Peter Brugger is a self-declared "hunter of coincidences". In his student years he wanted to investigate the forces that underlie meaningful coincidences in everyday life. He assumed that telepathy, clairvoyance or similar paranormal phenomena were involved. Then he learned that among the myriads of unnoticed coincidences happening every moment, many would be considered at least as meaningful as those consciously experienced. This made him re-direct his hunt to a new target: the neuropsychological forces that determine the meaningfulness of coincidences.
Brugger is head of the Neuroscience Centre at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. At PINC, he will demonstrate that single cells in the visual cortex are continuously stumbling over coincidences thus allowing us to see a meaningful world. On a cognitive level, the meaningfulness of a coincidence only emerges through associative processing. Those who experience more coincidences, notably believers in paranormal phenomena, show an association behavior qualitatively different from that of skeptics. Their associations are more loose, remote and indirect, allowing them to see more connections between random events. This associative style is typical for creative thinking, but also a hallmark for delusions.
Showing that all animals, from paramecium to humans, are bound to extract meaning from coincidence, Brugger draws a bold conclusion: coincidences happen everywhere and all the time, but their meaningfulness is created by nervous systems - life is incompatible with randomness.