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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Before I give you my opinion, I want to know yours.

Anyone and everyone that cares to answer, please give me your opinion of the following situation. I am withholding my own opinion of it until everyone that wants to answer has had a sufficient chance to do so, then I will reveal what I think. Also, in your answer please tell me (knowing that I am an atheist, if it matters) what you think my opinion will be. Thanks in advance.

This is a true account of what happened and my publishing it here is one of my attempts to peer into the thought processes of other atheists and also theists, to see how people think.

Here goes...

I was answering a comment by Robb Penn on Friday when I looked at the clock and realized I was very close to being late for a dentist appointment. I said so in my comment and that I would come back and talk with him later, but at that moment I had to go.

As I was getting dressed, a weird thought came into my head. In my head I could see myself answering Rob, only I was telling him that my dentist was very particular about people being late because he does all his own work and has no hygienists to help him, thus when one patient is late it throws his whole day behind.

I thought it really odd that such a thought should pop into my head, since my dentist has plenty of hygienists and doesn't say anything if you are late, just has to reschedule and charges you a cancellation fee if you are so late that you miss your appointment. I'm always early for everything though, punctuality means a lot to me personally, so I try to never be late for anything.

I went to my dentist appointment and he told me some things that made me think I needed a second opinion about some dental work he wanted me have done. I thought I was being grossly overcharged and that his assessment of some dental work he said I needed was faulty.

I can home pretty frustrated since I don't know any other dentists in the area and made some lunch. I sat down at the computer and did a search of dentists in my area and started to randomly call some of them to see if I could at least get some pricing info on one of the procedures he wanted me to have done.

It being a Friday afternoon, almost everyone was closed. I was almost ready to give up and start the search again on Monday when I felt the need to call one last place. I spoke with a woman in their office who was really, really helpful and talked to me for about 15 minutes, which she totally did not have to do.

She explained a lot of what she thought might be going on with my dentist and defended him on several points I had questioned. I was surprised by that since 1)she didn't have to take time to talk to me at all and 2) she could just as easily have told me to just come into the office and she the dentist she works for.

Then she told me about her dentist and how I might like him. She said he was a dentist who worked alone and had no hygienists to help him. She said some people pass him over for that, but that he was a good dentist and also takes time with his patients so I would have time to ask a lot of the questions I had wanted a second opinion on. And then she reminded me to not be late because he doesn't like that.

Opinions, please.


  1. What can I say? Some people would say that you had a premonition. I would have to say that it was a coincident. A creepy coincident, but a coincident none the less.

    If you were to say, "Well it's a premonition", then you'd be ignoring all the times you've had a thought like that and it didn't come true. You got a hit, but you'll ignoring all the times you've had misses. I'm willing to bet that all the misses outnumber the few hits. It's called confirmation bias.

    Still, it's a bit creepy.

  2. Neat little bit of a coincidence.
    I love when odd things like that happen. =)

  3. I second Robert and Maragon.

    Your opinion will also be that it is pure coincicence, in my opinion.

  4. Definitely a coincidence. I've had things like that happen before. One time, while in a restaurant, I imagined that the guy at the table next to me would ask me what it was that I had ordered once I got it - as I knew that the restaurant's presentation made it look particularly tasty.

    Guess what? Once it was brought to me, the exact same guy asked me what it was that I had ordered.

    The thing is though, I'm the kind of person who's constantly imagining hypothetical situations. One or two is bound to come true every so often.

    I imagine that you probably feel the same.

  5. But you may want to get a second opinion.

  6. you called all dentists in town and finally found one who works late on a friday afternoon because someone threw his whole day behind?
    Just a matter of statistic...

  7. Tilia,

    No, I called several looking for one that might give me some prices on a particular procedure, and spoke with a receptionist who answered a lot of questions for me and recommended her dentist who doesn't like for people to be late.

  8. One time years ago I was in Miami Florida.
    A high school friend had moved there about ten years ago but I could never locate him after that.

    I was walking down the beach with a quart of beer in my hand and I said to my wife, "It would be so good to bump into Sean, if he still lives around here." and then I went on, "If we would see him, he'd give us both a hug and then say, can I have a sip of that beer?"

