The Art of Coincidence: Understanding the Meaning of Synchronicity
August 19, 2013 7 Comments
HJ: Einstein famously said “God does not play dice with the Universe”. One of the greatest minds in human history had realized, in the context of mathematics and quantum physics, what spiritual masters had known for millennia. There is nothing random occurring in the universe. That is a big thought — a major notion that may take some pondering and time to digest. Things only seem random because we are not able to comprehend the larger framework and rhythms of life and the universe which is balancing the collective manifestations of over 6 billion people, just to consider the human question.
The level of complexity that is required to keep order and balance in reality of such size is beyond our minds to comprehend and so we perceive life as being random, aside from the synchronicities we occasionally experience, which are eloquently described and explained below. The universe is engaged in a beautiful dance that is a spectacle to watch unfold. However, with this is the implicit notion that it is is up to us to recognize or deny this very fact — that there are no coincidences, only an endless, highly meaningful, highly personalized stream of moments and events. The nature of reality is thus that it reflects back to us whatever we choose to perceive and believe, so while every moment is perfectly choreographed, we can still choose to ignore it — to deny its beauty and wonder in favor a more ‘factual’, stifling, limited truth. Yet, this does not mean that its inherent nature does not exist independent of our own perceptions. It simply exists regardless of our personal views. And, once someone does decide to recognize that which is independent of belief, miraculous things begin to happen and suddenly we join the universal dance and begin actively participating in its unfolding, stepping in to our roles as one with the divine in all things. Truly creators of our reality in every sense.
Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence – An Interview with Dr. Kirby Surprise
The experience of meaningful coincidences is universal. They are reported by people of every culture, every belief system, and time period. Traditionally these synchronistic events are made acceptable by ascribing them to outside supernatural forces such as divinities, or in modern times, impersonal archetypal influences.
Dr. Kirby Surprise demonstrates that synchronistic events, based on the activity of the mind, are actually caused by the person who perceives them, and reflect many levels of their consciousness.
His research reveals that what we believe and the way we look for patterns in the world generates synchronistic events that mirror our own assumptions. By decoding the science of synchronicity, Dr. Kirby uncovered how we actually create events and how we co‐create our reality.
A licensed psychologist who makes his living assessing, diagnosing and treating delusions and thought disorders, Dr. Kirby Surprise is certainly qualified to untangle the web of reflected meanings and false assumptions about synchronistic events.
His groundbreaking new book is titled Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Change, and Unlocking Your Mind (New Page Books, 2012).
New Dawn recently spoke to Dr. Surprise.
NEW DAWN (ND): Dr. Surprise, doesn’t it seen strange for someone named Surprise to be writing a book on coincidences?
DR. KIRBY SURPRISE (KS): Yes, Surprise is actually my family name, and I am a licensed psychologist. It’s definitely a meaningful coincidence that I wound up writing a book on synchronicity. Having a name like Surprise is probably one of the reasons the book seems to have had a charmed life in the publication process. The name and the book itself are their own synchronistic event.
ND: What exactly are synchronistic events?
KS: Synchronistic events (SE) are coincidences in which a meaning or message seems to be conveyed by the events to the observer. They happen when the inner and outer worlds become synchronised. Here’s an example from the book that helped fuel my own fascination with SE:
One cool autumn day I was sitting in my car waiting to pick up a friend. I was listening to the radio to pass the time. During a commercial break an ad for the movie Carrie was played. The movie is about a teenager who discovers she has the ability to move objects at a distance. I started having fantasies about what it would actually be like to experience moving an object this way. I had seen the film; during its climax, Carrie uses her power to crush her family’s home. I looked across the street and saw an old cottage. Focusing on the house, I fantasised about what being able to move an object that large would be like. I was remembering a National Inquirer headline about a house that supposedly was turned over on its side by some psychic force. I was wondering what effect such a power would have on a person, how it might feel to move a house.
As I stared at the house the entire cottage shuddered violently. The house started to move. It rolled over onto its side. The roof was now facing me. I was astonished and felt panicky. I stared at the overturned house and wondered, could I have really done this? I wondered if this was just a vivid dream. I decided I was awake and the event was real.
“OK,” I said to myself. “If I just did that, then I want to see the house crushed like in the movie.”
As I stared, awestruck, the house again began to shudder. The roof started to collapse inward as if the centre of the house were slowly imploding. Beams burst through walls and windows shattered as the house began to tear itself apart. A moment later, I saw a flash of yellow paint above the house, then the largest bulldozer I’d ever seen climbed lazily over the centre of the house, crushing the structure into rubble in a few moments. It then started to load the debris into waiting dump trucks. The house had obscured the demolition equipment from sight. With the radio on and windows up, I couldn’t hear the tractor engine. My fantasy had come to pass, my wish fulfilled through a series of synchronistic events.
