Is it Meaningful or Random? Part 2 – An irrational Perspective (in defence of synchronicity)
Part 2 of 2
The question is whether our experience of ‘meaningful’ coincidences, such as Jung’s synchronicity, is actually meaningful or is it merely a meaningless symptom of the laws of probability. And if conclude that it is meaningful what do we mean by that?
Meaning is not rational it is irrational.
Let’s look at how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word meaning:
1) What is meant by a word or idea (isn’t that a tautology?) 2) a sense of purpose (ah now we’re getting somewhere)
And how about meaningful:
1) Having meaning, 2) worthwhile, 3) intended to express something
So straightaway we can see that there is in fact no difference of opinion between Jung’s synchronicity and physical science or rational philosophy. Something doesn’t need to be causally linked to be meaningfully linked. On the contrary synchronicity is expressly meant to associate acausal meaningful occurrences.
So what is the problem?
I suppose the problem is really between so called rationalists and those of a more esoteric disposition. The real debate is between those given to material reduction versus those given to spiritual expansion or amplification.
I can no longer hide behind rhetoric and must here confess that I belong firmly to the latter group. I am a strong advocate of the significance of synchronicity.
Let me tell you why I believe as I do.
As a young boy growing up although my father was a great rationalist and a committed atheist, strangely it was stories of synchronicity which most fascinated me. Stories which suggested to me that there was more to life than the absolute dominion of material substance.
These stories whilst few in number were what I held onto what intrigued and fascinated me. What held the greatest seeds of potential for meaning at least in my life.
I won’t retell them here because I have already written a post about this called The Story of Two and a Half Dreams.
However very briefly below I note two of these rather unusual coincidences or synchronicities:
1) My grandfather foresaw his son Joseph’s tragic death, as a boy of fifteen, five years prior to his’ being born! So accurate was this premonition he knew the date of the event twenty years prior to it taking place.
2) My father had a dream in which he was told (by his late brother Joseph) which horse to bet on in order to win the money for his brother Francois return airfare from America. The only catch was the horse was a fifty to one outsider in other words a no-hoper. He took the bet and the horse won.
This phenomenon of seemingly precognitive dreaming has played a great role in my life as well. And many of the most significant events in my life have appeared to me in the dream world long before they became apparent in the material world.
The above being said I think it is true to say precognition is only one form of synchronicity and whilst undoubtedly meaningful it is possibly not the best example. I’m not sure that everyone experiences pre cognition however I believe everyone experiences synchronicity.
What we all experience is events which whilst rationally random have an underlying significance for us. I told a story of this type of synchronicity in the following post I Come not to Praise ET but to Bury Him.
Another significant synchronicity that happened to me recently involved a young boy whom I will call Mark Maddox. (Not his real name)
The Story of Mark Maddox
When I was a boy of about fifteen my mother was friends with a woman, somewhat younger than herself by the name of Ms. Maddox. I never liked Ms. Maddox and suspect the antipathy was mutual. I cannot tell you why, well I could I suppose but it wouldn’t add to the story.
Anyway Ms. Maddox left sunny South Africa and travelled to Europe where she spent the next ten years or so. When she returned, in transit to Australia, she had occasion to spend a night at my mother’s home. I was visiting my mom when she arrived and had an opportunity to reassess my youthful brashness towards her.
I concluded that my earlier antipathetic assessment had been accurate and concluded that I was even less fond of her than before.
Another ten years pass and Ms. Maddox returns to our sunny shores. She returns somewhat poorer in spirit and coin. Although, as I discovered later, no less abrasive or unpleasant. Once again I had occasion to meet with her, shortly after her return, at my mom’s 70th birthday party.
In a moment of weakness I extended a helping hand. Ms. Maddox had returned with a son, was a single mom and was struggling to start a new business in South Africa. Apparently she had left Australia under less than favourable circumstances.
I was punished for this gesture of goodwill as we so often are, and rudely reintroduced to everything about Ms. Maddox that had so repelled me all those years ago. The saga ended (or so I thought) with my finally emailing Ms. Maddox and requesting that we respectfully agree to disagree and discontinue any future association. I took Ms. Maddox’s silence as confirmation of her agreement..
And that should have been the end of the story except it wasn’t.
A few years later her son, Mark Maddox, and my daughter ended up in the same high school together. Now for some unknown and seemingly irrational reason I never liked her son. I cannot say in all honesty whether or not I transferred my antipathy towards his mother onto him or whether it was something else.
Either way for whatever reason I just didn’t like the boy. So much so that I would say that in the whole high school, in which I am quite involved, he is the only child I have taken an active dislike to.
He never behaved in an untoward manner towards me or in any way did anything to provoke this negative feeling in me. Well not anything I was conscious of anyway. Consciously I felt a sense of sympathy, antipathetic as that sympathy may have been, for his having Ms. Maddox as his sole parent.
Then one day I was asked by the school to arrange a musical and storytelling event to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Now my thirteen year old daughter is a very keen singer and I saw this as a great opportunity to give her a platform to perform in front of her school.
I have three children but only one daughter and she is as you might imagine the apple of my eye.
