by Val Kessler, VI Form
Every coincidence is scientifically proven to be an outcome of probability. However, I do believe humans can interpret events into something meaningful. A given meaning will vary from person to person, depending on how he or she thinks and what is happening in his or her life at the moment of a coincidence. For instance, if someone is having a bad day and, as soon as the radio is turned on, a sad song plays, he or she may think of this as synchronicity, or the viewing of two events as connected, albeit they do not have a causal relationship and would not normally be related as meaningfully connected. Yet, if someone who was having a great day heard the sad song at the same time, also after just turning on the radio, he or she would not think profoundly about the song and may even change the station. Therefore, synchronicity is an important human condition as it helps us add meaning to the world around us on a satisfactory psychological level. However, it is still not existent due to any forces other than chance and higher mental and cognitive processing–an action that only humans are capable of.
The term synchronicity was coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who used the term to reference “coincidences of two or more events that he felt could not be due to chance alone” (Symbols 60). He saw these events as sharing unus mundus, or “one world,” the dimension behind all life through which meaningful symbols could cross from the unconscious to the conscious (Symbols 60). This theory works on the basis that all life is fundamentally interconnected or, indeed, unus mundus. Jung believed that internal psychic processes and conditions affected physical events (Symbols 60). Therefore, to Jung, synchronicity is when two or more events that seem like more than coincidence occur; it is due to the influence of internal mental states on external events, which are possible due to the underlying connections of all things in the world.
A common coincidence is when a song plays on the radio or an iPod at the moment a person has a certain thought that is related to the lyrics, the music, or the artist of the song. To test synchronicity, I placed my iPod on shuffle in order to see if the first five songs would “speak” to me about some current aspect of my life. If they did, this could certainly be interpreted as coincidence: a high mathematical probability exists that my songs on my iPod would connect to me since I was the person who liked them and downloaded them to my device. But, seeing if the songs have a meaningful relevance to my life’s events and current mood could also be seen as not being chance nor coincidence; Jung may very well call this synchronicity. It’s all about perception. The first five songs that played on shuffle were “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake, “Holy Grail” by Jay-Z, “1985” by Crash Kings, “100 Years” by Five For Fighting, and “Tell Me Everything” by Just Surrender. As I listened to them, I intentionally analyzed each line, looking for a way to relate them to my life. Afterwards, I realized how ridiculous the loose connections I had tried to make were. For instance, in “Cry Me A River,” I literally took the song title and applied it to the next day’s weather forecast, which predicted rain. None of the songs really meant anything to me at that moment in my life, yet I still searched for some kind of significance because I wanted them to be meaningful. Although I believe synchronicity to be, essentially, mental perception, I still suspended my disbelief with the desire to feel that my iPod could speak to me. So, I placed a meaning on the songs regardless of whether or not one really existed.
As humans, we search for meaning. Everywhere we go, we are analyzing and processing information in ways that are specific to us as individuals and to us as a species. What we gain from this processing is dependent on manifold things: who we are, how we’re raised, where we’re raised, what we’ve been taught, how our day is going, how our lives are going, what we’ve seen, and what we’ve experienced. All of these affect how we process information at any given moment. Therefore, they also affect how, when, and why we interpret certain things as significant and view patterns in random occurrences. If I hadn’t purposely been testing for synchronicity when I placed my iPod on shuffle, I am quite sure that I would have just skipped all those songs until I found one I was in the mood for, rather than listening to them in a search for consequence in their lyrics. Because I already had a purpose in mind, I was searching for an iFortune of sorts. An old trick of the fortune telling trade is to be vague when beginning to tell someone’s fortune and slowly become more specific by observing positive or negative physical cues of the client. In other words, make a general statement that could relate to anyone’s life, then try to narrow the fortune down to sound legitimate based on what can be inferred from a client’s body language, reaction, demeanor, and appearance. This is very similar to how I searched for synchronicity in my songs. They didn’t exactly correlate to my life, but I didn’t need an exact thing to relate to in order to search for synchronicity. The songs themselves were the broad first statement. Then, as I listened closely to the lyrics, I attempted to fit them into my life. This was reading the body language of the songs and myself, then interpreting them to have some sort of value, but with a synchronicity lens rather than a future one. Just like a real fortune, I, as the fortune teller, drew ridiculous connections in order to sound credible and please my client, myself. As the client, I wanted to believe, and the songs as the iFortunes really didn’t have any connection to my life other than chance.
Interestingly enough, right after listening to my songs and trying to see the pattern in them, I went on Twitter. As I was scrolling through my feed, I noticed that my friend had recently Tweeted, “My iPod can read my mind today.” It was too perfect. The timing was impeccable. Yet this was still dependent on probability, as are all situations like this. On the most basic level, going back in the very near past, probability for these events included this pattern: I am enrolled in the classes AP Psychology and Getting LOST, that I read about Jung’s theory, that I had chosen to test synchronicity, and that I did my test during my free period rather than doing other homework. All this may sound like it was destiny because of how many other options I had and didn’t choose. But how can something, with a little work with variables and probabilities to be mathematically quantifiable, be destiny? The answer is that it can’t be. Destiny has to do with a higher power that pre-determines lives. There may be a higher power that pre-determined science, but science itself is the driving force and explanation for most things in life.
Furthermore, this is again just perception. If I had been mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed, I could’ve read my friend’s Tweet and not even paused. What about his 328 other followers for that matter? For any of them that saw that Tweet, it could have held meaning for them and it also could not have. Maybe other followers of his were having the same experience that day and when they saw his Tweet, they also marveled at the coincidence. Still, this is less than miraculous. Synchronicity hinges upon the fact that two experiences are relatable. In psychology, there is a type of brain processing called the Similarity Principle of Gestalt Laws of Organization. This states that our brains have an overwhelming tendency to perceive information that is similar as grouped together. Gestalt psychology also focuses on the fact that a majority of people tends to perceive the world as many different elements that make up a whole, rather than seeing the world as individual pieces that are unrelated. A key element of this is that our processing and understanding of individual elements, objects, and events create a meaningful perception of the world around us as a whole. We perceive unrelated things with meaning and create a larger picture with this meaning. Again, synchronicity is contingent on the brain and how it processes information.
There is no source of synchronicity other than our brains and probability. People read what they want into any event or multiple events. Coincidence happens and chance accounts for it. But synchronicity is taking a coincidence a step further. Instead of simply observing two things that are usually unrelated as happening in a way or at a time in which they seem related, synchronicity requires the addition of meaning. Think of it this way: if humans didn’t exist, the idea we have of coincidence would still exist but synchronicity wouldn’t. Probability would still affect the world, but our minds wouldn’t.
Val Kessler is a VI Form day student from Southborough. She loves dogs, and her favorite subject is biology.