Saturday, November 20, 2021

"No coincidences" implies a single-author creation

For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.

-- Hebrews 3:4

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players

-- Shakespeare, As You Like It

According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, every house is built by a human builder or builders, and every house is also built by God. Everything that exists and everything that happens, even when it seems to be (and is, at one level) the work of human actors or blind natural forces, is also something for which we can and should thank God. In my 2018 post "Shining Buddha problems" (written before I was a Christian), I make various attempts at understanding this idea, arriving in the end at what I call the "literary approach."

In trying to come up with some way of conceptualizing such an idea, I keep coming back to the metaphor of a book, which is why I’ve dubbed this the "literary approach." Everything that happens in a work of narrative fiction can be explained on two different levels. Assuming the story makes sense, every event therein will have a cause within the world of the story and can be fully explained on that level without reference to the author -- but from a "higher" point of view, that of the larger world within which the story-world is contained, every detail of the story is without exception the work of the author.

I go on to discuss how this metaphor can be used to conceptualize the idea of a "meaningful coincidence" -- or the coincidence which at another level is no coincidence at all. 

Take, for example, the storm on the heath in the third act of King Lear -- a perfect example of a meaningful coincidence. Viewed from within the story, the raging storm is a natural meteorological event caused by the mechanical unfolding of the mindless laws of physics, and the fact that it coincides so nicely with Lear’s psychological rage, and with the impending descent of Britain into political chaos, is just that: a coincidence. There is no within-story causal connection between the storm and what it mirrors -- and if there were -- if, say, Shakespeare had portrayed the gods specially arranging the storm for the purpose of providing a meteorological counterpoint to Lear’s psychological state -- that would be aesthetically objectionable . . . . But from a point of view that transcends the story itself, we can see that Shakespeare clearly arranged the coincidence on purpose and that we are therefore justified in considering it meaningful.

Even in King Lear, though, it seems that there are real coincidences -- truly meaningless coincidences, intended neither by the characters nor by the author. When Kent says, "the poor distressed Lear's i' the town; who sometime, in his better tune, remembers," only a person with a particularly strange way of thinking would notice the name Israel spelled backwards and connect it with Judges 2, where Israel is "greatly distressed" because, while they do sometimes in their better tune remember the Lord and serve him, they keep backsliding into idolatry. Surely no such message was intended either by Kent or by the Bard -- nor, if I may presume so to speculate, by God himself -- and yet there it is. There are so very many possible connections one could notice, it seems impossible that they could all be intended, all meaningful, all not-really-coincidental.

In a comment on my post "No escape from coincidence," Bruce Charlton also proposes a literary analogy, even choosing the same author as an illustration.

Since this world is being-created by God, it is coherent at a spiritual level. Some of this coherence is important for salvation or theosis, which is the purpose of creation. These are the synchronicities.

But some of the coherence is an unintended by-product of the sheer fact of coherence of creation.

An analogy might be a good Shakespeare play - which has that coherence to it which is a product of deliberate authorial intention (coming via the author's mind); but there are other coherences (or 'symbolisms') which may be discovered by the scholar - and which are unintended products of the fact that this is a play, written by one Man, and was written so that it held-together.

If we look, there are many cross-correlated aspects of a play that are secondary to the nature of the thing, the fact of its coherence as a work of art.

I don't think this quite gets us to "no coincidences." There are just so many different things that could be connected, and so many different ways of connecting them, that it just seems inevitable that connections should arise "by chance," without reflecting either intention or "the sheer fact of coherence." Of course, this is a bit of a metaphysical assumption, and it's not as if there's any control group to compare things to. I mean, the world created by God is all we know, so we can't exactly look at an incoherent world that wasn't created and see if it differs from the real world in terms of the presence or absence of coincidences.

Using the literary analogy, though, let us look at what I would consider to be a truly meaningless coincidence in a coherent literary work by a single author. Our earlier "Lear's i' the town" example will not serve, because it is a coincidence between something in the text and something outside of it. If the text represents the created world, though, all coincidences must be within the text, without reference to anything outside it. (Obviously, any apparent coincidences we can observe in this world will be between various features of this created world, not between the world and something outside of it.) No Shakespearean example comes to mind, so let's take one from the Book of Mormon instead. 

Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal. . . . I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken (2 Nephi 9:39-40).

It is an old Sunday-school standby among Mormons that "spiritually-minded is life eternal" (a slight modification of a phrase from Romans 8:6) forms the acronym SMILE -- and this is juxtaposed in the text with the implication that the words of truth would make the unclean frown but the righteous smile. (A biblical equivalent would be Matthew 7:7, where the first letters of the three clauses spell out ASK.) The word smile is also found in the BoM, so this counts as a proper within-"world" coincidence.

Now I am reasonably certain that this is not an intentionally created feature of the text. Obviously the Nephite authors writing in Egyptian could not have had English acronyms in mind, and while Joseph Smith could in principle have chosen this particular wording for its acronym potential, I see no evidence of that in the text. (Wouldn't he have paired it with something like "the flesh-regarding ones will never see life"?)

Here's another sentence, taken from a BBC article (qv), that coincidentally includes a series of words that form the acronym SMILE: "Although they had a tough time, none of our volunteers had to put up with the wide range of lethal microbes that killed so many in London's East End in the mid-Victorian period."

I would say that this differs from the 2 Nephi SMILE in that the coincidence does not seem in any way appropriate, intelligible, or meaningful. No one would say, "What a coincidence!" if you pointed it out. It doesn't even really count as a coincidence -- by which I mean it's not what people have in mind when they say "There are no coincidences."

Anthony Hopkins has a name that resembles ant-honey and thus suggests hymenopterid insects, and the poster for the movie he is most famous for, The Silence of the Lambs, also features an insect, though one of a different order. Note also how Mark Antony (source of the English name Anthony) fell in love with a woman whose name resembles Coleoptera, another non-hymenopterid order of insects, and was co-triumvir with Lepidus -- Lepidoptera, of course, being the very order of insects to appear on the movie poster for Silence of the Lambs! What are the odds? The movie is about someone called Buffalo Bill who skins people. Buffalo is by far the biggest city in New York that ends with the letter O, and Anthony Hopkins's first name ends with ONY. Buffalo is called the Nickel City. and both Nickel and Hob (whence Hopkins) were formerly used as names for goblins. Hob, is a diminutive in which the initial letter of the original name (Robert) changes, and one of the few other English diminutives with this property is Bill, so Hob suggests both Buffalo and Bill. After the Hob element comes kins, which is just an anagram of skin -- so "Buffalo Bill skins" is right there in his name. We might also note that only two of the characters in this movie bear the title "doctor," and that both of them are played by actors named Philip Anthony H. who go by Anthony rather than Philip: Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins, and Philip Anthony Mair Heald. Sir and Mair are also equivalent because of the similar meanings of the Latin roots (senior, "the elder," and maior, "the greater") from which they derive. I could go on and on like this, and I've never even seen the damn movie! I picked Hopkins at random and just started writing.

These are junk coincidences, pseudo-coincidences, the kind of thing you'd find in "King-Kill/33" or Finnegans Wake (Downard and Joyce, sad James and happy James). Is anyone really prepared to maintain that they are all meaningful, all not-really-coincidences, all put there by God on purpose?

Anything as complex as the universe -- or even just as complex as Finnegans Wake -- is inevitably going to include billions and billions of coincidences above and beyond those intended by its creator -- yes, even by an omnipotent and omniscient Creator. It's statistically inevitable.

But this literary analogy has led us astray. Who noticed that "Lear's i' the town" contains the name Israel spelled backwards? I did -- I, one of the readers of King Lear. But if all the world is a stage -- if the "literary work" we are considering is the universe itself -- then we are not readers or spectators but characters -- all the men and women merely players.

