Coleridge, a Toyota dealership, and synchronicity

This afternoon, reading through a decades-old notebook that contained personal journals, dreams, and miscellaneous ideas, I came upon the following:

Spring 1986

One evening I read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from beginning to end, which I had not done, I believe, since junior high school. I thought about how my English teacher in 7th and 8th grade at Kawameeh Junior High, in Union, New Jersey, a Mr. Cohen, a very boring teacher, once read the entire poem out loud to the class.

About two days after this, I went out to New Jersey and was helping Mom shop for a new car. At the Toyota dealer, the salesman, an older Jewish man, after we had been with him a while and Mom was writing down his name on a form, said to me, “Are you the Auster who went to Kawamee Junior High?” Our car salesman was the same Mr. Cohen!

I mentioned the remarkable coincidence to him, thinking he’d appreciate a student from 25 years in the past remembering him reading Coleridge. But he didn’t respond.

Note: Just now, after typing the item from the notebook into my computer for posting at VFR, I remembered something else relevant to this story. It was my mother who first introduced me to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” reading it to me aloud. She was a fan of Romantic poetry. She also introduced me to Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley.

Of course, the materialists will say that there is nothing out of the ordinary about this experience, nothing that points to the existence of mental as distinct from mere physical causation, because such experiences are entirely within the laws of probability, and no non-material factor is needed to explain them.

- end of initial entry -

July 2

Alexis Zarkov writes:

One need not be a pure materialist to be skeptical of synchronicity. As Freud famously remarked, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” The human mind often tends interpret mere coincidences as something significant because we are not good probability calculators shown by the following example. Ask a bunch of people to go home and flip a coin 100 times, and write an “H” when they get a head, and “T” when they get a tail. Statistics instructors often give this as a homework problem. Inevitably some people will cheat and write down a sequence of “H” and “T” without flipping the coin—they make up the data. You can nearly always identify the cheaters with some analysis. We humans are just not good at making up truly random patterns. Here’s another example. How many times must you do a riffle shuffle to get a well-mixed deck of 52 playing cards? The surprising answer is at seven. I would have thought that three or four would be sufficient. What would impress me as a truly anomalous event? If all the volcanoes in the world suddenly erupted at the same time, that would do it. Something like that would be too improbable to be a mere coincidence, and I would be pretty convinced that something supernatural had occurred. But nearly all of these seemingly spooky coincidences we experience in our everyday lives don’t qualify as anything special. Regarding them otherwise is tantamount to magical thinking.

LA replies:

Ok, I won’t call you a pure materialist. But I’ll say this. For you to read a story such as I told, and not see anything in it remarkable and out of ordinary, and, moreover, for you to say that anyone who does see in it something remarkable and out of the ordinary is engaged in “magical thinking,” shows you to be a reductive rationalist who is blind to everything in the world that exceeds your reductivism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 01, 2012 05:29 PM | Send

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