Koans and Cyphers
When I began this post it wasn’t with any glimpse of the Pandora’s box that it would open. I have shied away from trying to define synchronicity… instead throughout I have seemingly been running around it in circles. I have kept adding bits and pieces to this post, not so much in the interest of summary, because the subject itself is a tangent to so many things that a true summary would have to include, well more information than it was ever my intent to include in this post, so not a summary but a sort of ad hoc schedule of indices, indicating take-offs and landings for some of these obvious tangents.
Before and After Science seems a perfect setting… one of the essays I stumbled across in trying to understand this topic referred to the idea as a way of seeing the world, before the invasion of science. Curiously in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, unlike the technical backdrop of the movie Blade Runner which is based on it, the setting is a dystopia. The inner and outer cities are crumbling apart, there are wastelands… a post-apocalyptic nightmare… and really that setting is more appropriate to the basic ideas of the novel… the human world is passing away, in front of our eyes.
This particular category of Koans and Cyphers I had never completed- though it was separated out some time ago- what was to fall into this category I couldnt quite work out.
Synchronicities do seem much like koans, they are puzzles of a sort, and their comings together and leave takings seem often completely inexplicable. The teapots below offer such an example. The following is from Max’s site:
On January 30th, 2006, I was suddenly compelled to explore the hidden crawlspace under my back stairs.
Now, I’m “Max Action – Urban Explorer” – a huge part of my life and self has been built up around my passion for exploring caves, tunnels, rooftops, basements – spaces between, spaces forgotten, spaces forbidden. And, of course, I LOVE crawlspaces.
Max found a teapot in that crawlspace. Now just a couple weeks before he had been in California and had what he describes as a mystical experience, but by the time he found himself back home, a lot of that feeling had faded away. He was still on the edges of it when he visited a Unique Thrift Store, having returned to Minneapolis, all this still before his teapot in the crawlspace. And he couldn’t let go of one item.
“I don’t know – there’s just something satisfying about it –
I like the materials, the construction maybe –
the connotations are somehow pleasant to me.
I don’t know. I just feel like I want this in my house.”
So he bought it. It was a teapot. And when he discovered the teapot in the crawlspace, days later, it was mind-boggling. They seemed to be twins.
And his verdict… “It seemed inescapable; I had asked the universe if I could really believe in intuition, in, essentially, magic … and the universe had answered with a resounding “yes” – in the form of “synchronicity.”
I cant quarrel with that. His teapot generated the one comment to this post. Really to me the teapots are a koan, and indeed I think he accessed, for him, if not its real ulterior- and interior- meaning, at least one of them.
Often synchronicities seem just like that; and on a different level codes or cyphers would be the perfect metaphor. Something is hidden in the code. The meaning can be tapped with a little extra effort. Sometimes years of efforts as in the case of the Voynich manuscript… although synchronicity and the Voynich manuscript probably dont make much sense in the same breath.
It is interesting that the original meaning of koan, a ‘public record’, points to an objective reality beyond the koan, as opposed to something personal and private. Yet often synchronicites seem couched in such personal and private references that this seems almost contradictory. Well synchronicities are that too.
Before and After Science
Calling this post Before and After Science, at first thought after Eno’s luminous work, secondly to point to the idea of synchronicity as being independent of Science itself, but also, uh thirdly, to the idea being mired in a kind of timeless region, as if the meanings to draw from synchronicities are sideways glances at something missed, or to come, or well something else. A well of inexhaustible energy that beckons just beyond our island of existence.
Matthew Weiner imagines in his column in Stylus on Eno’s Before & After Science it is the perfect Desert Island disc, something to listen to when you are stranded on that island…
Thus began a search through nearly every record in my collection (Pet Sounds? Too whiny. Any reasonable person would want to choke Brian Wilson after about a month; plus, the “Why won’t you let me go home?” refrain of “Sloop John B” wouldn’t exactly get my mind off the fact that I’m stuck by myself on a rock). And somehow, the one that kept coming back to me was Before and After Science. In the decade-plus since I had first heard it, the album as a whole became clearer to me, while at the same time retaining the mysteries one hopes would endure over the long, hot months of nothingness.