As someone who exists outside the world of King Lear, I can notice coincidental patterns in it that were never intended by the author -- truly coincidental patterns which must inevitably exist as a matter of statistical necessity. If a character in the play is made to notice a "coincidence" within the world of that play, though -- well that noticing was deliberately written into the script by the author, and we can therefore be absolutely certain that it is not really a coincidence at all but an intentionally designed and potentially meaningful feature of the text. If this universe was truly created by a divine Author, and all that happens in it was scripted by him -- if we poor players are not in any sense co-creators but simply follow a preordained script as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage -- then there would still be coincidences in the universe, but we characters could never notice any of them. "There are no coincidences," while technically false, would still be practically true for us. Noticing something and wondering if it was "just a coincidence," we could confidently reason, "No, nothing we notice is ever a coincidence, for we are characters in a play. Everything we notice, we notice by the grace of the author, and that means that it is not a coincidence but an intentional and meaningful feature of the play."

This is what I mean by the title of this post: "No coincidences" implies a single-author creation. It implies that everything in this universe, including everything we ourselves do and say and think, is fated, "scripted" by God. It means we have no free will but only a simulation thereof -- just as Hamlet seems to deliberate and vacillate and finally make a decision, but in fact every detail of everything he says and does is really decided by Shakespeare.

But we do have free will, and this means that coincidences -- true coincidences -- are inevitable. If I write a novel in which Bob and Alice meet by chance in a coffee shop, the meeting does not really happen by chance at all, because "Bob's decision" and "Alice's decision" are in fact made by me, the author, and I deliberately made them to coincide. In a world with real free will, though, Bob can freely choose to go to the coffee shop at a particular time, Alice can independently make a similar decision -- and these two decisions, being the work of two different free agents, would be causally unconnected in deepest possible sense and as true a coincidence as it is possible to imagine.

I think this is perhaps the metaphysical foundation of my delight in coincidences, my insistence that they are coincidences, and my resistance to the idea that "there are no coincidences." A coincidence as such may be meaningless, but in a deeper sense it is an indicator that we live in a world that has coincidences -- an open-ended world, co-created by many truly independent free agents. It is a reminder that free will is real, and as such its very meaninglessness reveals the meaningfulness of our existence.


Ra1119bee said...


In our conversations, I've shared with you my personal experiences with the esoteric
and premonition dreams.
Especially the event where I had a dream in 1990 that came tragically true Five years later
and resulted in someone's ( my new neighbor ) untimely death.

I saw the EXACT EVENTS of the woman's death in the 1990 dream and from HER perspective.
( Remote Viewing )

As I shared with you in my conversations I do believe that the woman who was killed, had
Free Will but did not heed the warning.
Intuition is a power source. Nothing more, nothing less.

Intuition gives us the opportunity to change direction and that's where Free Will comes into play, IMHO.
When we ignore our Intuition, it's because our Ego is at the Helm at that given time.
It's not complicated.

That event involving the death of the women and a gazillion other esoteric events in my lifetime, has convinced me that linear time is an illusion.
I believe that Our Souls transcends linear time.

When we try to intellectualize (i.e. "literary approach" ) spiritualty and put it neatly into a logical theory/concept

There's no logical concept that explains exactly how it's possible that 'we' ( and I believe we all have the gift of intuition ) can see 5 years into the future, is there ?

Again, All IMHO

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Debbie, I agree that precognition is a very real phenomenon, and that this fact has major ramifications for our understanding of time and free will. I agree that our souls transcend linear time, but I would not say that linear time is an illusion. It is very real, and taking it seriously -- particularly, by attempting to think rigorously about the slippery concept of time "elapsing" -- is what leads us to the realization that linear time is not the whole story, that there are higher temporal dimensions. J. W. Dunne is the one who first made this philosophical breakthrough explicit, but it was expressed very precisely centuries before by Isaiah the Prophet: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

See these posts for more details:

However, I think precognition and coincidence are two separate questions. Skeptics may dismiss apparent premonitions as coincidences, and believers in precognition may insist that they are no such thing -- but that's not the same as saying that there are never any coincidences at all.

