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Sam Morris considers the odds of an odd meeting.
A man is sitting on a park bench as a stranger approaches.
Jack: Good morning.
Norman: Good morning. Beautiful day.
Jack: Isn’t it?
Norman: Yes… My name is Norman, by the way. I hope you don’t mind my sitting here.
Jack: I said, Ha!
Norman: You don’t want me to sit here?
Jack: Why should I care where you sit? It’s not as if you exist.
Norman: I’m not sure I understand.
Jack: Of course, Norman… as if that were your real name.
Norman: Look, if you want me to move –
Jack: Do you know how many names there are in the world?
Norman: Of course not.
Norman: Well I couldn’t possibly…
Jack: Go on… Just guess how many there are in one language.
Norman: I’ve no idea.
Jack: Millions. There are millions of names in the world.
Norman: So what?
Jack: So, do you know what the odds of your being called ‘Norman’ are?
Norman: There are no odds, it’s my name!
Jack: Miniscule, millions to one. You’re just as likely to be a lottery winner… Frankly, your coming here and saying that your name is Norman is… Well, it’s absurd.
Norman: But you can’t prove that my name isn’t Norman.
Jack: So all of a sudden the burden of proof is on me? Every person that I meet, I’m to prove they aren’t called Norman?
Norman: That’s not what I mean at all.
Jack: And besides, it’s not as if you’re actually here.
Norman: But of course I’m here!
Jack: Do you know how many people there are in the world?
Norman: Not this again…
Jack: Over six billion is how many. What are the chances that I would meet you at this specific time, in this specific park?
Norman: But you cansee that I’m here.
Jack: So now I’m supposed to trust one person’s personal experience over scientific facts? Last night I dreamt about Gandhi riding a pogo stick down the motorway; I suppose I should believe that really happened as well?
Norman: But I’m just a man in a park…
Jack: One, out of six billion… One, who would have to have originated from one out of sixty million sperm, who would have to be in just one out of three and a half thousand cities, at this, just one out of twenty four hours. And you want me to believe this on the basis of a single fleeting personal experience? I’m sorry, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Norman: But what other explanation could there be?
Jack: Clearly you haven’t heard of Occam’s Razor.
Norman: Of course I have. It’s the idea that you should believe the simplest explanation. But what could be simpler than –
Jack: Simple? Oh that’s a good one. Even if we ignore the staggering unlikelihood of the claim, in order for a man named Norman to be here requires two parents, doubtless with equally implausible names. It requires schoolteachers, employers too, no doubt. For you to be wearing a brown jacket will require either a tailor or a huge coat manufacturer – which in turn, would require thousands of other people… Have you any idea how many thousands of events there must be in the causal chain that has led to your being here in this form – if you were really here? And if just one were removed, the whole chain would collapse, and you’d be somewhere else. Or nowhere.
Norman: So what’s more likely, in your opinion?
Jack: To be perfectly honest, I’m an agnostic on the subject.
Norman: Agnostic on the subject of me?
Jack: Yes, I’m an Agnorman.
Norman: You’re Abnormal is what you are.
Jack: It’s not my fault that you insist on clinging to superstitions.
Norman: Well what would make you believe in me?
Jack: A peer-reviewed scientific experiment, nothing less.
Norman: Like what?
Jack: Oh, I don’t know… there must be some chemical that reacts to Normans.
Norman: A chemical?
Jack: You know, dip you in it and it turns blue, that kind of thing.
Norman: Can’t I just show you my birth certificate?
Jack: Some vague document? Written years ago I’ll wager, and by who?
Norman: It’s a legal document.
Jack: It says it’s a birth certificate, and we know it must be valid because it says it’s a birth certificate, is that what you’re saying?
Norman: Well if you’re going to put it like that… But where does that leave me?
Jack: Look, please don’t be offended; I respect your right to believe whatever you want, so long as you acknowledge that it couldn’t possibly be true.
Norman: But I’m real, I’m here, and I want to sit on this bench.
Jack: Well I’m sorry. I just think that there must be a more rational explanation.
Norman: Like what?
Jack: Oh, I don’t know… I suppose the light reflecting off Venus in the autumn… Or you’re probably just a Basking Shark.
Norman: A Basking Shark?
Jack: They’re very commonly misidentified.
Norman: And you aren’t even slightly alarmed by the possibility of a Basking Shark in the park?
Jack: Of course not, Basking Sharks only eat plankton.
Norman: Well, fine, I’ll just go and sit next to someone who believes in me.
Jack: You won’t, but no doubt they’ll believe that you are.
© Sam Morris 2011
Sam Morris is allegedly a humorist from Cambridgeshire, England, although there are plenty of perfectly rational explanations for the existence of his website socksofwrath.co.uk and his book Cold Turkey and the Case of the Missing Crime which don’t resort to superstitious ideas about humorists from Cambridgeshire, England.