Eric Weiss in an essay on the subject refers to synchronicity as something of a ‘throwback’, a part of the world before Science etc.:
In this pre-modern world, synchronicities will seem perfectly natural. Theentire physical world will be imagined as a creation of the Divine, created precisely for the purpose of some drama that is taking place between the Divine and Its creatures. So we might, for example, imagine the physical world as a kind of school in which humans learn certain kinds of lessons. The general run of everyday reality is a sufficient school most of the time, but sometimes the teacher needs to intervene more forcefully. That he does by means of synchronicities – or in this context we might call them miracles. Synchronicities serve a divine purpose (final cause) and do so according to a divine plan (the archetype, formal cause).
Our lives abound with synchronicities, writ large and small, and often simply ignored by us as too trite, or ridiculous, or meaningless in this modern age.
Voynich and Nostradamus
Does the subject matter of prophecy fall into some corridor of synchronicity- or not? The Voynich Manuscript, the Lost Book of Nostradamus, the manifold interpretations of Centuries…
Is it Revelation?
Deckard: “You remember the spider that lived in a ‘bush outside your window’? ‘Orange body, green legs’? Watched her build a web all summer? Then one day, there’s a big egg in it. The egg hatched…”
Rachael finishes the sentence: “…and a hundred baby spiders came out. And they ate her.”
Deckard: “Implants! Those aren’t your memories. They’re somebody else’s. They’re Tyrell’s niece’s. (Pause) OK, bad joke. I made a bad joke. You’re not a replicant. Go home, OK? No really, I’m sorry. Go home. (Pause)”
The revelation is chilling. “Replicants aren’t supposed to be emotional, but because Rachael is ‘more human than human,’ tears well up in her heartbroken, watery eyes, and they liberally flow down her cheek. Her face melts after he pounds in the truth. When Deckard leaves the room to get Rachael a drink (lights turn on automatically as he enters his kitchen), she flees the apartment – devastated.”
Of course in the context of the film this revelation is not an example of telepathy, clairvoyance, or even synchronicity, but simple detective work. The exchange has a haunting quality that has stayed with me ever since.
Here is Jung’s classic example from Synchronicity:
“A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment.”
The images here all depict various synchronicities, absolutely meaningless without context to fill in the blanks. All synchronicities are multiple in some sense; it is that ‘multiple’ quality that is the synchronicity. The images, events, or simply ‘things’, whatever they are, are ‘reflections’ of each other and seem to provoke meaning without usually offering a simple translation.
The origins of, for instance, the two constellations of ‘dots’ below are very different, yet in a certain context they seem to be strangely incredible reflections of each other, however statistically improbable.
The picture on the folded twenty dollar bill seems to summon the image of the twin towers: is there a hidden agenda this peculiar likeness is meant, even ‘designed’, highlight? Or is it one of the many outcomes of chance?
The teapots have a history: the history of bringing them together seems meaningless, hasn’t resulted in any discovery beyond the pots themselves really. It seems a pointless synchronicity yet that is what makes synchronicities: even in their pointlessness they seem to harbor some strange meaning we can’t easily decipher.
What is it about synchronicities?
It seems the pointlessness has something in common with that of a puzzle… usually when we put a puzzle together we have an idea of the overall picture; without that picture putting the puzzle together would be difficult, though not impossible. Synchronicities seem to operate similarly, not really in the reverse, but simply without that guiding image; we have the pieces, the various synchronicities, or steps toward their eventual occurrence, but the picture itself isn’t clear.
The puzzle offers its challenge in assembling the pieces but knowing the outcome; how do the pieces fit together? The synchronicity on the other hand seems to offer us the pieces but asks of us something quite different, what is the real picture, and further the meaning beyond the pieces, as if we need to somehow put the picture together into a revelation of sorts. We have the idea this picture exists, if nothing else the synchronicity seems literally pregnant with its meaning, though often that real meaning seems unclear and indecipherable.
Here is another interesting example, astounding to say the least, of an improbable coincidence:
“All fifteen members of a church choir in Beatrice, Nebraska, due at practice at 7:20, were late on the evening of March 1, 1950. The minister and his wife and daughter had one reason (his wife delayed to iron the daughter’s dress) one girl waited to finish a geometry problem; one couldn’t start her car; two lingered to hear the end of an especially exciting radio program; one mother and daughter were late because the mother had to call the daughter twice to wake her from a nap; and so on. The reasons seemed rather ordinary. But there were ten separate and quite unconnected reasons for the lateness of the fifteen persons. It was rather fortunate that none of the fifteen arrived on time at 7:20, for at 7:25 the church building was destroyed in an explosion. The members of the choir, Life reported, wondered if their delay was “an act of God.”
See here for details.
Devil in the Details
Some of the details re the above images might be ‘illustrative’ or even interesting but what those details will not be is enlightening.