I believe that precognition (and telepathy, and remote viewing) are real, and I would disagree with those who use "coincidence" to dismiss the evidence for those phenomena, but I also believe that there are such things as coincidences, and that their existence is metaphysically important.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm "There no coincidences" really means (something like) that 'chance' is not an explanation, 'chance' does not genuinely explain.

In general; I think you are talking *as if* the meaning of what I might term 'cross-correlations' (your synchronicities) was out there in the world, and was merely discovered by you - as if you were a non-cognitive camera or recorder.

But if (as I believe) there is no real separation between our consciousness and the world (because our consciousness developed from the world, incrementally separated out from it), and if there is no knowledge without consciousness (a knower) - then all the above listed coincidences are co-created by you.

Your ability to find these coincidence comes from your mind interacting with the external world. If there was no mind, they would not exist - and a different kind of mind (or your mind at a an earlier stage of development) would not find them.

But really to make sense of the above, we cannot take a time-less and static slice through reality - as is implicitly happening when we cross-correlate phenomena. If the reality is dynamic Beings through Time; then the Beings and the Time cannot be left-out of the genuinely explanatory explanation.

To recap - I think the problems and paradoxes you experience are a consequence of the model - which excludes Beings (your-self) and Time (the 'processes' of reality).

Because you have stilled and chilled your picture of reality; you (of course) cannot make meaningful sense of the coincidences that you notice. The meaning is a 'dynamic' thing which exists in the relationships between Beings, and reality does not really have the 'edges', the distinctions, that are applied to it by dividing up the world into static categories.

You are chopping up the world this way and that to make categories, and to seek and find coincidental relationships between them - and then you are forgetting that it was you who did the chopping (on grounds that need minds) and being puzzled that these coincidental relationships seem to lack meaning.

It is the process of production, the 'modelling' of the world, which strips away meaning.

Life did not do the chopping-up of itself, nor does reality observe and interpret itself. Always there is a consciousness.

lea said...

Synchronicity is the language of the divine, but i believe there is a delicate approach or even set of rules to be applied. Which i wrote about in a flow 5 years ago and then managed to lose all of those notes. All i can offer now is i think it has to be found rather then sought most of the time, which is a bit vague. One argument for this at least is the way that english and concurrently most other world popular languages have been infected with sorcerous nonsese over the ages which can only be fully avoided by communication that does not strictly flow through to the symbols we use all day, or only subsets of those. Or large combinations.

Bruce, that sounds very Advaita to me. Or maybe whatever other technical name, but the exact idea of the universe dividing itself to experience itself is not new which you are obviously aware of. I am not convinced this world with all its meddling provides the grounds needed to break free from any of this beyond rhetoric, but i digress.

Ra1119bee said...


Yes, I agree, Linear time exists for all physical Matter such as our physical blood body, that's quite obvious.
Our physical body can be crushed, it's weak, it stinks, it ages, dies and rots and it can also been manipulated and controlled.

Our physical body requires dependence from an outside source ( be that source ever so humble ), from cradle to grave,
food, shelter and water .

I think you and I both agree that we are more than our Physical Body and yes I agree with your statement : linear time is NOT the whole story and that there are higher temporal dimensions.

I absolutely agree with your statement, which would explain, at least to me, why our Souls has the ability to transcend this particular duality ( Negative and Positive Polarity ) dimension of time and matter.

All Power sources in this dimension can be and OFTEN IS manipulated, and that especially includes knowledge, history, mythology, religion etc.

Everything that we think we know, , is a belief. A strong belief perhaps, however a belief
nevertheless, and in that regard, a belief is an illusion.
( because a belief, may or may not be true ).

When we experience something ourselves, then it becomes our Truth. It may not be another person's truth because it didn't happen to that person, but it doesn't mean that our experience was a lie or didn't happened, or is not the truth.
It's true to the person that experienced it.

As far as coincidences, as mentioned I personally do not believe in coincidences.
That's not to say that I believe that every aspect of our daily routine lives have deep
symbolic meaning.
Of course it doesn't, but I do believe that symbolism and Sacred Knowledge ( which includes synchronistic events )
is a Universal Language that absolutely intertwines with our
lives on this planet ( dimension ).

