The Wikipedia “Random Article” Game

chooseDoubt clicked on the “random article” link on Wikipedia‘s left-hand sidebar… lo and behold, he got directed to an article for a garden located right next to where he used to live!

With approximately 5,300,000 Wikified articles, what are the odds of that?!

It has to be an *amazing* coincidence, right?

Wrong.

chooseDoubt explains:

I would have been surprised if the article had been about someone that shared the same name as me, or even if it was about a subject I am especially interested in. I would have been surprised if it had been the date of my birthday, the date of either of my children’s birthdays, an article about what I had for lunch today, a company I’ve worked for, an actor or actress in a movie I’ve just watched, a dog that looked like mine, a car model I own, an article I’ve already read, a type of pet I have, a TV show I like, the list goes on and on. But none of this occurred to me within the first five seconds of looking at the article in a state of mild surprise.

We all remember the hits — in fact, we look for the hits — and ignore the misses.

The countless charlatans that offer medium services, tarot, astrology, psychic readings and all the other methods of defrauding the gullible make good use of this.

That’s how prayer works, too. If religious people pray, most will assume that anything in the general direction of the prayer is an affirmation that God heard them and answered their request.

You like that one girl? You pray to God that something will happen between you two. The next day, she makes eye contact with you for a couple seconds. You count your blessings when, in fact, nothing remarkable happened.

So try it yourself.

Click on the Wikipedia “random article” link here.

How many clicks does it take before you stumble onto something you have a connection to, no matter how obscure that connection may be?

What’s the connection?

We could have some fun with this :)


[tags]atheist, atheism, coincidence, prayer, religion, Christian[/tags]

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis Epistaxis

    I don’t like this game.

    Ironically, my second random page was about a guy who wrote several papers with Paul Erd?s (the inspiration for Kevin Bacon). But my third random page contained this:

    He was born with three legs, two sets of genitals and one rudimentary foot growing from the knee of his third leg.

    Then I stopped playing.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    The first time I tried, I found a music album. The first song on the album was called “morning prayer.” What a coincidence, cause I’m against praying! The next time, I got some football player. That’s funny, cause I know people who like football!

    I think there must be some sort of quantum entanglement between my mind and Wiki’s random number generator. It’s the only explanation.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    How many people have been defrauded by fortune tellers of a hundred dollars or more? Do you know one? Now, how many people do you know who had problems collecting on their insurance? I can name six I know off hand and I suspect there are others who are too embarrassed or ashamed to admit it.

    Insurance companies, lending companies, ineffective psychiatric and psychological treatments (ever hear of one these days who charges less than a hundred dollars for one session). The list of actual legal theft and fraud is endless and seldom the subject of the “skeptics” ire. A large percentage of organized “skepticism” practices psychology, often showing little if any “skepticism” for their own profession.

    That’s how prayer works, too. If religious people pray, most will assume that anything in the general direction of the prayer is an affirmation that God heard them and answered their request.

    You know what? The ONLY person who can decide if prayer or tarot cards or anything else “worked” for them, is the person who is directly involved. They get to decide if the activity is worth their time and resources. Just like the people who frequent blogs to vent about “faith-heads” get to decide if the waste of their time is worth it for themselves. That’s what used to be called freedom of choice before the “skeptics” availed themselves of the entire range of phony psychological clap trap to declare most people deluded, ignorant, superstitious, idiots. And that was when they aren’t declaring the majority of humanity to be mentally ill. Entirely without any kind of credentials, mind you. But there’s nothing fraudulent about that, no.

    The more I see of Wiki, the less it seems like a good idea. I don’t trust it on most matters impinging on “skepticism”, for example due to clear “editor” bias.

