Synchronicity
The following is an updated version of my response in an on-line forum when I was asked "What's your take on synchronicity?"




Most people know synchronicity was the uncredited co-star of the "MacGuyver" tv show.  It wasn't that the title character knew in advance to keep a paperclip, gum wrapper, and a 9 volt battery in his pocket.  And it wasn't fate or guardian angels that put them there either.  Instead, he worked with what was available to fashion the necessary tools to get out of a scrape each week.  Our brains do much the same thing as MacGuyver's all day long only on an invariably less dramatic level.  It's called intuitive thinking.

Basically, we're wired for pattern recognition.  A lot of people have looked at this from a number of angles, such as Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  However, as Louis Pasteur famously said, "Chance favors the prepared mind," which is a succinct description of how education helps you extract legitimate meaning from seemingly incoherent patterns ...like MacGuyver’s chemistry demonstrations with those ostensibly random objects.

Carl Jung and asylums full of New Age proponents would have us believe that synchronicity is an interconnectedness of the universe that shows how special we are.  No, they'll be the first to admit they can't prove this either, but take their word for it.  (Please?)

Well, I'm not buying it, and you'd have to be simultaneously a moron and a self-centered piece of shit to think that the universe would bend over backward to make your day interesting.

Synchronicity isn't about cosmic coincidences.  It's simply seeing connections in random encounters, which is something we need in order to help us make sense of a barrage of new information in our daily lives.  After all, most people don't necessarily need to see scores of facts to reach a conclusion.  The reality is that no one ever collects copious series of data before coming to a conclusion in their daily life.  We couldn't function otherwise, and it's only in rigidly enforced systems such as drug trials, automotive safety tests, etc. that we honestly amass the amounts of data we need in order to assure ourselves that a given course of action is statistically benign before we proceed.

The flip side is that our brains are also prone to prejudice and superstition when we jump the gun and try to map a nascent pattern over things we have little experience with.  We need significant exposure to the reality of a situation in order to challenge our simplified views.  That's why we bus kids of different colors into schools on opposite sides of town and why people challenge astrologers, racists, and other, um, interesting people to demonstrate their claims with good statistics.  Otherwise, you generalize coincidence into dogma.

For better or for worse, once your brain picks up on a pattern, you start to notice things within it that make your surroundings more meaningful.  However, meaningful doesn't mean they're more significant.  When you learn a new vocabulary word, you start to hear it all over the place.  When your friend gets a new car, you see it all over town.  It isn't magic.  It's just that you have an amazing (if imperfect) central nervous system that picks up on even the most inconsequential things when they happen to be paired.  Sometimes those things turn out to be important, like when your girlfriend says "I wish I had..." the week before her birthday, and you can be sure an event like that is most certainly *not* a coincidence!

Sorry, kids.  In the end, it isn't reality that's mutable so much as our limited perception of it.


Copyright 2005-2007 coincidentAle[x].
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