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A Synchronicity?

November 14th, 2007 · Posted by Who Knows? · 2 Comments

Here is an example of what science is about…

Three weeks ago, I experienced what some might call a synchronicity (a concept introduced by Carl Jung). Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events which occur in a meaningful manner, but which are causally unrelated. In order to be synchronous, the events must be related to one another conceptually, and the chance that they would occur together by random chance must be very small.

A “fundamentalistic atheist” (sorry about the label, can’t be helped) will typically assume that synchronicity is nothing other than observational selection, i.e. bias. We remember and notice the interesting coincidences more than the uninteresting ones. The “fundamentalistic theist” will typically assume that synchronicity is definite proof of the existence of their God.

The scientist? What will the scientist do? Ideally: neither. The scientist would think: “Hey, this is interesting! Can’t we test it? Let’s test whether it is nothing other than coincidence, or something more…” (assuming funding could be found for such experiments). A scientist that would love to “prove” it, should ideally try his or her best to disprove it, in order to avoid his or her own bias. (See What is Science?)

Incidentally, the Wikipedia page seems to indicate this matter is not yet satisfactorily settled. (Not that you can take Wikipedia’s word for it, though. Wikipedia is not God after all 😉 ) The (ideal) scientist would go look for literature on the matter, to find out what experiments have been done, and what can be learned from them. He/she will then design another experiment, possibly improving on previous ones, or otherwise re-testing previous ones, to test whether this is merely coincidence and observational selection or sampling bias, or whether there really is some unexpected and unpredictable coincidences that we can not yet explain.

If the scientist finds these coincidences, the conclusion is not “Wow! There is a God!” If the scientist finds it is nothing other than sampling bias, the conclusion is not “See! There is no God!

In the first case, the conclusion is just: Ah, there is some surprising but measurable effect that we don’t yet understand. It would seem there may be some form of “connectedness” between things in the universe. Whether that “connectedness” is God or not, is not relevant to science. (Jung, for example, believed synchronicities occur too often to be random chance, even after controlling for observational selection.)

In the second case, the conclusion is ah, it would seem accounts of synchronicity really are nothing other than a case of sampling bias. Even if the sequence of events are purely random chance, I think the subjective experience of meaning behind a random sequence of events, can still be attributed to “God”. Why not? What’s wrong with that?

In this sense, I’d argue there is no way of either proving or disproving “God”. In this sense, God isn’t within the realms of science. In this sense, I feel I must agree with Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of “non-overlapping magesteria”, though I have yet to read any of his books.


ps: So the discussion of such experiences is then not in the realm of science. (I wonder, does that put such discussions outside the realm of the “Freethinking Maties” society?) If it’s not a scientific discussion, what is it? Theology perhaps? Or something similar at least?

Categories: Religion and Science
Tags: · · · · · ·

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Charl Botha // Nov 14, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Take the above article, replace every occurrence of “God” with “The Flying Spaghetti Monster”.

    Now, isn’t that much better?

    On a different note, why would you want to attribute the subjective experience of any of these completely explicable low-probability events to anything other than your own superstition? After having done this, you can replace superstition with skepticism. Voila, one (1) upgraded human being! 🙂

  • 2 Hugo // Nov 16, 2007 at 12:56 am

    The main aim of this post, was to inform the Creationists that science is not anti-God. Science is just science. Evolution is not a big conspiracy to try to push God out. We’ll get back to the Creationism series in December.

    God doesn’t change no, but our understanding of God changes…

    I think Einstein had the right idea.

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