  • Richard Wade

    Oh my god! Oh my god! I clicked on the random link and I got an article about Kendall, Washington! That’s in the U.S. and I live in the U.S. too! Even more amazing, it’s near the west coast! I live near the west coast too! There’s only 1200 miles between me and Kendall, Washington! And I’ll bet that most of the people in Kendall, Washington speak English, and I do too! Even a few of my neighbors speak English! That’s absolutely amazing! This can’t just be a coincidence. There has to be something mysterious at work here, there really has.

  • http://friendlyhumanist.blogspot.com/ Tim Mills

    Hey, I got an obscure math article (Tame group). It just so happens that I’m trying to teach myself some obscure math in my spare time, to help with my long-term research goals (though my math has nothing to do with Tame groups, as far as I know).

    My second try got an obscure Star Wars novel (The Truce at Bakura). Funny, because I once thought it would be cool to write a fanfic for Star Wars myself. Never thought of a story to write though.

    The third try was the best though: Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. Spooky. (I am almost certain that this Hasidic rabbi knows as much about me as I knew about him. What are the odds?)

  • http://misanthropicatheist.blogspot.com/ Rasputin

    First try, a road I was driving on last weekend.

  • Mriana

    I got an article on WWII. Incidently there is a discussion on CFI board about WWII. :lol: Cranmore the second time. What is Cranmore? Poetic Champions Compose. Humm… Does this mean that this writer needs to go into the music business? :lol:

    Well.. That was fun, Hemant. Got anything else on this boring evening? ;)

  • anti-nonsense

    I got an article about Whooping Cranes summer range, which is in Alberta, I have relatives in Alberta and I also live in Canada and we talked about whooping cranes in my ecology class last semester.

  • Colin

    I stopped at 34, after getting an article titled “Displacement (Fencing)”. Someone emailed me last week wanting me to join a fencing class, which counts as some sort of coincidence I guess. The previous 33 links were mostly random people I’d never heard of (and with names that were generally unpronounceable to me) and random small towns/villages around the world (mostly in places I’ve never been or considered going.)

  • Richard Wade

    Well.. That was fun, Hemant. Got anything else on this boring evening?

    We could find an online random number generator and take a handful of random numbers and realize to our utter astonishment that they have amazing correlations with the positions of the Egyptian Pyramids or the layout of the streets of Washington, D.C. or the major events in the life of Elvis or the dates of the last 50 airline crashes or statistics about U.F.O. sightings and area 51 or the alphabetical numbers of the first letters in the third words of the seventh verses of the odd numbered chapters of the Bible or…..

  • Kate

    I clicked for what seemed like 50 times and got random cities, scientific names of strange plants, more geography…

    Around click 50 I got a racehorse!!! omg, I have a horse!!!

    So yeah, nothing here.

    I wish I could remember the name of the social psych term for this mental thing. Like when a person thinks, “Blondes are stupid.” So as they interact with various people, their mind pays no attention to non-stupid blondes…but the minute they interact with a dumb blonde, they instantly think, “Aha! It’s true! See, I was right!”

    Except with prayer, it works both ways. Let’s say you pray for $50 to, I don’t know, pay your electric bill. And the next day on the street you find a $50 bill…it must be God! Or you find a $20 bill and think, “Okay…well, God helped me some!” Or you don’t get any money, and your power gets shut off, and you think, “Okay…God must be teaching me a lesson that I need to work harder and pay my bills on time. Thank you, God!” So while the “dumb blonde” thing only works for affirming events, the prayer thing is “confirmed” no matter what the outcome. Everything seems to be “God’s will” even if it’s 180 degrees in the other direction.

    But yeah, try arguing that point. Doesn’t matter…

  • Mriana

    Richard Wade said,

    October 13, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Well.. That was fun, Hemant. Got anything else on this boring evening?

    We could find an online random number generator and take a handful of random numbers and realize to our utter astonishment that they have amazing correlations with the positions of the Egyptian Pyramids or the layout of the streets of Washington, D.C. or the major events in the life of Elvis or the dates of the last 50 airline crashes or statistics about U.F.O. sightings and area 51 or the alphabetical numbers of the first letters in the third words of the seventh verses of the odd numbered chapters of the Bible or…..

