Memory Wonderland

Illustration from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

One of Carl Jung‘s favorite quotes on synchronicity was from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. In a conversation between the White Queen and Alice:

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards. The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday–but never jam to-day.’

‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.

‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’

‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’

‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first–‘

‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’

‘–but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’

‘I’m sure MINE only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’

‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

“What sort of things do YOU remember best?” Alice ventured to ask.

“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied in a careless tone.

So, the White Queen is being foolish, right? Maybe not.  She seems to be claiming that she has a kind of foresight. That may be close to what neuroscientists in this century started to believe – that memory is not really about the past. Memory works to help guide your future actions.

Eleanor Maguire at University College London, uses the White Queen as an illustration, “You need to project yourself forward to work out the best course of action.”

People with damage to their hippocampus can’t remember their past but also struggle with forward-thinking.

The White Queen may be prescient. Or maybe Lewis Carroll gets credit for prescience.

Does Alice remember Wonderland as a dream or did she forget it?

Synchronicity and Significant Coincidences

Carl Jung was a pupil of Sigmund Freud but they were quite different in their views of the world.

Jung was very interested in Eastern spirituality. He  also recognized the existence of some psychic phenomena which he called “significant coincidences.” You’ve probably experienced a coincidence such as thinking of a friend who you rarely see or speak with and suddenly the friend calls on the phone. But Jung was thinking about ones that were not so random. One example he wrote about was when he was taking notes about a patient’s dream about a particular type of beetle when at that moment that exact beetle came in through his window.

Jung and Pauli
Jung and Pauli

One of Jung’s patients in 1932 was Wolfgang Pauli, a pioneer in quantum physics. Their relationship helped lead him to his concept of synchronicity. Jung’s theory was that sometimes events attract each other without any obvious connection. Why? Because they are connected on a level deeper than normal reality.  Their attraction is not a coincidence but more like something described by quantum physics. For example, Jung was interested in entanglement which is when a particle can influence another instantaneously even if very far from it. This has been verified in tests a number of times.

Pauli and Jung combined quantum physics and psychiatry to explain things like déjà vu.  Jung was convinced that these significant coincidences were connected at some deeper level. He also believed that mankind had created a huge common library where the oldest symbols resided, which he called archetypes.

He believed minds could be connected because everything in the universe is connected. In his Jung’s last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, which was completed in his 81st year, he wrote about the synthesis of the opposites in alchemy and psychology.

“We do not know whether what we on the empirical plane regard as physical may not, in the Unknown beyond our experience, be identical with what on this side of the border we distinguish from the physical as psychic. Though we know from experience that psychic processes are related to material ones, we are not in a position to say in what this relationship consists or how it is possible at all. Precisely because the psychic and the physical are mutually dependent it has often been conjectured that they may be identical somewhere beyond our present experience, though this certainly does not justify the arbitrary hypothesis of either materialism or spiritualism.” – Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis: Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy

Four in the Morning

4 am

A while back at 4 in the morning, I posted to Facebook “If in the dark night of the soul it’s always 3 am, then what is 4 am? Asking for a friend.”

One reply was from Darren Cambridge who gave me the link to this TED talk about “the 4 a.m. mystery.”

That F. Scott Fitzgerald line I referenced has stuck with me ever since I read it during some dark nights when I was in college. “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” (from “The Crack-Up“)

I was typing this around 4 a.m. today on this Leap Day. I think my body clock somehow sensed the calendar needed adjusting and woke me up way too early.

There is humor in that TED talk about the synchronicity or coincidence or code or plot or meme about that late-early morning hour which seems to come in in many contexts.

Though most of us who don’t have to get up are still asleep at 4 a.m., some people find it to be a quiet, peaceful, and productive time to work. I don’t.  If I’m awake at that time (or the deadlier 3 a.m. when the soul has its darkest night), it’s because I can’t sleep and I am not in my best mood or at my top brainpower. Today I worked on this post because it just seemed like it was handed to me by some unseen power of the universe.

I’m more likely that if I am awake at that time I would put on the TV and go online with my phone bumping into other North American insomniacs and other-side-of-the-world folks going about their day oblivious to my sleeplessness.

One or two in the morning is really still last night and you might be out having a good time.  Three in the morning really is the soul’s dark hour. 5 a.m. is close enough to sunrise to give one hope.

Four in the morning seems to be something else. Much too late to be partying. Too early to start the day. What the hell are you doing awake at that hour?

The TED Talk speaker really got into this topic. He even created a”museum of four in the morning.”

In a poem by Wislawa Szymborska that the video references, the poet says about “Four in the Morning”:

…The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks.
The hour when earth betrays us.
The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars.
The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.

The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.

No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning
–three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come
if we’re to go on living.

The sun is up in Paradelle now. I reread this post and it looks ready to go out in the world. I am less prepared for the world. I need some coffee. And I’ll probably need a nap this afternoon.

