltier, I believe). Adrian was a 29 inch rainbow runner from which we got samples to add to the data already on board... and then ate the non-sample parts of Adrian for dinner (reminiscent of the Japanese Scientific Whaling effort I thought, in which after taking their samples they discover they have all those pesky whale corpses lying about the deck, and, well, they just have do to something with them I suppose, so they just go ahead and cut them up, and freeze them and, well... sell them, I suppose). But they make sure they call it Scientific whaling, rather than commercial whaling; just as we call what we're doing scientific fishing rather than fishing for supper. But do you think anybody believes them? And do you think anybody believes us?

Today Rebecca reported seeing two rainbow runners with recognizable wounds which she has been seeing for several days, meaning that at least those are fish which have been with us for that long. So far three days is the longest definite span we can name for a single recognizable fish. And Mike said that a small school of skipjack tuna, (Bob calls them football tuna, because of their short, chubby appearance) joined the boat today, and have formed their own little clique up by the bow. Mike thinks they may steal the rainbow runner's franchise because by afternoon they were already ranging far ahead of Odyssey, thus getting first crack at the flying fish which scatter before us like seeds from the sower's hand. So that's all the news from Lake Wobegone about the Rainbow Runners. They're still with us, having now swum almost a thousand miles with Odyssey during the past ten days. And they're still going strong. So stay tuned. I'll keep you informed.

Log by Roger Payne

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