If you’re a fan of the pop band The Police, you no doubt own a copy of their #1 selling album “Synchronicity.” Back in the 80’s, the title’s meaning was a concern of mine. When I got older, I became a bit more curious.
Synchronicity is a supernatural theory proposed by Swiss psychological pioneer Carl Jung (1875-1961). The word, coined by Jung, essentially means “meaningful coincidence.” Jung proposed that our world and existence is already scripted, and fate drops hints to us all the time that the supernatural connects events that occur in our lives to send us secret messages or lead us to certain fates.
How did Jung develop his theory? According to The Skeptic’s Dictionary, “…improbable facts exist” is the explanation Jung gave. Apparently because unusual or unlikely events occurred, that’s justification for saying “Ghosts and demons are trying to tell us something.”
For somebody who was so well educated, Jung seemed fairly ignorant of some relatively basic mathematical principles. The most important one is “the law of truly large numbers.”
The law postulates that a bell-shaped probability curve suggests that the majority of results of any happenstance will tend to fall in the middle of the possible results. For instance, throw two dice 100 times, most of the results will fall between, say, 33 and 66, the median. Fewer results will occur further from the median, and very few “snake eyes” or “box cars” (double ones and double sixes) will occur. Gamblers and mafia are already well acquainted with the law of truly large numbers. When you approach the craps table (throw two dice, bet on the results), double ones and double sixes have very large payouts, and that’s because they don’t show up very often.
But they do show up. That’s the kicker when it comes to the law of truly large numbers. When you have astronomically large numbers, the probability of something truly unusual, even bizarre, happening is rare, but not impossible. And the fact that something can happen means it will, eventually, happen.
Take, for example, your birthday. Say for example your birthday is April 14, 1992 and you are attending a football game in a stadium that holds 50,000 people, according to Skeptic’s Dictionary author R.T. Carroll, “most fans are likely to share their birthday with about 135 others in attendance. The notable exception will be those born on February 29. There will only be about 34 fans born on that day.” It’s even possible in that group to have a few people born the same day and same year as you. There’re only 365 days in a year, and billions of people on earth.
When I was editor of The Mountaineer newspaper in Rocky, one of the friends I made was a fellow named Todd Hicking, great guy. We worked together on the community powwow committee. Just happens I was over at his place watching a pay-per-view fight, and I asked him how old he was (just curious) He said, “I was born February 27, 1971.”
I was also born February 27, 1971. Just a bizarre coincidence.
Human beings tend to work very hard to see patterns in events and if you couple this with some people’s superstition and it’s not hard to see why some feel bizarre happenings can only have a supernatural explanation.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.