The TED speaker, simply called Rives, does 8 minutes of lyrical origami, folding history into a series of coincidences (Are they?) surrounding that most surreal of hours. Poet, performance artist and storyteller Rives has been called “the first 2.0 poet,” using images, video and technology to bring his words to life.

Just a Few Coincidences

I have been fascinated for a long time by coincidences and the meaning sometimes attached to them. Some people see coincidences as simply what the dictionary says: a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. But some people do see a causal connection. On the more extreme end of that are those who believe there are no coincidences, and perhaps related are those who believe in synchronicity. On the very far end of all this is a belief in fate or destiny, which is a predetermined course of events.

You break up with a longtime mate and the next day while visiting a city you have never been to you run into someone you were briefly in love with ten years ago who has also never been to that city. Coincidence? Fate? Kismet? Destiny?

A few coincidences popped up in my reading of an almanac post for December 11. That is the birthday of novelists Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison. That’s not much of a coincidence, but there are more.

McGuane went to the University of Michigan and his birthday brother Jim Harrison was a classmate. they were both aspiring writers and they became lifelong friends.

Eventually, both writers moved to Montana.

An event in Harrison’s life when he was 25 years old might be described as a coincidence or fate. He was supposed to go on a hunting trip with his father and sister, but for whatever reason, he decided not to go with them. A few hours later, his father and sister were killed when they were hit by a drunk driver.

He originally wanted to be a poet and his first publications were three collections of poetry. But then Fate stepped in. Maybe.

While he was out hunting, he fell off a cliff and hurt his back badly enough that he was bedridden for months. Thomas McGuane told him to try writing a novel while he was lying in bed. Harrison wrote Wolf: A False Memoir and next published the novella he is probably best known for, Legends of the Fall. The book got more attention because of the film version of this story about three brothers and their father living in Montana (played by Brad Pitt, Henry Thomas, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn) who struggle to stay together when a woman comes between them.

Harrison published a dozen novels and two dozen novellas before his death in 2016.

McGuane moved to Montana in 1969. His first novel, The Sporting Club, was published that year and from the sale of the film rights, he bought a Montana ranch. The novel also was adapted into a 1971 movie.

McGuane’s first three novels—The Sporting Club (1969), The Bushwhacked Piano (1971), and Ninety-two in the Shade (1973) are all stories of men living in a kind of isolation. Many of his ten novels are set in Montana.

In 2019, he published Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories.

Both men were very much outdoorsmen. When McGuane wasn’t writing, he was probably fly fishing or riding horses.

Thomas McGuane Remembers His Friend, Jim Harrison

Close Encounters, Three 3/13’s and Synchronicity

“Causality is the way we explain the link between two successive events.
Synchronicity designates the parallelism of time and meaning between psychic
and psychophysical events, which scientific knowledge so far
has been unable to reduce to a common principle.”
― C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung

A friend loaned me the book There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives years ago because I had been talking to her about synchronicity. Carl Jung coined the term to describe coincidences that are related by meaningfulness rather than by cause and effect. ” Jung introduced the idea of ​​synchronicity to get away from the “magic and superstition” which surrounds some unpredictable and startling events that appear to be connected.

I found another similar book, There Are No Coincidences: Synchronicity as the Modern-Day Mystical Experience, whose title suggests that the “more than” part of these experiences may be mystical.

“We do not create our destiny; we participate in its unfolding.
Synchronicity works as a catalyst toward the working out of that destiny.”
David Richo, The Power of Coincidence: How Life Shows Us What We Need to Know

I would think that all of us have had some otherwise-unrelated events occur to us for which we assumed some significance beyond the ordinary. The common example is when you happen to remember a person you have not thought about or seen for many years, and at that moment your telephone rings and it is that very person. What is the statistical probability that this can happen? Very small; very unlikely. For some people, the explanation moves to the paranormal.

I was looking at an almanac page online on March 13th and came upon a story from 3/13/1997 about when thousands of people reported mysterious lights over Arizona. Around 8 p.m., a man in Henderson, Nevada, saw a V-shaped object “the size of a 747,” with six lights on its leading edge. The lights moved diagonally from northwest to southeast. Other people sighted seeing the same thing over the next hour throughout Arizona. They were seen as far south as Tucson nearly 400 miles away.

A rendering of the object seen created by witness Tim Ley that appeared in USA Today.

I remember those “Phoenix Lights” being covered by the media in 1997. Having grown up in the late 1950s and 1960s, I heard many tales of UFOs.

A repeat of the lights occurred February 6, 2007, and was recorded by the local Fox News television station. But, as was the case with almost every UFO appearance in my youth, it was explained away by officials. In this case, the military and FAA said that it was flares dropped by F-16 aircraft training at Luke Air Force Base.

Reading that account made me think of my own one and only possible “close encounter.” That phrase entered the mainstream with the release of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

My own encounter would be of the first kind – seeing a UFO fairly close (within 150 meters).

