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Coincidence? I Think Not.

Coincidence? I think not.

Coincidence? I think not.

It’s a tough world out there so I start every day by reading the comics in our local newspaper. Comics and caffeine are the perfect combination to get the day started.

In our paper, the comics are in the entertainment section, which is usually either eight or twelve pages long. The comics are at the back. Last week, I pulled the entertainment section out, glanced at the first page, then flipped it open to the comics.

While I was reading my favorite comics, a random thought popped into my head: “I wonder if I could use Steven Wright’s comedy to teach any useful lessons in my critical thinking class?” Pretty random, eh?

Do you know Steven Wright? He’s an amazingly gifted comedian whose popularity probably peaked in the nineties. Elliot was a kid at the time and he and I loved to listen to Wright’s tapes. (Suellen was a bit less enthusiastic). Here are some of his famous lines:

  • All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand.
  • I saw a man with wooden legs. And real feet.
  • I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met.
  • Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don’t have film.

Given Wright’s ironic paraprosdokians, it seems logical that I would think of him as a way to teach critical thinking. But why would he pop up one morning when I was enjoying my coffee and comics?

I finished the comics and closed the entertainment section. On the back page, I spotted an article announcing that Steven Wright was in town to play some local comedy clubs. I was initially dumbfounded. I hadn’t seen the article before reading the comics. How could I have known? I reached an obvious conclusion: I must have psychic powers.

While congratulating myself on my newfound powers, I turned back to the front page of the entertainment section. Then my crest fell. There, in the upper left hand corner of the front page, was a little blurb: “Steven Wright’s in town.”

I must have seen the blurb when I glanced at the front page. But it didn’t register consciously. I didn’t know that I knew it. Rather, my System 1 must have picked it up. Then, while reading the comics, System 1 passed a cryptic note to my System 2. I had been thinking about my critical thinking class. When my conscious mind got the Seven Wright cue from System 1, I coupled it with what I was already thinking.

I wasn’t psychic after all. Was it a coincidence? Not at all. Was I using ESP? Nope. It was just my System 1 taking me for a ride. Let that be a lesson to us all.

(For more on System 1 versus System 2, click here and here and here).

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