ND: You’re claiming that not only are these events real, but that we all create them every day. But isn’t it possible that we are just interpreting what we experience wrong, that synchronistic events are a trick of the mind?
KS: Many SE are based solely on the way we interpret events around us. SE can seem like miracles, violating the laws of time and space. You are the actual miracle. You have billions of sensory neurons pointed out into the environment. Each neuron is literally a digital biological computer operating like a binary circuit sending signals to the brain. Your brain is the known universe’s most powerful supercomputer. Your brain has a hundred billion neurons, each as powerful as a small desktop computer, each networked to as many as two hundred thousand others.
One of the things you’re doing with all that computing power is taking trillions of bits of digital sensory information, and constructing, in areas of memory, the universe as you are experiencing it as you read these words. You, the conscious executive functioning in the frontal lobes, is about the size of a walnut. You have no direct contact with the outside world. You experience a neurological representation of the world constructed for you on a stage of the brain’s memory. You are, in effect, your own “Matrix” computer.
The automated systems of the brain that construct this reality for you make vast changes to the information before you experience the data as the reality around you. The brain evolved to match patterns. It looks over vast rivers of sensory information, and memory, to find the patterns you, the executive function, has been interested in.
We evolved as grassland hunters. Our task was to look out over the miles of waving patterns in the savannah, and see through the camouflage of other creatures. We survived by looking at all that data, and deleting the patterns that had no meaning, and completing the partial patterns that meant dinner, or predator. We do this because there is millions of times more information in the environment than we could consciously process.
So, the brain evolved automated systems to do the editing for us. The brain deletes most of the sensory data from the reality you’re experiencing right now. Patterns you have looked for in the past get enhanced, missing pieces added, until patterns with some meaning emerge.
Consider this: the typical reader reads only the first three or four letters of each word in a sentence. The brain deletes the rest of the word, and then fills in the meaning by using the context of the sentence and subject matter. This speeds up pattern recognition while reading. As you read, you have been hallucinating parts of this very sentence. So, when you say we are “just” interpreting events, you’re describing a miraculously complex process.
SE do not appear as “tricks of the mind.” They partially result from the automated systems of the brain searching out and enhancing patterns in your environment. The patterns are always there, but unless they have some emotional relevance to you, what psychologists call “Emotional Valence,” they are deleted and no memory of them is created. SE often appear because you have been consciously, or unconsciously, thinking about something, and the automated pattern recognition systems in your bio-supercomputer highlight matching patterns in the environment for you.
Even more amazingly, you are also altering the randomness of events in the external world as well based on your thoughts and emotions. You are not just altering sensory data, you actually change the probabilities in the outside world as well.
ND: So, you’re saying that we create our own reality?
KS: Only in the sense that I believe some well meaning people often mistake our brain’s creation and editing of our neurological representation of reality for creating objective external reality. Clearly, none of us creates actual reality. We do have some influence over the randomness of events around us though. We create SE that mirror our thoughts and emotions. This happens with all thought processes, conscious, unconscious and transpersonal. We don’t create or change the physical matter and energy around us, but we do influence the relationships between events to create SE.
ND: How much influence do we have over the events around us?
KS: Research is telling us that we do change the randomness of events around us by around 3-5%. The best experimental designs are called “Double Blind Experiments.” In this design the subjects have been randomly selected, and subjects don’t know what the experiment is actually about. The person performing the experiment does not know what the expected outcome of the experiment is either. The experimenter and subjects are both “Blind” to the expected outcome. The core problem this method is meant to help eliminate is a basic, hard-to-swallow, scientific fact: the expectations of the researcher change the outcome of the events in the experiment just by the act of observation and expectation.
The estimation of SE influence being 3-5% comes from Dr. J.B. Rhine. He was a psychologist and researcher. Back in the 1930s a man came to his office with a strange claim. He said he was a gambler, and he could control dice rolls with his mind. Not all the time, but enough so that it was a noticeable effect that turned the odds in his favour. Rather than dismiss this claim, Rhine did what a good scientist does. He said “show me.” They took six pairs of dice; the gambler’s task was to have more dice come up with the number six than could be expected by chance. They tossed the dice. Again, and again, and again. It works. The amount of change over random hovered at about 3-5% above chance. The effect was real. Rhine spent decades doing rigorous experiments on the ability of subjects to change random events. He was having people produce SE on demand. The research, reproduced and confirmed by peers, states the odds are millions to one in favour of us being the cause of this effect.