For instance: we don’t really know how the image of the towers from a folded twenty dollar bill first came to light. There are references, on the internet, to an email several years ago. But that email doesn’t seem ‘extant’ now. Who would have gotten the idea of folding it in just that way; though folding money into images like this seems to have a long history. Is it even remotely possible that there is an intention in back of this..? The twenty dollar bill was ‘re-designed’ before the Towers disaster. Does that mean it was planned… well these questions aren’t answerable. And they seem far removed from possibility. And if we grant that it has even a hint at possibility why in the world would someone with that knowledge choose this way of revelation?
Something similar is true in the case of the Pleiades. I can quote the origin of the coffee stains, and the process of trying to identify the pattern, but is there real meaning in this similarity, as striking as it is, or is it something simply totally absurd?
And the provenance of the teapots is equally plain, but is their any point in bringing them together… it seems not.
Are the ‘phenomena’ of synchronicity, the circumstances that bring about the multiverse of coincidences, byproducts perhaps of the ‘small world phenomenon’? The notion of a small chain of acquaintances linking any two people on earth was first ‘popularized’ by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in Everything is Different. From Everything is Different courtesy of Wikipedia :
A fascinating game grew out of this discussion. One of us suggested performing the following experiment to prove that the population of the Earth is closer together now than they have ever been before. We should select any person from the 1.5 billion inhabitants of the Earth—anyone, anywhere at all. He bet us that, using no more than five individuals, one of whom is a personal acquaintance, he could contact the selected individual using nothing except the network of personal acquaintances.
In other words does increasing the connections we have to one another increase the probability of some, or any, coincidences? Without doing an extensive analysis (indeed there are mathematical studies of the idea), it might seem, especially so because of the internet, our ‘small world’ might be overrun with coincidences. Of course drawing distinctions among coincidence, serendipity, and synchronicity might change this outlook. Still there may be a real effect from the so-called ‘small world phenomenon’ on the varieties and occurrences of coincidence(s).
There is also the example of Chernobyl. The biblical version from the Book of Revelations:
And the third angel sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters: And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
There has been some controversy whether or not Wormwood should be translated as Chernobyl… whether the meaning is exact is hard to determine but it seems that even if not exact Chernobyl has been used to refer what is called Wormwood in English.
So what kind of synchronicity is this..? Is this mere coincidence… unlikely as it is- and maybe that is all it is- simply an unlikely coincidence with no meaning beyond ‘mere’ coincidence..? Of course the author of Revelations refers to a star falling and what happened at Chernobyl was not that… still it was a place where nuclear reactions occurred. The same energy that powers stars…
The sub-title to one of the other images in that same set as the image at the top of this post, an image from Chernobyl:
“What is most striking here is the contrast between the world of Civilization which is ours and the world of Nature. The world of civilisation is physical, while Chernie is a metaphysical world, “meta” means “after”, Chernobyl is the world after physics. The world of Nature is something that exists of itself, it is how this world has been for millions of years before us and how it will be after us, while civilization is mere appearance, it is not “just there,” it is not self-supporting. It is artificial and requires engineering and science to support it. If we want to make use of the advantages of civilisation, but are not prepared to concern ourself with the upholding of civilisation�we are done for. In a trice we find ourselves left without civilisation. Just a push of a wrong button and everything goes straight to a primitive state. We look around and see that civilization is vanishing into the air, like fata morgana. The primitive forest appears in its native state, just as if the curtains of Civilization, covering pure Nature, have been drawn back.”
Here is a look, from a slightly different perspective, at the idea of coincidence. The Hebrew language seems to lack a precise equivalent of ‘coincidence’:
“Coincidence” is the English equivalent to the Hebrew word, mikreh. Is there a difference in their meaning? At first glance, you might say no. After all, how else would you translate mikreh, if not “coincidence”? But Hebrew – loshon hakodesh – is the holy tongue; the language in which G-d Himself spoke; the language in which He gave us His holy Torah. Therefore, there can be no true equivalent to any Hebrew word in another language.
Literally translated, mikreh means “karah m’HaShem – it happened from G-d. The word itself testifies that nothing, absolutely nothing, occurs without His guidance, and this holds true from the most major to the most insignificant event. Our sages teach that a man does not so much as prick his finger or stub his toe without it being orchestrated from Above. Coincidence, on the other hand, connotes a random event. Things happen because they happen, without rhyme or reason, and G-d is most certainly out of the equation. On the other hand, we, Am Yisrael, see hashgach – Divine guidance and direction in every situation, even in apparently ordinary occurrences, and nowhere is this more evident than in Jerusalem.
