The Most Nonsensical Thing Happened to Me Last Week...

Something truly incredible happened to me just a few weeks ago at the Whole Foods Market just about a mile from my house. I hope you can help me make sense of it.

I was waiting in line to pay right behind a nice old lady, and as she was paying, a coin fell out of her purse. I know what you’re thinking…  “Who uses cash anymore?”  Well, she was a little long in the tooth, and I guess some older people still do use cash. Anyway, trying to be polite, I bent to pick up her dropped coin. That’s when we both froze in our tracks.

Most coins bounce once or twice, or roll a bit and then settle on heads or tails… but this one… wound up balancing….on its side! We were both staring in amazement and my hand was frozen about a foot away from it.  “Jiminy Crickets!”, she said, “did you see that?!?!” People nearby looked, but the coin was so small that most people couldn’t figure out what was going on. Sure enough though, the nickel was standing on edge. “I guess”, she said in a low whisper, “if you live long enough, you’ll see everything.”

I picked up the nickel and stared at it. I inspected it closely. Could this be a prank? I was now looking around the store, expecting Alan Funt from Candid Camera to come out from behind the Customer Service Desk saying “The joke’s on you!” But no. Candid Camera hasn’t been on the air since the 1970’s, and Alan Funt is dead.  Or… is he? Punk’d isn’t even on the air anymore. Or… is it?

Was this little old lady a retired magician or prankster? If so, she was a natural, because her jaw was still on the ground and she was playing me like a fiddle. Nope…  that really had just happened. I inspected the coin again.  Now, thanks to a mild interest in dime store magic, I’ve seen weighted coins, double sided coins, all sorts of trick coins. Nope… it felt and looked just like your average old nickel. I handed her back her coin. “Hold on to that one, lady. This is not your average coin.”

“I don’t believe in that luck stuff,” said the lady, “watch!”, and with that she tossed the coin in the air and let it fall on the counter. Now… here’s where you scream “Bullshit!”. But I swear, it’s true. The coin settled… on its edge. Again!

What are the odds of this happening twice? I’ve never seen it happen even once before, and I’ve done my fair share of coin flipping. I guess, at least if it was ever going to happen, it would happen with a nickel. That’s the coin that has the broadest, flattest edge and the most compact center of gravity. But still. Twice in a row? No way!!!  There had to be a trick. I stared at this unassuming little old lady again. But she was gobsmacked, shaking her head slowly as if she had just seen a ghost. After about ten seconds of just staring in shocked silence, I managed to mumble “I dunno lady, I think you better keep it…” With that she scooped it up like it was a magic bean and stuffed it in her pocket.

What the hell? She left the store and I never saw her again. I kept thinking over and over about it.I woke up in the middle of that night after dreaming about it. It was just one of those things that sticks in your head. What the hell had happened? How was that possible?!?

Towards an Explanation

In the end, I decided that this lady, or the store clerk - or both of them - were tricksters that liked playing jokes on people. It was either that, or a bona fide miracle.  It had to be that simple. A more complex answer would not have been possible. Occam’s Razor and whatnot, right? And I don’t believe in miracles. So this lady was a little old mischievous prankster. It was the only explanation left. The only other explanation was not really possible. So.. that must have been it. This unassuming looking little old lady had been messing with me!

The edge of the coin was magnetized somehow, and they figured out that the flooring was a little magnetic or that the counter top was, so the trick worked in those spots, at a place where people would have money out. They are probably right now watching this on the store’s video feed, laughing their asses off. She didn’t drop it anywhere else, and on those two spots the coin did its thing, so magnetisation was obviously the explanation. I bet if you tossed that coin somewhere that wasn’t magnetized, it would never, ever land on its side. That is so improbable as to be impossible.

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I can’t think of any other way to explain it… so any other conclusion would just be absurd.  A wise man once told me, “Once you eliminate all other possible explanations, even if what you are left with seems absurd, it must be the truth.” And that seemed wise enough for me, so I consider them words to live by.

Do you have any other explanations? What do you think about my reasoning? Do you agree with the way that I approached the mystery, and tried to solve it?

I sure hope not!!!

Logical Fallacies

I hope not, because the reason that I titled this article “The Most Nonsensical Thing That Ever Happened to Me”, is that the story is a logical disaster area. The article you just read is rife with logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in thinking that renders an assertion corrupt. People use these fallacies when confronted by problems that are not logically viable. I embedded no less than ten different types of logical fallacies in the article. Is your reasoning good enough to find them all? Many people lack the necessary skills. But this story simply overflows with non sequiturs.

Why does this matter? Why should you care? You may think, “This sounds really academic and complex, it doesn’t apply much to me.” Well, modern life is full of risk. And opportunity. They often go together.  And out there are a million people trying to get you to believe things. Salesman, politicians, preachers, evangelists, friends with agendas, parents, bosses. Sometimes they are honest. Sometimes they are not. And sometimes they might be selling you something without even realizing that their own thought processes are impaired. Sometimes they do not even realize that they are repeating a fallacy that they adopted from someone else.

Soon enough, your country will be hosting another election.This is a great time to expose fallacies because fallacies are a politician’s best friend! Just as often, visitors to this page are trying to get you to believe all sorts of ideas from the simple to the downright supernatural. If you can’t spot invalid arguments and assertions, you are just a rube waiting for a con man to waltz up to you like I just did, and try to sell you a load of horse hockey. If you do not know how to think critically, you may as well paste a target to your forehead that says “Sucker”.

So, in closing, with all those fallacies, the conclusion that I came up with must be wrong, right?

Wrong again! Remember, fallacy is about the argument, not about what the argument is trying to support. That lady could have been a little trickster. But virtually none of the ways that I tried to arrive at that status was valid.  That doesn’t mean it’s not the right answer. It just means that the ways that I tried to demonstrate it. . were inherently flawed and illogical.

Try and spot the fallacies in the article. To help you, here’s a link to a list of fallacies and their descriptions. And another great link about the larger skill set of Critical Thinking. Happy hunting!

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