Recently I’ve been thinking about coincidence (a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection), wondering about how it overlaps with precognition (knowledge of something in advance of its occurrence) and intuition (the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning). I’ve wanted to boost my ability to recognize coincidences in my life. I’ve been thinking about writing on the subject, but no door was opening.
Until right now. Maybe this is a form of serendipity (a happy accident): I was wanting a way into the coincidence topic, and then while I’m having lunch this old song plays….
Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen. He has initiated The Coincidence Project to gather people’s stories of meaningful coincidences in their lives, to encourage awareness and discussion, and to bring the study of coincidences and their meaning into the field of science. Synchronicity, serendipity, seriality, simulpathity, the psychosphere, the collective human organism (CHO)… Learn more at Coincider.com and on YouTube.
Bobby Charles and Rick Danko, first recorded here in the town of Woodstock, NY – but what I’m hearing now is the great Paul Butterfield’s Better Days version, also recorded in Woodstock. This is the version I loved since I first heard it when I was 21, living in Utah – when I hadn’t the faintest clue that the album cover image was taken in the Catskill Mountains just a few miles from where I would spend my senior years. I live on the same road where Butterfield once lived. It All Comes Back, indeed. *
What does it mean that the literary podcast I now co-host is recorded in a home studio not a hundred yards from where Bob Dylan lived at the time of the mysterious motorcycle accident (1966) that allowed him to retreat from the cacophony of fame after his electric revolution, and do the woodshedding with The Band that would result in yet more world-changing music that I listened to avidly as a young man… what does it all mean? Is this some sort of cosmic synchronicity?
Well, let’s think clearly about this. These were famous people loved by millions all over the world. I’m just one of those millions. And Woodstock is a very small town. If you live here for a few years, odds are extremely high that you’ll come into direct contact with the artifacts of its world-famous musical history. The few incidents I’ve related barely scratch the surface of my experience.
Nevertheless, it feels meaningful. To me, just a nobody from an anonymous suburb out west, it feels highly unlikely. After all, to live in Woodstock was never a goal of mine, and none of my high school or college friends ended up here. If synchronicity can be defined by the feeling of meaningfulness, then maybe it qualifies.
Does precognition create coincidence? Can tastes be shaped by precognition? How does precognition figure into my youthful attraction to Sebastian, Butterfield, Dylan, others who are specifically associated with the town of Woodstock? Did the fact that I would feel the pleasure of living in their neighborhood as an older man guide me to their music as a younger man? Why was it these particular artists whose music I loved? I was the only person among my high school friends who was a serious Lovin’ Spoonful fan. And my choices as a limited-budget record buyer did not go in directions that many people my age followed – toward, for instance, Led Zeppelin, who have no connection to Woodstock. I was certainly a Jimi Hendrix fan… but Hendrix lived for a time in a house just two miles as the crow flies from where I live now. He practiced for the Woodstock concert at Tinker Street Cinema, the little movie house near the center of town.
Did I precognize my future? Is it a case of “retrocausation”? I’m sure Eric Wargo would have some ideas about that. Wargo has been a recent guest on Dr. Beitman’s podcast but I have followed his blog, The Nightshirt, for years, and my fiction writing has been influenced by his ideas. His latest book, Precognitive Dreamwork and the Long Self, is a tool I’m currently using to explore my dreams and how they interact with my waking reality.
Quantum physics has shown that, at the most fundamental levels of reality, no distinction can be made between cause and effect. The relation between two events can be either causal or retrocausal. I imagine time not as a line but as a surface – let’s say the surface of a pool. An event in my consciousness, perhaps given power by emotion, is like a pebble dropped into the pool. Time Loops.
Ponckhockie Union and my story collection The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, as well as another novel and another story collection in progress, use coincidence, synchronicity, and other riddles as the atmosphere in which recognizable characters like you, me, and our neighbors face life’s multiplicity of challenges. My premise is that the world is not as it seems – it’s much more wonderfully mysterious. The unanswerable questions are my inspiration.
cognitive bias, confirmation bias, or any unfounded assumptions. I am a self-diagnosed “epistemological obsessive,” always demanding of myself and others, “How do you know?” So with all this talk of invisible interdependence, I have to ask: How much am I a victim of apophenia? Apophenia – a common condition that in its extreme form is a precursor to schizophrenia – is the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things. The conundrum here is: who decides what is “unrelated” and exactly how do they decide? While I don’t want to be apophenic, I also do not automatically accept someone’s authority about whether I am or not.