Whilst organising the event I spoke to her mother, my wife, about what song she would perform and whether she required musical accompaniment. My wife said she did, and knew a boy in the school who was a pianist we could ask to accompany her.
To cut a long story short: the boy finally declined not being sufficiently confident to carry the piece of music, it being a contemporary piece of music and his expertise being mainly classical. He suggested a friend of his who he assured me was the perfect boy for the job.
A very accomplished pianist and one who had successfully done a number of accompaniments and a class mate of his. The boy, just in case you haven’t already guessed, turned out to be none other than Mark Maddox.
So surreal did this seem to me that I immediately agreed believing that some higher power than my ego was clearly at play. As it happened whilst I was walking back to my car in the schools’ parking lot contemplating this bizarre turn of fate, out of the sky a ball comes sailing down and lands at my feet. A ball kicked over the playground fence by an overly exuberant pupil.
And following shortly behind the ball a voice, ‘Stephen… would you mind passing me the ball?’ A voice belonging to Mark Maddox.
Natural enough I suppose he is after all in the school and so was I. However seeing as this happened a few minutes after he had been suggested as the accompanying pianist, as I was walking processing this strange turn of events and the fact that he spoke to me now for the first time since I had met the boy about four years previously, I struck me as being an unusual and synchronistic event.
Both his being suggested as the pianist and his now ‘out of blue’ addressing me. (This wasn’t a case of collusion or preconception by the boy in question, in case you are wondering. The timing of the event was such that he could have had no foreknowledge.)
When a few days later I shared the story with some friends of mine, a couple, they were very quick to point out that it was in fact not such a strange coincidence and that the laws of probability dictated that this was quite normal or words to that effect.
This led to a rather heated debate. Which of course was very silly, because the meaning is clearly in the eye of the beholder and trying to convince anyone else of your meaning is not only unnecessary but in the final analysis self defeating.
As fate would have it about a week later my wife and I went out with this same couple to movies. We saw Inception , if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend it.
And after the movie this couple along with my wife went to the bathroom and left me outside the cinema. Who should wander along ‘out of the blue’ and out of a sea of people but Mark Maddox and his mother Ms. Maddox.
Once again I overcame my incredulity at this strange and uncomfortable encounter with the Maddox’s and engaged them to discuss the event which would be a platform for both Mark and my daughter.
So it was not without a degree of satisfaction that I witnessed the mild shock on the faces of the couple when on their return from the bathroom they encountered my talking to the boy and his mom, discussing the upcoming performance.
Even this couple although ratioanlly predisposed had to contend that this coming after our recent debate on the subject was somewhat unusual, meaningful and apropos synchronistic.
Where does all of this leave us? What does it mean?
Well I definitely don’t contend that the story above or any of the stories I have shared in my various posts on synchronicities, or that much greater and more profound synchronicities that we hear about from time to time, including Jung’s own examples, are proof of anything. I honestly don’t.
They are not proof for example that in fact these events are causally linked and we simply cannot see the ghost in the machine or the invisible hand.
I don’t for example concur with a metaphor shared by someone giving a populist type of explanation of quantum entanglement. And using that exact metaphor, there is a hidden hand moving things around in the phenomenal universe, but the hand is hidden and not open to direct observation.
These types of explanations, or for example the explanation given by Rupert Sheldrake of a Morphic Resonance filed being responsible for extras sensory perception in many cases, which Rupert Sheldrake has documented, are found wanting in my view.
I don’t put forward these contentions or explanations because this is not my field of interest. Nor do I consider myself sufficiently qualified to make judgments on fields of science which no doubt are their infancy in terms of what we know.
What I can say is this, these events are meaningful.
Meaning is not the sole dominion of material science, metaphysics or religion. Meaning is what you or I think it is what we chose it to be. It is a truth which emanates from the I of my soul. Whether we can agree or not, is not the final analysis what is a stake here, rather it is our individual right to claim that our lives are meaningful.
If you want to construct an effective gambling system or design a system for trading profitably on the stock market, or you wish to analyse data to draw certain inferences concerned with the world of maths, science or economics then yes certainly take the maths of randomness very seriously. Not exclusively, but along with the input of the various mathematical and physical theories.
However if you wish to attend to the matters of your soul the theory of randomness may not serve you. You may be better advised to consult your local shaman or psychologist as they are called nowadays.
Meaning is the construct or the energy which feeds the construct of your inner narrative. It is meaning which allows you to live, and to breathe, and to love, and to sing, and dance, and laugh, and cry.
It is meaning which brings your unique humanity to the fore. It is meaning which drives our cultural and scientific evolution. It is meaning which makes this all worthwhile. It is meaning which is the ineffable, irreducible essence without which we would all be deterministic (or chaotic), mechanistic, meat machines.
It is meaning which will transcend the limitations of our cognitive and imaginative capacities to allow us to evolve beyond where our minds can go.
That being said it does not mean that our lives are not random in some external objective mathematical sense. It only means that you are not that, unless you decide that you are. Because you my friend are the ultimate transcendent being who assigns meaning value to your existence and none can take that away from you unless you so choose.
Until next time, go in peace,