    Nah, I’ll pass and go back to working on my paper.

  • spectaculore

    I clicked 27 times in a row—14 of the pages I ended up on were related to Christianity or Christians (I am not a Christian, so that’s sort of a non-coincidence though it is a ridiculously high number), one was on the Tamil Tigers (I’m studying them in a history course on violence), one was on Shakespeare (I’m reading Much Ado About Nothing), and the rest had absolutely no connection to me at all.
    What a fun game.

  • Kate

    You’re a better woman than I am, Mriana. I keep trying to get back to my work but damnit Hemant, your site is distracting. Worst of all, my paper relates to self-handicapping behaviors like procrastination…

    Must…resist…temptation of…Internet…

  • Mriana

    Well, I have an advantage- My paper compares Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (book and movie) with Gene Wildman’s Frankenstein (movie). The view concerning Human Potential is different in them. Should be a fascinating paper when I’m done. I hope so at least. So, staying on track is a wee bit easier. That will be a whole lot less boring then doing nothing.

  • Karen

    A dear Christian couple I know, (I’ll call them Bob and Phyllis) often tell the story of what prompted the husband to propose many years ago.

    They were dating and Bob prayed and asked god to tell him if Phyllis was really “the one.” A week or so later, it happened that a letter Bob’s father sent somehow was mis-delivered to Phyllis’s uncle’s mailbox. They lived in nearby cities, had never met each other, and the address on the letter was not even remotely close to Phyllis’s uncle’s name or address.

    This odd coincidence was enough to persuade Bob that god had answered his prayer about Phyllis in the affirmative. He popped the question and they’ve been married 25+ years by now. Why god would use the mail to bring a couple together, I’ve never asked, but anyway – it was good enough for them. :-)

  • Richard Wade

    To some people for something to be a sign or omen it has to be very direct, like Bob’s letter being misdirected to Phyllis. To others several steps of loose association are permissible, such as Bob’s father’s letter misdirected to Phyllis’s uncle. That’s about four steps of association. It reminds me of the seven steps to Kevin Bacon game.

    What if it was Bob’s father’s best friend’s employer’s wife’s hairdresser’s mother’s bridge partner’s letter being misdirected to Phyllis’s uncle’s dentist’s nephew’s school chum’s old roommate’s long lost identical twin who tossed in the trash but his neighbor’s accountant’s dog’s groomer’s worst enemy’s girlfriend noticed it and being a little nosy opened it and then felt guilty and sent it to whoever the heck the right person was, and somehow Bob and Phyllis found out all about it? I mean if they really wanted to get married, that would still have been enough of a sign. I’m glad they’re a happy couple.

  • Becksi

    5th click was a page about a football player that lives in the same european country as I do and yesterday there was a euro 2008 qualifying match.

    It kind of makes evolutionary sense to see patterns everywhere. If you do something and something good follows, it’s good to recognize the pattern that lead to the good concequence.

    There was an experiment where a bird that was given a treat at completely random time. Somehow the bird associated watching over his shoulder to getting food and became compulsive behind-shoulder-watcher.

    Perhaps this kind of excessive pattern recognition could evolve into rituals and magic in a primitive man.

  • http://teenatheist.wordpress.com/ Teen Atheist

    Hee! I’d just blogged about that today before finding this post on Planet Atheism! I was a very naive fourth grader. :P

  • Stephen

    First page is some chap I’ve never heard of, who lived in a country I’ve never visited. One moment – he was sentenced to death in the year I was born. Must be reincarnation, right?

  • http://meritboundalley.wordpress.com Joe M

    It took 15 clicks for anything that was relevant to me, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong game. I like Mario games, but don’t own this one.

    I wonder if this can be a measure of how big a life you’ve had. Say I’ve not gone many places nor seen much; it might take me more clicks to see something that I see as relevant. However, someone who has lived many places and done many things necessarily would have more relevant clicks.

