Does a Coincidence Exist if No One Notices It?
The mind’s ability to notice similarities is fundamental to synchronicity.
The human psychological capacity to recognize similarity is fundamental to creating a synchronicity.
“Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound?” is a weak analogy.
Synchronicities are paired events, while a tree falling is a single event.
Several readers have called into question the idea that the mind is the necessary starting point for a coincidence to occur, as I suggested in this post. Several people have suggested that another mind could notice a coincidence happening with a person who does not notice it.
One alert reader wrote:
“The claim is then made that without us noticing ‘unlikely coincidences,’ synchronicities do not exist. I believe this claim is equal to saying, ‘If I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.’ It's also saying that our interpretation dictates whether or not events are synchronistic. There are certainly circumstances where that is the case, but in all cases?”
The reader then described a situation in which another person observed a coincidence that the reader did not notice:
“I was beatboxing (vocal percussion mimicking drums using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice) at an old job next to pet crickets. I didn't know it was happening, but a co-worker of mine pointed out to me that my beat was in perfect timing with the cricket’s noises. This moment was caught on camera, and we could analyze the audio with software to show that the timing was indeed there.”
The reader then reaches this conclusion:
“You can see how my lack of perception of this event did not mean the synchronicity was not happening. Suppose then that events like this happen consistently during my life (they do). ... The role of one’s experience with self-observation and spirituality certainly play a role in the detection (or imagined existence) of synchronicity, but to claim that it doesn’t exist beyond the mind is a little presumptuous.”
The sound of trees falling
The reader evokes this question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
The question of whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in a forest and no one hears it has been the subject of philosophical debate. This philosophical question has been attributed to George Berkeley, an Irish philosopher who proposed the theory of subjective idealism, which suggests that the world exists only in our minds and is dependent on our perception.
Different perspectives offer different interpretations. Much depends on how sound is defined.
Sound as vibrations. If we define sound as vibrations in the air, then the falling tree does make a sound because it produces vibrations, regardless of whether there is anyone around to hear it.
Sound as a conscious experience. If we define sound as a conscious experience, then the falling tree does not make a sound if there is no one around to hear it. In this view, sound requires a perceiver.
A fundamental difference between a falling tree and a synchronicity is that synchronicity is composed of two or more events, while the falling tree is a single event.
Recognition of similarity requires a mind
Whether sound is considered a vibration in the air or something to be heard by a living creature does not provide a direct analogy to perceiving synchronicities. Jung (1973) claimed that synchronicity was also a new form of explanation: explanation through similarity of meaning. That meaning must be noticed by a mind before it can be used as an explanation.
The recognition of similarity between two events typically requires someone to perceive the similarity. The perception of similarity is fundamental to the concept of coincidence. The need for human perception in coincidences relates to the recognition of the connection through similarity of the incidents comprising the coincidence. Of course, each incident must be noticed before the similarity can be registered.
The claim that another person can recognize an unnoticed coincidence involving someone else is, of course, true. The second-party witness is also seeing the similarity between two patterns that had been missed by the primary person.
With the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence and the potential of freely moving robots, computer algorithms programmed to observe events and estimate similarity become imaginable. Currently, algorithms can be used to analyze and identify patterns in data, which may include occurrences that some individuals might interpret as synchronicities. For example, algorithms can be used in data mining or social network analysis to identify correlations or connections between different events or entities. However, the interpretation of these patterns as synchronicities would still rely on human perception and understanding (Wang, Miwa & Moridawa, 2020). The human psychological capacity for recognition of similarity remains fundamental to the existence of synchronicity.
Jung, C (1973) Synchronicity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Wang D, Miwa T, Morikawa T. Big Trajectory Data Mining: A Survey of Methods, Applications, and Services. Sensors (Basel). 2020 Aug 14;20(16):4571. doi: 10.3390/s20164571. PMID: 32824028; PMCID: PMC7472055.