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Connecting with Coincidence

I’ve been away for a very long time, I know. I have been planning to get back to this blog, and now I have a very good reason to do so, at least for this one post at the moment.

Psychiatrist Dr. Bernard Beitman, who I have known for a number of years, has created an excellent website devoted to coincidence, called “Connecting with Coincidence.” It is a delight to explore. You can read about the definition of coincidences and the history of their study. You can share your own stories, even your favorite movie coincidences. You can take the Weird Coincidence Survey, developed by Dr. Beitman and two colleagues, and find out how open you are to coincidences. You can sign up to receive word about his book when it comes out. There are even videos to view (partway down the “About” page).

Dr. Beitman also keeps a blog on the site called “The Coincidence Connector,” in which he shares stories of coincidences and his thoughts about the phenomenon. One of the posts that best reveals his own thinking is “The Elephant, the Statisticians and the Faithful,” in which he criticizes both the statisticians and the faithful. In his view, both come to this strange and mysterious phenomenon carrying the baggage of preordained conclusions about reality. In the statistician’s worldview, coincidences are the inevitable product of the fact that in any large data set low probability things must happen. In the faithful’s worldview, coincidences must be the hand of God.

Dr. Beitman doesn’t rule out either point of view. Likening both to the story of the blind men and the elephant, he says, “The statisticians and the faithful have only part of the truth, not all of it.” Other valid explanations for coincidence include “subconscious intentions and behaviors, group dynamics, yet to be discovered scientific forces, and mystery.” He therefore concludes the post with an invitation: “I invite my statistical and faithful colleagues to join with me in the search for a clearer understanding of the place of probability and mystery in the study of coincidences.”

This captures Dr. Beitman’s approach to coincidence. Most people involved in studying coincidence and synchronicity have a particular slant on it. (My focus, for example, is on the very specific form of coincidence that I call CMPEs). And whatever that specific slant, it inevitably includes a specific explanation, one that wraps up the phenomenon in a neat package. Dr. Beitman wants to approach things the other way around. Rather than closing the books here at the start, he wants to throw them wide open. He wants to embrace the whole phenomenon in all its facets and entertain all possible explanations. He invites us to stand with him before this phenomenon in humility, admit that we don’t really know what is going on, and make coincidence a genuine subject of scientific study.

Dr. Beitman’s larger goal is to found a field of study called Coincidence Studies. He has a knack for bringing different thinkers on this subject together under one roof (in fact, he has generously brought me in under that roof on more than one occasion). He has, for example, guest-edited two issues of Psychiatric Annals that focus on coincidences. I personally think that this is the direction in which things ought to go. What we have now is a disparate collection of popular writers expressing their own particular views on coincidence. No mechanisms are in place by which those views can rub up against each other or hit up against hard data. We need dialogue. We need research.

I sincerely hope, therefore, that Dr. Beitman is able to get something started. In the meantime, please do check out his website.

Why everyone really believes in free will, part 2

In the first part of this post, I expressed my conviction that “everyone always has known and always will know that free will exists.” In this second part, I will explain my reasons for making this claim, which I fully acknowledge seems uncharitable toward those who argue, often with passion and conviction, that there is no free will.  Continue reading ›

Why everyone really believes in free will, part 1

Free will is a hugely important topic, which is why I am taking another crack at explaining my argument in its favor. As a philosophical concept, it is fashionable to reject it. Yet if we really dispense with it, so much of what we call life goes with it. If there is no free will, for instance, then no one can be held responsible for anything. Our actions are just the inevitable result of an unbreakable chain of prior causes. No choice can intervene to break or even bend this chain, for choice does not exist. Therefore, you are not responsible for anything you do, and no one else is responsible for anything they do to you. We are all just computers running the programs installed on our hardware. Just as a computer does not interject “choice” into the running of its programs, neither do we. And just as a computer cannot be held responsible for its actions, neither can we. Continue reading ›

Is there a backstage staff at work behind the scenes?

I have been away from this blog for too long, I know. I want to thank those of you who expressed a desire to have me back. It’s been an unusually busy time, but the pull to resume blogging here has been tugging at me for some time, and I’m finally obeying it.  Continue reading ›

Interview about CMPEs on Inception Dialogues

I was recently interviewed about CMPEs by Bernardo Kastrup on his blog Inception Dialogues. Bernardo is a philosopher, scientist, and entrepreneur who maintains two blogs (the other is Metaphysical Speculations, which I avidly follow), and is the author of three books on philosophy. I really enjoyed the interview, as Bernardo had spent a lot of time looking at the CMPE pilot study and therefore had very pertinent questions as well as insightful comments. He has a ten-minute version of the interview in addition to the full-length version. If you do check out the interview, you might consider leaving a comment on Bernardo’s blog. He has just started Inception Dialogues and I wish him the very best in building a viewership.

Book review: Science and the Afterlife Experience, by Chris Carter

Just how strong is the case for the survival of consciousness beyond death? You may never get a better answer to that question than in the pages of Chris Carter’s Science and the Afterlife Experience, the concluding volume of his masterful trilogy on science and the paranormal. The first two books—Science and Psychic Phenomena and Science and the Near-Death Experience—had been important books for me, so I eagerly awaited this third book. Continue reading ›

The drought/downpour pattern

Part of why I’ve been mostly silent for a while on this blog is that I have been in a major “sign drought.” I had a CMPE on August 1 and then for eight weeks there was nothing. Continue reading ›

Are CMPEs merely the product of our expectations?

I had the pleasure the other day of being a co-interviewer of Dr. Kirby Surprise, author of Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind. Alex Tsakiris, the host of Skeptiko, had asked me to join him for the interview. Continue reading ›

“The consciousness that is ‘talking to us’ in a CMPE”

After listening to my interview on Skeptiko, my friend Barbara Whitfield wrote me about it. I had referrred to her in the interview as the woman who got almost a third of the CMPEs we recorded in the pilot study. Quite remarkably, out of 16 CMPEs recorded by 17 participants, 5 of those were Barbara’s. Continue reading ›

Why would CMPEs convey the wrong impression?

 

In my last post, I shared a CMPE whose message I believe is, on the face of it, incorrect. Its claim seemed to be that ancient history needs to be rewritten because of the testimony of megalithic sites, whose stones were simply too large to move with the simple technology we believe those ancient peoples possessed. Since I do not believe the part about the stones, I surmised that “its real message is that our understanding of history in some significant way needs to be rewritten (but not because of megalithic sites).”  Continue reading ›