The full article is here.
There is no word for coincidence in Hebrew. And Jews are likely to share the view that coincidences are just not worth talking about. After all, the word has been perverted from its orginal use. Coincidence first entered the English language in the seventeenth century as a means of denying any causal connection between unrelated events. The word was a particular favorite of Sir Francis Bacon, who advanced scientific rationalism against the claims of faith.
Please see here for original article.
There are a host of related ideas having to do with the concept of synchronicity. The Baaden-Meinhoff Phenomenon, Littlewood’s Law, the Law of Truly Large Numbers, the Recency Effect, Cognitive Bias, the so-called 23 Enigma, probably there are others… Whether or not to take these as synonyms of synchronicty, or as descriptions of its varied aspects, is probably more a matter of individual taste than a true delineation of logical categories.
Littlewood’s Law has to do with probability and miracles. What is the frequency of ‘miracles’… again we are caught in definitions and semantics; to some extent this is a fundamental concern. Drawing the lines to decide what constitutes a synchronicity in the first place can be difficult…
If you think, for instance, one of the defining characteristics of a miracle is its rarity, Littlewoods Law attempts to relate this probability to the number of events happening to an individual in a month of days. So if you regard a miracle as something that only happens once in a million times, for instance, we are very likely, in a months’ time, to experience at least one miracle, because in a month’s time we experience at least that number of events… perhaps really yet another example of the Law of Truly Large Numbers… The relationship to synchronicty depends on your window to this idea.
The Baader-Meinhoff Phenomenon?
You may have heard about Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon before. In fact, you probably learned about it for the first time very recently. If not, then you just might hear about it again very soon. Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information– often an unfamiliar word or name– and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Anytime the phrase “That’s so weird, I just heard about that the other day” would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof. More here.
More from that same article:
In point of fact, coincidences themselves are usually just an artifact of perception. We humans tend to underestimate the probability of coinciding events, so our expectations are at odds with reality. And non-coincidental events do not grab our attention with anywhere near the same intensity, because coincidences are patterns, and the brain actually stimulates us for successfully detecting patterns… hence their inflated value. In short, patterns are habit-forming.
Further reflections on this particular aspect of synchronicity may be found here.
I will end this post re synchronicity with a reference to this …. Unusual work by Laurens van der Post. Mostly famous for his The Lost World of the Kalihari… from The Coming of Mantis:
This was perhaps the most reprehensible lapse of all, for some instinct has prevented me from ever finding coincidences accidental. I had come gradually to think of them as manifestations of some cosmic law of which we are inadequately aware, confirming among many other things, the extent to which one’s own life was obedient to an overwhelming universal pattern. I had even reached at that precise moment the place in the book I was writing where I was trying to suggest that this great veiled law with its special messengers of strange, often absurd parallels disturbing our highly organized allegiance to a rational and causal progression of thing, could be the law becoming the growth of meaning in our lives, the kind of meaning which the Chinese centuries before Christ defined as that which has always existed through itself.
In the spirit of this post I wanted to somehow bring full circle the zig zag path that began with Blade Runner. That is rally a tangent to what this post is about and yet, strangely enough, seems really to have something to do with this idea of synchronicity and not just a roundabout fashion.
There was also a comment re The Birds, ala Jung and the movie, that was going to be explored. Here is, after a search on Google for ‘Blade Runner & The Birds’ a comment from one of the sites it pulled up:
Birds are also a common motif in Blade Runner. Nothing represents freedom quite as well as a bird in flight, and nothing represents imprisonment quite as well as the same bird caged. However, different birds appear at different times, each serving a different function. Roy refers to “shores burning with the fires of a hawk,” a bird known as a hunter and predator, perhaps meant to represent Roy himself. Instead, the dove released by Roy when he dies symbolizes peace and, perhaps, his soul. Much earlier, near the beginning of the film, there is an owl in the lobby of the Tyrell Corporation. It’s a bird known for its large eyes (again, a symbol of watchfulness), and it is also mechanical. As it flies across the lobby, its image is juxtaposed to that of Rachael, looking like a flawless china doll as she walks out to meet Deckard. The message is obvious: the owl is artificial; Rachael is artificial. (Owls are also a symbol of wisdom, of course, which suggests that the replicants are in some respects wiser than humans; more on that below.)