Unlikely Stories

An alum profile, selected at random. An issue of the Daily, drawn from a bowl. A tale of chaos and weather. Go ahead, pick a door.

July 2022

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Comic illustration of 3 stories to choose from: 1; 2; or 3.

Illustration: Gary Taxali

The stories you are about to read might seem a little bit random. 

We all have tales of happenstance. The luck of the draw. One door opened even as another closed. In the right place at the right time. An absurd coincidence. Or was it? 

It can feel as though much in life is governed by chance, but typically, there’s at least some method in the madness. At the same time, we blow on dice in hope of influencing a random outcome and tell ourselves that no machine will ever be able to manage the myriad unpredictable events that a human driver handles behind the wheel. The more our Stanford team thought about it, there was something about the idea of randomness that we just couldn’t shake.

So we took a chance, pun absolutely intended. We scoured campus for experts on machine learning, philosophy and even the weather to find out what’s actually random, which things aren’t as arbitrary as we think they are, and how to manage our anxiety about all of it. We also let loose a little. We asked alumni to tell us their stories of chance. We chose a random day in Stanford’s history to examine (with a few parameters—thou shalt not pursue serendipity at the expense of storytelling). And we selected—completely at random—a single person to profile from Stanford’s 235,000 living alumni. He’s fascinating. Maybe any person would have been. Or maybe we got lucky.

View the entire Randomness collection.

Summer Moore Batte, ’99, is the editor of Stanfordmag.org. You can reach her at summerm@stanford.edu.

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