My sighting was in the summer of 1993 in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. UFO sightings in the Pinelands seem to be fairly common. I saw what I would describe as a ship that was (as I later discovered) a lenticular saucer. It was motionless over a lake in the early morning (about 3 am). It had no sound or flashing lights, but a thin red-lit ring encircled it.  I had no camera. No one else was there with me. I watched it for about a minute and then it lifted vertically a few feet, tilted at an angle, and took off rapidly, vanishing from sight in a few seconds.

An encounter with a UFO that leaves evidence behind, such as scorch marks on the ground or indents, etc., is said to be of the second kind. Spielberg’s film deals with the third kind – an encounter with visible occupants of a UFO. The fourth kind involves the person being taken and experimented on inside the alien craft. The fifth kind involves direct communication between aliens and humans, as portrayed in the 2016 film, Arrival.

I don’t know what I saw. I never read any news reports about it. I never reported it.

After I read that almanac entry on the Phoenix Lights, I looked at another almanac website for more information and that site that told me that on March 13 in 1855, Percival Lowell was born. Who was he? Born to a wealthy family, he graduated from Harvard, but he passed on working in the family business and instead did a lot of traveling and travel writing. In the 1890s, he read that astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had discovered what appeared to be canals on Mars. Lowell was fascinated by that idea and put his fortune into studying the Red Planet.

He believed that the canals offered proof of intelligent life. He built a private observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Astronomers and scientists were skeptical of his view of intelligent life on Mars, but the general public was intrigued by his view. Lowell’s writing and observations had an impact, not as much on science as on the infant literary genre that became known as science fiction.

These two coincidences on March 13 led me to check out that date on Wikipedia. The event that caught my attention on yet another March 13, in 1781, was that the English astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. Well, “discover” may be too strong because John Flamsteed had observed it in 1690, but thought it was a star. Herschel was the first to figure out that it was a planet and not a star.

He observed the planet’s very slow movement and determined that meant it was very far from the Sun – farther than Saturn, which was the farthest known planet. He named it after Ouranos, the Greek god of the sky. Since then, astronomers have discovered 27 moons orbiting the blue-green ice giant. The moons have literary names, mostly characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Uranus is an odd planet in that its axis is tilted so far that it appears to be lying on its side with its ringed moons circling the planet vertically.

Was it a coincidence that I found these three stories that day? Is there some synchronicity that these three events occurred on the same calendar date?  Is there a connection among these three March Thirteenths?

Though I believe in synchronicity, they seem to be coincidental. I found connections because I was looking for connections. But I am open-minded about the idea. I do believe in coincidences, and I do sometimes believe that things occur which stretch my belief in coincidences.

“Coincidences give you opportunities to look more deeply into your existence.”
Doug Dillon

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
– Albert Einstein

“I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope
that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern,
then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.”
Jonathan Ames

No Coincidences

I have heard people say that there are no coincidences. That seems extreme. Sometimes two things happen that seem oddly connected. You thought about calling your old college roommate who you haven’t seen in 10 years, but before you could, your phone rings and it is that roommate. Coincidence or is there some other explanation?

Some people believe that it is Fate. Or perhaps it is some force of the Universe. Maybe that force is actually God. In all of those cases, it is something greater than us. It’s not a coincidence.

There are also people who take the opposite view. Some statistically-oriented people may explain coincidences with the Law of Truly Large Numbers. I didn’t make that one up. The law of truly large numbers is a statistical adage attributed to Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller.  It states that with a sample size large enough, any outrageous thing is likely to happen.

This idea that we simply focus on unlikely events and notice them more than many likely events is said to debunk any supernatural phenomenology. So, it is all about probabilities.

You may have heard that in a room of 23 people there’s a 50-50 chance of two people having the same birthday. In a room of 75 there’s a 99.9% chance of two people matching. This is known as the “birthday paradox” though it seems to many people to be a counter-intuitive paradox because we just aren’t very good about grasping the compounding power of exponents.

Those statistics won’t stop those who believe in larger explanations for coincidences that contain messages for them personally. If someone explains a strange coincidence as something that “was meant to be” they might also say that “coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

My favorite explanation comes from Jungian psychology. Coincidences are actually examples of synchronicity. Years ago, a friend gave me the book, There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Liveswritten by a Jungian psychotherapist, Robert Hopcke.

Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity” for coincidences that seem too strange to be coincidences. These are events that seem to be telling us something. Are we being taught a lesson? Should we be changing our lives?

“Synchronicity: A meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” – Carl Jung

The word synchronicity comes from the Greek words ‘syn’ (together) and ‘chronos’ (time).

Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is linked, and so all humans must also be connected in some way. He called this the collective unconscious and that human psyches are linked and we that communicate in the form of meaningful coincidences, or synchronicity.

I believe some coincidences are just coincidences. But if you tell me about a coincidence that seems far too unlikely to be just a coincidence, synchronicity might be my explanation rather than Fate, God or the bidding of the Universe. I am probably not alone in wanting to believe there is some greater meaning to things that happen in our lives.