    Yup, a couple minutes later someone hollered, "Dale!" I looked over and here comes that fucker running up, grabs my wife, hug, grabs me, hug, and says, "can I have a sip of that beer?"

    In the couple seconds that it took to internalize this, I was looking at my wife and she was looking at me like a cow staring at an oncomming train; until we both started laughing hilariously.

    Beth said, "you aren't gonna believe this but.........."

    I have others too. My wife had a ghost that lived in her room when she was a teen and she has a picture of it too.
    More on that later.

  9. Nonmagic,
    You're not thinking what I think you might be thinking, are you?

  10. It's the aliens messing with us, either that or jeebus is real!!

  11. [Insert sarcastic exaggeration of pseudo-science bullshit reason for NM's experience]

    OK, now that that's over with: I was thinking about the phenomena the other day:

    What had happened was this: I was getting out of the car as I got home, and suddenly experienced this feeling of "something's not right". I went into the house: and found that everything was fine. Nothing was wrong at all.

    The experience reminded me that I occasionally I get this "not-right" feeling: fearing the worst for no apparent reason. If something had been wrong, instant premonition. As it was, it was just another false alarm, and I forgot about it until you bought this subject up.

  12. Robert summed that up pretty much like I would have. Creepy but a coincidence none the less.

  13. And the number of dentists who like people to be late is..?


  14. Could other ideas not considered identify dentists entirely negating coincidental error?

  15. I've known people who've had stuff like that happen to them. It seems vaguely familiar to me, as if I had a similar story (a thought predating an actual occurrence, etc)...

    My take on this: you don't really want to consider it more than a coincidence (even if it is). You've got a lot to lose if you suddenly start looking for other "occurrences", or maybe start reading about others who claim to have had such experiences. You'll be suscribing (even if in a very casual way) to an idea that many people WANT to be true, more than they want to know if it actually IS true.

    Secondly, I don't think you can consider yourself a logical or skeptical person (generally) if you jump to conclusions based on a single occurrence.


    These are MY values; I was trying to imagine my self in your place, and how I should approach it. I say this only to point out that I don't really know what you should do about it :)

    I'd be very skeptical of my desire to want it to be true.

  16. Daniel,

    If you have some ideas, put them out here.

  17. What a crazy, random, happenstance! It always weirds me out when something like that happens...

    Also I'm going to guess that you assume it's a weird coincidence as well, considering you seem smrt :)

  18. WEM,

    I'm not wondering what I should think about it, I already know. I'm just wanting to know how others would interpret it and how they think I would.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Could

  21. If this had happened to me... As soon as I recognized the apparent precognition, I'd immediately begin thinking about various scenarios with much more in the way of practical value...

    You know, like finding myself trapped in an elevator overnight with a bevy of mildly intoxicated supermodels (on second thought, that could get messy without some sort of pisspot...), or winning some competition or sweepstakes, or making some amazing scientific discovery...

    Really, just a couple weeks ago I was driving at night, and witnessed a meteorite streak across the sky (excuse me, a "shooting star"), and I made a wish. Now, having played D&D, wherein the Dungeon Master was a special sort of dickhead, I knew that if I wished incorrectly I could end up with a million male deer, or a miniature pianist -- our DM would notoriously "grant" our wishes in this fashion -- so I was careful to phrase my wish in the most unambiguous terms.

    If it comes true, then there may be something to wishing on meteorites, but if not, I have to say coincidence.

    With respect, then, to your apparent precognition, I will remind everyone that it is, of course, confirmation bias (as has been stated explicitly and/or implicitly by virtually every respondent thus far), but more than that, it is worthless.

    What I mean is so what if you had an odd sequence of thoughts that inexplicably came true? Unless you can identify those thoughts before they reach fruition, then you are nothing more than some sort of retarded Cassandra (no offense) -- the gift of prophetic visions, but the curse of never knowing when you've had such a vision.

    So as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter if it is coincidental or prescient -- there is no practical difference in the absence of an ability to discern when you have one versus the other. For posterity's sake, then, and to avoid the danger of expectation regarding further "prophetic" visions/thoughts, the better explanation is mere coincidence.


