You know the type: They find a leaf under a tree, it must have been paranormal. Meet someone who owns the same shirt they do? Consider it spooky. Found their keys? It must have been a miracle. To some people everything is proof of the paranormal, mystical or a sign of divine intervention and nothing could just be chance. How did they get this way?
The underlying mistake being made when people attribute coincidences to mystical forces is fairly simple failure of understanding or applying probability. While experiencing an unlikely event someone says “What are the chances this particular event would happen to me right now?” rather than the more appropriate and inclusive question of “What are the chances that something similar to this event would happen?” This unjustified specificity is often then compounded by overestimating the chance of whatever mystical interpretation this person happens to be prone to believe in and, by extension, underestimating the likelihood of witnessing the event simply due to chance.
However, assuming people who often attribute the unlikely to the paranormal are being at least somewhat internally consistent it’s easy for a couple mistakes of this kind to multiply. Once you accept a given mystical hypothesis then your prior probability that this hypothesis is the explanation for similar cases you encounter will rise. This, in turn, makes it even more likely that you’ll see this hypothesis as the cause for more and more events. Of course this conflicts with the belief that mystical events are supposed to happen rarely and if they didn’t you’d be unable to separate them from normal occurrences.
But, naturally, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.This problem would arise even without accounting for confirmation bias, so when including the tendency to overweight the evidence for propositions you already believe a handful of misattributed coincidences could spiral into the basis for an entire misguided worldview.
While this can become a problem with those who don’t acknowledge the mere coincidences that fill everyday life this same pattern can cause overconfidence in any individual’s cherished explanation. This faulty pattern can be quite difficult to recognize from the inside and is one reason, as Descartes would say, everyone should seriously doubt all beliefs they hold at some point in their life. Otherwise you may never even find out you are the equivalent of the person seeing lines in the dirt as the unmistakable proof of ancient aliens.