Bugs in the Matrix

The MatrixMy wife introduced a theory to me years ago. She observed that certain odd themes tend to repeat themselves in high frequency over the course of about a week, then disappear back into obscurity.

Her theory was that if you apply numerology to these coincidences, you could translate chance into good fortune, e.g. using the coincidences to pick lottery numbers.

It was like she planted a seed. I started to notice coincidences, which led me to wonder if they’d always been there and I was finally connecting the dots. For example, I can’t tell you the last time I heard John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” before last week. Best guess is back in the ’80s.

Last week, I heard it twice. Once as sung by actors on “My Name is Earl”, then a couple days later while shopping at Fred Meyer.

This stuff happens pretty often, at least to me. I refer to these as bugs in the matrix because they don’t really make sense to me. If there’s a reason behind “Take Me Home, Country Road”, I’m totally missing it. Trying to discern meaning from these coincidences is a lot like trying to interpret dreams, impossible and maddening.

So, what constitutes a theme? These are highly subjective in nature, but I think anything that causes you pause when it’s repeated counts, songs, movies, words, names, any objects, etc.

My theory is that themes exist all around us, but we don’t notice them. I know, way off topic, but something interesting to me.

Does this happen to you? Sound off in comments.

Update: I had one this evening. I walked into a BBQ place, close to my house, reminding myself of a line from “The Lost Boys”, which I recently watched for the first time in probably 10 years. The quote is “One thing that always bothered me about Santa Carla . . . all the damn vampires.” Some places in Portland give you that vibe.

I walk in the BBQ place, and immediately Echo and Bunneymen’s cover of “People Are Strange” comes on the radio. I have only ever heard that song in “The Lost Boys” and on that movie’s soundtrack. This is a bit of stretch, but it fits the MO.




  1. The classic one is when you buy a new car. As soon as you buy it, everyone else seems to drive the same car.

    I think a lot of this is down to how observant you are. Chances are that song is played in the mall every week, but you only noticed it because you heard it on My Name Is Earl, which brought it to your attention.

    In the same way, when you buy a car, you start to notice similar cars for the first time. They were always there, but you ignored them.

    That's my totally unscientific opinion. 🙂



  2. I've had that. It's more like a switch being turned on, and suddenly you realize you're noticing something, e.g. cars like your new one.

    This is different. It's obscure things that appear in random patterns that are impossible to reproduce. Believe me, I would recognize “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Being from Pittsburgh, right near the West Virginia border, we heard that way too much.

    The problem is that these bugs come, are obvious for a short time, then go. So you can only remember them briefly.

    Exactly like a bug, a patch and a data fix.

  3. dangit…I was going to use the car one. How about this one then? The last two blogs I've read I've had an answer, upon reading the comments, someone has posted MY answer!


  4. That would qualify, even more so if somehow the content were related, closer than the car thing. Were you trumped both times by a Tim? Even better.

  5. Content was related in that it was another Oracle blog…something about triggers if I remember correctly. I bet it was Tim too!

  6. Heck, yes, I can relate. Two recurring themes this week:

    1) “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”: Haven't watch the movie in years. In fact, I find it to be a little irritating. However, I've been seeing snippets all week – TV, in a movie theater ad, even a quote in a podcast.

    2) O.A.R.'s tune “Hold On True”: I heard it for the first time in months at my nephew's Bar Mitzphah last Saturday. Heard it on Internet streaming radio twice this week. Heard it again last night due to a glitch in the Smart Playlist I set up for my iPhone.

    Still trying to figure out what these two things have in common and what it means (okay, so it might not mean anything but it's still fun to speculate).

  7. W00t! This is exactly what I mean. When I first started noticing, I attributed these to Tim's theory, i.e. I wasn't paying attention before, but I swear it's algorithmic.

    Plus, mine come in bunches, then disappear complete with the data fix (memory wipe). I need to document this stuff and review it for patterns.

  8. Without sounding like a physcologist, I think these things are coincidental but they make you realize or remember something you didn't intend to. I doubt God is forcing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on you as a punishment (or reward depending on your musical tastes) but I can certainly relate. Justin Timberlake's song “Love Stoned” uses a keyboard sample or a close remake from Salt-n-Pepa's song “Push It” and it was stuck in my head for a week before I realized it was Salt-n-Pepa. I probably haven't heard “Push It” since 1992, (and resented it at the time) but that tune got looping in my head and one day I inexplicably figured it out.

    Another example is seeing a picture of Garth Brooks on tv or a magazine cover and I think of my childhood best friend who looks a lot like Garth. Then I'll remember playing basketball with him or something and his phone number will pop in to my head; 489-4548. It's easily been more than twenty years since I've dialed that number and I have only seen Frank twice in the last seven years since I live in a different state. Go figure!

  9. Agreed, and as a geek, I like things to be orderly and logical, which is why the application to the lottery makes this even funnier. Now, when my wife or I have one, I blurt out the first number that comes to mind, and viola, I have a number-picking system.

    She hasn't played my numbers though, and surprise, I don't play.

    I like your take, i.e. making me remember something I didn't intend to, which I think gives credence to the bug theory. Someone's running system tests on me.

  10. Jake,

    I was reading this Wikipedia article today and got reminded of your post.

    “The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon occurs when a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, phrase, or other item for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it.”


    Seems somewhat related, although this one is specifically about obscure facts. It does fall in the “Bugs In The Matrix” category though.

  11. Woah, very cool. I shouldn't be surprised, since everything seems to have a syndrome or illness attached to it. Scientists are a very busy bunch.

  12. I sometimes refer to this as the Scooby Doo phenomenon. When you realize they're running in front of the same background and you wonder how long that's been happening, e.g. my wife tells me she saw three people in different areas of town walking out of a convenience store with a gallon of milk. That feels a bit like a bug, especially when I subsequently see the same thing right after she mentions it.

    The similar, but related phenomenon is coincidental, i.e. you notice something, and find it's repeated in a cluster, then it disappears again. Like a song you haven't heard in a decade that's suddenly in a movie, on the radio, on the speakers at the supermarket, then gone back into the archives.

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