  22. Nonmadge,
    To be serious.
    What is lacking in your story is significance.

    It would be interesting if your dentist and his assistant turned out to be christians who led you to the Saviour.

    Then one might say that God turned your "fib" into good.
    He's famous for doing that y'know.

  23. Yeah Daniel, that's much clearer.

    Maybe it was a ripple of space-time whipping back on itself to give you a minute vision of the future. I don't even know what that means. I'm just making shit up as I go along.

  24. Freaky

  25. oops.
    just reread your op.

    I thought you made up an excuse to make your appointment, but what you said is that you had a "thought" or premonition.
    So no "fib" involved.

    Still the thing that is missing is significance. Even so, if your dentist turns out to be a christian who treats you well and gives you a deal, and witnesses to you?

  26. Dani,

    Maybe he'll fix her up by prayer and laying his hands on her teeth and gums. Hmmmmmm?
    All part of The Plan.

  27. Psa 81:10 I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.


    Maybe notmadge will refuse novacaine and transend dental medication.

  28. I'll be here til sunday.
    Tip your waitresses.

  29. Daniel,

    Psa 81:10 I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.

    LOLOL!!! Thanks for that smile!

  30. @ Dani'El:

    1) I find myself agreeing with you on this one.

    b) I find myself laughing at your humor.

    @ nonmagic:

    I sometimes have weird experiences like that, but I usually chalk it up to dejavu.

    Actually, I used to have dejavu all the frickin time. For a while, it kinda worried me.

  31. The other day our cat disappeared.

    My son (11) said "I have a bad feeling something has happened to him"

    I took a risk and and said "Let's make a note of that Callan. When Muska comes home, safe and sound, I'm going to remind you of your bad feeling and we'll see that that's all they are, feelings, and normally we only remember the feelings that turned out to be right, and then we think it's spooky"

    Muska the skateboarding cat came back, and I hope my son learned something about skepticism.

    No animals were hurt in this experiment in rational thinking

  32. Dani'el wrote Maybe notmadge will refuse novacaine and transend dental medication.

    Ok, hats off to you for that one :)

  33. NM, you might say...

    The mind is a powerful thing. There is no reason to think that supernatural forces have anything to do with what we know through neuroscience and psychology to be perfectly natural occurrences in the processes of the brain.

  34. Freed,

    It's no less true now then when I said it the first time.

  35. Ok, I'm finally getting back to this...

    When the receptionist told me about the dentist that does his own work and also doesn't like it when people are late I chucked to myself because I knew it would be one of those things that a lot of people would see as being something supernatural because they couldn't readily explain it any other way.

    Let's look at it this way:

    - If it were a supernatural event then why would a supernatural force have to go through several hours of trouble to get me to a certain dentist? Why not just openly say say 'Hey, Nonmagic, get your ass over to such and such dentist!'

    -Out of all the dentists in Vegas it is probable that there are some that do their own work and have no hygienists. So my running across a recommendation to one isn't all that odd at all.

    -Why was I thinking about one before I went to my dental appointment in the first place?

    There could be many reasons. Some of them could be: I'm still affected by an article I read several years ago about a man in Florida who was facing charges for doing dental work out of his garage without a license. He was charging much, much less for dentures and bridges than dentists because he knew how to make the dentures and bridges and had very little overhead, he had no help. I still think about that from time to time, as I'm still unsure the man should have been charged.

    Also, I once considered dental hygiene as a career and it occurred to me at the time that some dentists do their own work and will not hire hygienists, and when I see my dentist I still think about that.

    -I was thinking about the lateness because I was on the verge of being late and lateness is a pet peeve of mine.

    So what we have is the following:

    -Common thoughts that go through my mind concerning dentistry.

    -A call to a orthodontists office that resulted in finding a dentist that does his own work, which really isn't all that uncommon.

    With the above reasoning we can walk ourselves through the most likely reason for why I had the thought and the most likely reason why I found a referral to a dentist who does his own work, as well as the most likely reason I was thinking about lateness.

    Thinking logically about the situation, Occam's razor states that "the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory".

    Since there is an explanation that can be found without assuming any sort of supernatural event, there is no need to think of this as anything more than coincidence.