Speaking of untrustworthy authority, which is increasingly evident as the world falls to pieces around us – is there a valid reason for rambling about coincidence and fiction? One writer friend of mine can’t write because of his anxiety about the problems in the news. Another only wants to write about the problems, in protest. My own preference (or is it intuition about what is healthiest for me?) is to follow my perennial interests no matter the current events, but I harbor an old secret fear of being a dysfunctional daydreamer – most likely, a vestige of parental voices in my head. Right now I am consciously putting that fear aside – my own small gesture of sovereignty.
I appreciate Wargo, Beitman, and others such as Dean Radin (see his book The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena) in their efforts to give solid scientific study to “psi” or parapsychology. After all, who knows what truths about the universe we may be missing when ultimate authority is given to reductionist, materialist Scientism?
“Artmaking is making the invisible visible.” ---Marcel Duchamp
* For more information about the musical history of Woodstock, see the book Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns.
Hi Brent, this is Marta. I just read this piece and am nervous that I will not be able to give it an adequate response -- because it really deserves a response as beautifully thought out. Let me say just the truth, which is that I read this avidly from start to finish, caught up in the beautiful prose. I enjoyed the thoughtful, non-sensational style, the presentation of self, and of course the weaving in of images from your life -- the teenager who didn't have a lot of money for records, the anonymous suburb, the chat with John Sebastian. (That must have been great! For both!) The bringing forth of the ideas that intrigue you was done so gracefully, no soapbox in sight. Thank you!ReplyDelete
Thank you for reading and commenting, Marta. I appreciate what you said very much!Delete
Excellent piece, Brent.ReplyDelete
Once again, I'm reminded of my latest mantra, borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci. "Everything connects to everything else." Or, "Everything is connected to everything."
This is also the First Law of Ecology, a fundamental of quantum mechanics, the unspoken reality of all "conspiracy theory," why Magick works, THE cure for nihilism and despair, and an ancient truth stated over and over again by every wise person who ever existed. In fact, it's one of the first "AHAs!" of enlightenment, so-called.
And a corollary is "If everything is connected to everything else, then everything matters."
And if everything matters, everything has meaning. Or as Einstein put it, "There are two ways to live: You can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle." And on it goes.
So, we re-discover this truth once again and can explore how it manifests in our own experience. As the kids say, "it's all good."
Val, I appreciate all the additional connections and spreading tentacles of wisdom! Thanks, my friend.Delete
This has been another year of looking back and trying to make some sense of it. Most of us are exhausted by the effort and disappointed by the tiny returns for the effort. Your piece is very timely, indeed. As far as synchronicities and coincidental moments, my life has had a few. As another guy from a small Western town, imagine my unfolding surprise at finding my true home just 50 miles East of NYC!! The coincidence of my discovering and practicing Nichiren Buddhism on the Upper West Side at the same time as a beautiful runway model from Long Island, then meeting on Canal Street has long beenone of the greatest wonders of my life. She is still my wife and the joy of my life. Coincidence or the sliding of the cosmos to accept a pre-ordained moment? It's the never-ending phantom rap. Our perception as humans is what underscores our lives' works and motivations. I can find exactly what I need from almost every single moment, and figuring it out afterwards is the icing on the cake, for me. Keep wrangling words, Brent!ReplyDelete
I like the way your are exploring precognition, intuition, retro-causation, and apophenia. I believe that when you find meaning in coincidence, the ordinary chain of causality takes a sharp turn that, in retrospect, seems inevitable. That's intentionality. That's art. -ToriReplyDelete
I'm smiling as I read your words and hear your voice and feel present with you in the cafe. The push to wish everyone a happy new year and accompanying pressure to reflect back and inspire forward make me sad and anxious. I love your circular question - which came first or there is no first - it's a loop. I think in a more linear way and trauma prevents me from accessing a love for a song that might have propelled me to be sitting in somerville wondering how in the fuck did I end up here. I have never believed in "luck" which gets thrown into the list with synchronicity and intuition, but I do believe there is a thread that weaves this all together. You loved those songs because of who you are, not knowing why you are who you are but it influenced your move east and ultimately north to Woodstock. Not coincidence. And then let's not discount the work you've invested to stay in this place. Create your community and family that linked you to inspiration and childhood heros. I miss the weekends at your dining room table, drinking coffee doing mental gymnastics until the day drifted away. I love you. cReplyDelete