Rhine concluded events could be changed in the direction of the subject’s desire and attention. These random events included series of coin tosses, die throws, the position objects landed in when dropped in a random manner, the values of randomly generated electrical currents, and the rate of particle release from a radioactive source, among others. In each instance, he found that the probability of these physical events was changed by the psychological expectation and attention of the observers, even though no physical force was detected.
Rhine’s work went beyond proof of personal causation. He found emotional states, such as interest or boredom, affected the subjects’ ability to influence SE. Boredom and anxiety decreased the ability to change the randomness of events in their desired direction. Focused attention and positive expectation increased the occurrence of the targeted events. He found alcohol or caffeine lowered or raised scores respectively. He found emotions and personal physiological states can facilitate or inhibit SE. My book shows people that not only do they do this all the time, but that very complex ideas and emotions can be reflected by SE as well.
ND: If this is the way our reality works, then why aren’t more people aware of doing this?
KS: There is a measure of self-awareness called “The Mirror Test” developed by biopsychologist Gordon Gallup. Animals are shown their own reflection in a mirror. If they recognise the reflection in the glass as their own, it is taken as an indication it is a self-aware being. Humans, some great apes, elephants, and dolphins generally recognise their own reflections; a few birds do as well. Interestingly, some birds and dogs that can’t initially recognise their own reflections can be trained to do so.
Synchronicity is a form of mirror test. People see in the mirror of events around them the image of their own inner life. They see what they think, feel and believe. They even see their fantasies about what causes these reflections. Everyone has experienced meaningful coincidences. They are explained by supernatural and religious beliefs, archetypal influences, or more exotic personal mythologies. SE mirrors these beliefs back to the observer. SE often are mistaken for confirmations of the objective reality of personal beliefs. Most people are looking into the mirror of SE every day. They don’t realise the images they see are their own thoughts.
You have an amazing ability. Your thoughts and feelings, your memories and experiences, are reproduced in the events around you as coincidences. The world presents you with meaningful coincidences based on your inner life. Everyone creates their own SE, constantly. The ability is innate to the way our brains process information into meaning. This seemingly magical ability goes largely unnoticed, unexplained and misunderstood, until it presents itself in spectacular form, simply because people never question the everyday SE in their mirror.
ND: In the book you state religion has nothing to do with spirituality. What did you mean by that?
KS: Many religious doctrines were created to keep people under control and to maintain civil order. You can spot them pretty easily: they consist mainly of behavioural instructions and commands. Jared Diamond describes in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies the evolution of the concept of a single, all-powerful God. When we lived in tribal groups without fixed laws, we generally had social communities of about 60 people. We can’t keep track of everyone in larger groups. This makes it impossible to make good pattern matches about everyone, so we break up into smaller groups. We answered this problem by creating a social technology that allowed many more people to live together. Tribal groups came under the law of a single king, whose authority came from the Gods we created and the punishments imposed on heretics.
Alternately, some spiritual doctrines don’t focus on behaviour; they focus on achieving states of consciousness. They change the frame of reference to creating experiences of connectedness. Christian Gnosticism, Islamic Sufism, Zen Buddhism, and the shamanism of our ancestors, often focused on creating states of ecstatic union. In these states of consciousness, the practitioner experiences existence without boundaries. The subject/object relationship we experience as separateness ceases to exist. You become one with everything. SE demonstrates this connectedness. This connection is not something you earn; it is what you already are. SEs are not something you learn to create, you learn to recognise you are already creating them.
I have heard people ask if someone was “enlightened,” as if it were a possession that enhanced their value. Enlightenment is the recognition of your essential unity and connection with existence. You don’t have to earn it, you are it. Spirituality is connectedness. The stock and trade of most religion is having people trade that natural connection for a code of behaviour.
ND: You’re saying that we all see a reality created by the meanings we look for, and that we do this naturally and unconsciously?
KS: Absolutely. All of us have known decent, rational, people who have what we would consider extreme religious, political or philosophical views. You may wonder, “How could they possibly believe that?” It’s because beliefs are patterns of thought that become reflected in the world around us. People mistake their reflected SE for confirmation of their version of the nature of reality, when in fact they have just come to believe what they think.
As a psychologist, I see people replaying the patterns of past traumas and relationships in their lives over and over. The unconscious recreates these patterns in our lives as a way of trying to process them. SE work the same way. Researchers have commented that one of the most consistent types of SE patterns that manifest around people are reflections of either traumatic or spiritual experiences. The commonality in both is the emotional valence around the events that seems to directly drive the SE.