    I know/have known people in the past, however, especially in the 90's when the whole New Age bullshittery was going around, who would have insisted that a simple incident like the one I described was directly attributable to some sort of divine intervention or that it was the 'universe showing them the path to go down'. I laugh and shudder when I think of the lack of critical thinking skills involves in making such an assumption.

  36. Nonmagic wrote I laugh and shudder when I think of the lack of critical thinking skills involves in making such an assumption.

    Meh - there are people who want to believe in something more than they want to believe in the right thing.

    Man, that sounded preachy didn't it...

    I actually attribute this kind of stuff with an enjoyment of fanstasy and sci-fi. I'm guilty of wanting a George Jetsons flying car; I read (or have read) such things because they're an easy & immediate way of me of getting such things. If I don't have the keys to that car, it's almost the same if I'm able to vividly imagine having them.

    Belief in the supernatural, in conspiracy theories, in aliens sitting down and having lunch with the military - all of these things (even if they're real) are sucked up en masse by those who want them to be real, more than they want to know is such things are real.

    Simply put, it's not that critical thinking is needed - it's that it's not valued. It doesn't provide any relief, it's not entertaining and it rarely answers any question.

  37. NM,

    Thanks for correctly explaining Occam's Razor. A pet peeve of mine is when people say that it means the simpler explanation is true. Some fundies mis-use OR this way, saying that it's simpler to say God did it than to explain it through complicated science.

  38. Geoff,

    I couldn't agree more. I once even had a psychology textbook that stated Occams Razor as: "the simplest answer is usually the right one"!! 0.0
    It's a huge misconception even among people who should know better.

  39. Geoff & SS,

    A pet peeve of mine is when people incorrectly use beg the question. I mean it's not that hard to look these things up and find the correct usage!

  40. WEM,

    I find that using critical thinking skills to work my way through things is pretty entertaining. It also keeps me inside my head a lot pondering things. A side effect is that it makes me very boring!

  41. NM,

    I found the list of logical fallacies on "the skeptic's guide to the universe" most helpful. I went there when I first learned what a logical fallacy was and it's surprising how many of them are misused.

  42. NM wrote:

    "A side effect [of using critical thinking] is that it makes me very boring!"

    Only to idiots. Have no fears.

  43. I fear that the public in general are annoyed by critical thinking. People want to believe in magic, I guess it make their lives more interesting *shrugs*

    I know that was definitely the case for me before I was a skeptic. It was exciting to think that there is most likely supernatural stuff out there.

  44. ....of course it's much more satisfying to live in reality.

  45. The Church Of Nonmagical Thinking. Sign me up.

    Unusual things happen. Things that don't have a ready explanation happen. That's how superstitions and myths and religions get started. I think a lot of it is ego as well. "I'm so special that this happened to me". "God created the universe just for me". "Jesus dies just for me". Plus, humans easily see patterns, even when they really aren't there, and we're story tellers.

  46. Rufus,

    You are officially signed up!

    Now you must tithe!

  47. Hum,

    I do not know, but I did not find anything surprising in the story. I thought magical nonmagic was talking about how a dentist had such different philosophy, and thus, in the end, she found this very guy (well, this very lady who talked about this guy) exactly when everybody else was hard to find. I would think that it is bound to happen. You will find the exceptional person(s) on a Friday when, normally, everybody else is not there.

    Anyway, to continue with the "coincidence" theme. What? Didn't you know that nothing is real? Everything forms around us as we approach. It's all an experiment. "Coincidences" are put here and there to test us.


  48. Didn't you know that nothing is real? Everything forms around us as we approach.

    I used to think like that as a child GE. Seriously, I never liked flying to places for vacation because I couldn't know that I wasn't in some sort of bubble. Driving seemed different. I was a preteen though and I never let it affect what I did on those vacations.

    I was a weird little kid, I guess much hasn't changed....

  49. I used to think like that as a child GE. Seriously, I never liked flying to places for vacation because I couldn't know that I wasn't in some sort of bubble. Driving seemed different. I was a preteen though and I never let it affect what I did on those vacations.

    Ditto! I still have that weird feeling at times ... I guess imagining these kinds of things has something to do with enormously humongous out-of-this-world intelligence. ;-)



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