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    Oooh I like this game. I got: PRRS (disambiguation), Walter Varney—the guy who apparently founded both United Airlines and Continental Airlines, Terminal Frost (the Pink Floyd song), William of Montferrat, Dominican monk, STRINGCOMP, Ahmed Elmaghrabym , Cerveceria Bucanero, Battle of Ormoc Bay, Partenheim, Agha Hilaly, Aznar II Galíndez, Jenns, Multilingualism in Kenya, Jim Barnett (basketball)—who was born in the same state as me, but I’ve totally never heard of him, Jakub Schikaneder, WRNJ, Martti Miettunen, New Wave, Scottish Aviation Pioneer, RFFSA, Maryland Route 589, Oxydactyla (which is apparently a kind of frog), Rugby league State of Origin results and statistics, Oak Ridge Observatory—which, though I’ve never heard of it, I’ll gladly take as oh my god! I’m an astronomer and the wikipedia random article thingie led me *ahem* straight to an observatory!!!!

    I’m actually surprised that it took more than 20 tries to get a “hit,” and now this post will go live in potential spam purgatory as a result.

  • Ada

    On the first click, I got a record label in Indonesia. I like music.

    On the second click, I got “List of notable state leaders.” I have always lived in an area with a leader.

    On the third click, I got an amino acid. I would think that relates to everyone.

    On the fourth click, I got a networking-related protocol developed by a very large company I used to work for.

    On the fifth click, I got Telegraph Avenue. I don’t think I’ve been there, but it is mentioned in Soul Coughing song I like.

  • http://hugotheatheist.blogspot.com/ Hugo

    I got an article about a book called “Let There Be Light” about the big bang and its relation with kabalalalala or something.
    It is the truest of signs, so clear, so bright!
    So I’m writing Madonna at this moment so I can find out how to join this kabalalala thingy.

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    My first click was a list of asteroids. Well, I like astronomy so I guess that’s a connection…

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    olvlzl said:

    You know what? The ONLY person who can decide if prayer or tarot cards or anything else “worked” for them, is the person who is directly involved. They get to decide if the activity is worth their time and resources. Just like the people who frequent blogs to vent about “faith-heads” get to decide if the waste of their time is worth it for themselves.

    I agree with this. I’ve even had my palm read for a laugh (didn’t pay for it though, a friend did it). Just so long as people are not relying on this stuff in life-threatening or otherwise dangerous circumstances–esp. if it is a child dependant on them whose is in danger. But I think those sort of cases are pretty rare.

  • WMIII

    On my first click I got an article about Leah Patterson-Baker

    “Leah Helena Adara Patterson-Baker (née Poulos) is a fictional character in the Australian soap opera Home and Away. The character, portrayed by Greek actress Ada Nicodemou, first appeared in 2000, making her one of the show’s longest-running characters.”

    This character is portrayed by a beautiful woman.
    I like beautiful women.
    I also watch TV.

  • Mike Skrypek

    The first click was about the opera “Il tabarro (The Cloak).”

    I don’t care much for opera and I don’t speak Italian. The opera is about workers unloading a barge and the women they have love affairs with. Not much there to interest me either.

    Second click is a serbian TV show “Do?ite na show!” Nope, sorry.

    Third click is about Hurricane Nina (1957). Nothing. End of experiment.

  • Puneet

    You can also try out this thing out on WikiSlices ( http://wikislice.webaroo.com ). A wikislice is essential a collection of wikipedia pages on a paticular topic. So this can make your stumbling more interesting.

  • Ratsbew

    The wikipedia game that I play is to click on random article and then try to “chase the wikis” go get to a predetermined article. For example: My goal is the wiki on Nylon. I click on Random article and get a…random article. Then you use the wikis within that article to try to get to your goal. One page will lead to another, which will lead to another, and so on. If you play smart you can get from any article to another in about six or seven moves.


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