I personally believe that significant events and other souls who cross our paths occur for a reason, which I believe many of those reasons are for our Soul's growth, or perhaps it's for the other person's Soul's growth.

Not everything that happens to us, is for us.
Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes we're the student.
As mentioned previously , I personally believe in Reincarnation.

Perhaps our Soul is trying to get our attention, when something out of the ordinary
happens to us, and we say to ourselves :
"Hmmmmmm... That's odd."
I believe our Collective Consciousness ( our innate harmony with our Fellow man )
is more connected than we know.
Perhaps that's the synchronicity we experience.

Many times we don't know the reason why a particular event happens to us or for us, until many years later, however when looking back we can see ( if we are wise to see ) how it all connected, and the lesson we needed to learn from that particular experience or person.
Maybe that our Soul's quest all along, to find our balance/center.

As I mentioned, I found your blog because of a dream about Tulips and Oswald Wirth.
I don't think that dream experience and finding you was a coincidence.

If nothing else, many of your opinions and perspectives posted on your blog (s ), mirrors my own, and interestingly I have been going through personal issues where I have felt alone in my beliefs.

As I'm sure you know, Rabbit Holes in this dimension are a very lonely journey.

Finding you, validated my belief that there are no coincidences. In other words ; Perhaps I needed to find you
and your knowledge, to continue on my quest, without doubt.

Interestingly, this isn't the first time this type of synchronicity ' event ( right place , right time, one dot connecting to another ) has happened to me.

Our Soul is a powerful source ( which I believe our Soul is the domain of intuition and creativity and is connected to God ).

IMHO and belief, of course ;-)))

John Goes said...

If your point is that co-incidence naturally arises from the free choice of many beings, and not merely the arrangement by God alone, that makes sense to me. That follows from free will and a conception of God as a relatable being.

But taking the coffee shop meeting, it is not clear to me that there can be a “pure coincidence” of choices involved there; or perhaps it is just not clear to me what that means. Bob and Alice’s choice to come to the coffee shop doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Other beings can influence their desires, or the possibilities that are presented to Bob and Alice, and the unfolding of the world that allows Bob and Alice to make it to the coffee shop. If we want to avoid materialism assumptions in our thinking about it, it seems that we can do no more than say that many beings have co-created the world to lead to Bob and Alice arriving a the coffee shop. Whether there is a specific meaning to Alice and Bob finding each other there is something that perhaps only Bob and Alice, and maybe some other “friend”, can know or discover.

It seems to me that the crux if your post is about whether these hidden purposes are always present, or not. If Bob and Alice fall in love, for instance, where they drawn together somehow before meeting in the coffee shop? Did others conspire to nudge them into meeting? I don’t know myself. I tend to think the answer is in the specific situation.

But this is the crux of your post, is it not? Whether or not specific meetings of people, or conjunction of ideas, is always intended by some beings, perhaps unknown to us, or not?

John Goes said...

One thing my characterization of your post left out is your general point about how individuals can create meaning where it may not originally have been intended. To me a clear example of this is in the “discovering” of animals/gods in constellations of stars; or finding paintings/pictures in cloud patterns. One can find very vivid pictures in this way, and present them to others who can see the same rich scene.

Was this intended by the author(s) of the clouds? Generally it does not seem to be. And I think that one of the points of your post is that this finding of patterns where no pattern was intended is creative, and there is a freedom in knowing that one can create in such a pure way, without being “handed” the pre-intended pattern from God or some other being. This is reminiscent of God creating the world from primordial chaos.

No Longer Reading said...

Good post.

I had not thought about how free will implies true coincidences before and found the literary metaphor helpful.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Thanks very much for the thoughtful comments, everyone. I hope to go into some of the issues you raise in future posts.

lea said...

`Not everything that happens to us, is for us.
Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes we're the student.`

I need to remind myself of this on a regular basis.

Never mind, Lord . . .

Please, God, save us from this terrible storm -- oh, never mind, it's just stopped! -- traditional prayer Good night, Westley. Good work...