ND: What are the implications for the way people experience their spiritual life?
KS: Most of us live in what Joseph Campbell would call a “Personal Mythology.” A Christian looks for help from Jesus, and SE appear that seem to be from their deity. Muslims look for Allah, and find the pattern of their thoughts reflected back to them. Pagans look for the mother Goddess, and are answered by however they believe their deity to be. I love to study mythology, what Campbell would call “Other people’s Religion.” I have several dictionaries of Gods and Goddesses. They contain descriptions of thousands of Deities, all of which were the centre of people’s spiritual life and belief, and all, but for a very few, are now considered mere myths of our ancestors.
What has endured are the shamanic and mystical traditions, most of which have a strikingly similar teaching: there is only one being, one consciousness, and we are it. Again, as Campbell would say, “You are, in your deepest identity, God.” The implication here is that when you create SE, you are not altering an external environment. You are seeing a demonstration that your thoughts are not separate from the environment. You are experiencing an aspect of yourself that is not limited to the cause and effect of time and space. There is much more to you than meets the eye, you are connected to everything.
ND: You claim that modern science and String theory support the idea that we are all navigating in many realities at once – can you say more about that?
KS: I am offering an explanatory fiction of SE that fits the facts of String theory, as we now understand them. I have read, I believe in your magazine, articles by people who have come to understand that the Planes of consciousness described by our traditional mystics are actually the newly speculated on dimensions of reality String theory has given us. This is a great step forward, to realise that all matter and dimensions have their own flavours of consciousness.
In String theory our universe has 11 dimensions, all particles being extensions of dimensions linked to other dimensions in various patterns. But beyond even that, it appears our universe is projected onto what’s being called a “Membrane.” It’s as if we exist as Flatlanders on the surface of a thin bubble in what is being called M space. We are not the only bubble universe out there. The separation between membranes is probably as small as the smallest quantum state. This means a virtually infinite number of alternate physical universes in the space around you right now. It used to be a joke when someone said Elvis is performing on stage in Vegas in a parallel probability. It’s not a joke anymore; it’s the standard model of physics.
In the book I’m saying we don’t just live in one probability. We don’t jump from one to another, we live in an almost infinite range of them simultaneously. I believe our experience of the passage of time itself is the result of our movement, at the speed of light, as described in the Special and General theory, through these probability membranes. Our trajectory through these probabilities is altered by our thoughts and emotions because, as our not so ignorant mystics have told us, thought and emotion are dimensions that underlie the physical reality.
Whether this explanation proves to be accurate or not, it is useful. If you believe it, it allows you to navigate probability just a bit, 3-5%, by choosing your thoughts and emotions, to create SE. The problem with explaining SE has always been a kind of “flat earth” thinking that mandated something to “cause” SE. It appears as if the entire structure of the universe would have to be altered to create SE. With an infinite number of probability membranes being travelled through, you do not alter anything: your mental patterns move you through probabilities in which events around you reflect your internal processes. You are already a multidimensional being.
ND: If I wanted to try to prove to myself that my thoughts are being mirrored in the environment around me, exactly how would I go about it?
KS: The best way, as self-serving as it sounds, is to first read the book so that you have a safe context to start with. SE are so responsive that people sometimes get trapped in the house of mirrors of their own thoughts. The book was created to ground people and give them a working context. It also contains a series of exercises that starts at the creation of simple SE, and progresses to creating more complex full personal mythologies. The easiest way to create SE is to simply regularly think about them, then look out into the world as if it is a single, responsive being trying to communicate with you through SE. Expect a response SE, and eventually they will appear. Just don’t forget you are seeing your thoughts mirrored in external events.
ND: What advice do you have for people who are experiencing synchronistic events and might be scared or confused by them?
KS: Relax. SE are not dangerous. The meanings they convey are just thoughts, and only have the reality you chose to give them. They are not even paranormal. They are extremely normal. Everyone is creating SE. You were born creating SE, you have been doing it all your life. SE are part of the natural survival skills you evolved to help you through your life. The best way to use them is as a form of communication with other parts of yourself, to teach yourself connectedness. Choose the patterns you want to look for and expect them to appear as SE. If you become scared or anxious, ask yourself why you are choosing to scare yourself, then move on to creating something fun with SE. Because SE are driven by the attention you put into them, any pattern of SE you don’t want can be extinguished by either looking for a different pattern, or ignoring them until they fade away. If you signal the brain you’re not interested in them, it will gradually stop presenting them.