Sunday, 21 September 2014

Synchronicity of obscure significance - could it be isolated pages from the complete story?

Synchronicity is defined (sometimes) as 'meaningful coincidence' - but that begs the question as to what is meaningful. (Plus, of course, when something is meaningful, it is not coincidence - but somehow causally linked - purposive.) In particular, meaning may only become apparent later, or may only become apparent under certain circumstances.

So coincidences that seems so unlikely they can hardly be coincidence, may nonetheless be apparently rivial or bizarre and difficult to regard as either significant communication. The may indeed soon soon be forgotten (although if the synchronicity events had been understood they might well have been remembered).

My analogy is the dream images and frangments mentioned in Tolkien's Notion Club Papers, pages 189-191 -  

- which evoke in the character Ramer a strong 'feeling of hidden significance' - the nature of this significance remains hidden until much later; when he realizes the scenes are fragments of a larger story.  


And that strong feeling of hidden significance in remembered fragments: my experience now, though it is still very imperfect, certainly bears out my guess, as far as my own dreams go. My significant fragments were actually often pages out of stories, made up in quieter dream-levels, and by some chance remem- bered. Occasionally they were bits of long visions of things not invented.

 'If long ago you'd either read or written a story and forgotten it, and then in an old drawer you came on a few torn pages of it, containing a passage that had some special function in the whole, even if it had no obvious point in isolation, I think you'ld get very similar feelings: of hidden significance, of lost con- nexions eluding you, and often of regret.'

 'Could you give us any examples?' asked Jeremy. Ramer thought for a moment. 'Well,' he said, 'I could have done so. I've placed several of my fragments in their proper setting now. But the difficulty is that when once you've got the whole story, you tend very soon to forget which part of it was the bit you used to remember torn out. But there are a couple that I still remember, for I only placed them recently; and I still remember my disappointment. The whole stories are often not particularly good or interesting, you know; and the charm of the fragments is often largely in being unfinished, as sometimes happens in waking art. The sleeping mind is no cleverer than itself; only it can be less distracted and more collected, more set on using what it has.

 'Here's one case: it's only interesting as an illustration. A row of dark houses on the right, going up a slight slope. Their backs had little gardens or yards fenced with hedges, and a narrow path behind them. It was miserably dark and gloomy. Not a light in the houses, not a star, no moon. He was going up the path for no particular reason, in a heavy aimless mood. Near the top of the slope he heard a noise: a door had opened at the back of one of the houses, or it had closed. He was startled and apprehensive. He stood still. End, of fragment.

 What would you expect the emotion to be that this aroused?' 'Like going round to the back-door after closing-time and hearing that just being shut as well?' suggested Lowdham. 'It sounds reasonable enough,' agreed Ramer with a laugh.

 'Actually it was a happiness that brings tears, like the thrill of the sudden turn for good in a dangerous tale; and a kind of dew of happiness was distilled that spilled over into waking, lasted for hours, and for years was renewed (though diminishingly) on recollection.

 'All my waking mind could make of it was that the picture was sombre. It did rather remind me of - or rather, I identified it, in spite of some misfit, with a row of cottages near where I lived as a small boy. But that did not explain the joy. And, by the way, if it had really been a picture of that row, there should have been a pump just at the top of the slope. I put it in. I see it now in dark silhouette. But it was not there in my earliest recollection, not in the original version. Also, I was only the he of the scene in the way one does (or I do) identify oneself variably with this or that character in a tale, especially with regard to the point of vision. The scene was observed more or less from his point of view, though I (the producer) was just behind (and a little above) him - until he stopped. At the emotion-point I took his place.

 'The story that scene came out of is known to me now; and it's not very interesting. Apparently it's one I made up years ago, somewhere in the fifties, at a time when, while awake, wrote lots of things of the sort. I won't bother you with it all: it had a long and complicated plot, mainly dealing with the Six Years' War; but it wasn't very original, nor very good of its kind. All that matters at the moment is that this scene came just before a lovers' reunion, beyond the hope of either the man or the woman. On hearing the noise he halted, with a premonition that something was going to happen. The woman came out of the door, but he did not recognize her till she spoke to him at the gate. If he hadn't halted, they would have missed one another, probably for ever. The plot, of course, explained how they both came to be there, where neither of them had been before; but that doesn't matter now. The interesting thing is that the remembered fragment, for some reason, ended with the sound of the door and the halting; but the emotion left over was due to part of the story immediately following, which was not remembered pictorially at all. But there was no trace of the emotions of still later parts of the story, which did not finally have a happy ending.


So, the fragments get their significance, apparent meaningfulness, their from the surrounding and narrative which links and continues the snapshots of memory.

Perhaps unexplained synchronicity-type coincidence will likewise yeild meaningful content at some future time - if we pursue their meaning and are alert to the clues. 


Nicholas Fulford said...

The meaning is not coincidence, but the event may be random.

Example, I was walking with my mother to see a film 30 years ago, and was approaching a car that had international stickers all over the rear bumper and trunk. My grandfather used to have a car upon which he had similar stickers. It is not a common sight in Toronto. As we approached the car, I said, “You are thinking of grandfather.”, and I received a mighty peculiar look. I then said, “Look at the car in front of us.” And then she knew. We both encountered a stimuli to a strong common association. The event was a random event that triggered an emotional response based on a common association. Synchronicity.

A strange feeling of hidden significance, a teasing sense that something of significance is close at hand but just out of reach. That is the significance, or it may be. It is a very alluring thing to be teased in that way. I feel almost compelled to dig deeper, and the fact that I know that something of significance is drawing me is what makes the pursuit irresistible. Later, it may be that as the pieces fall into place that the actual narrative is remarkably mundane, and in its complete form not terrible interesting. But the process of seeking the answer is what is significant, the missing pieces of the puzzle are drawing me deeper into the pursuit. The significance may lie in that rather than in the resolved narrative. In many things in life it is the pursuit rather than the acquisition that is most meaningful. The acquisition or resolution may actually be a great disappointment compared to the process.

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder”.

“In the desert, my longing is the painful joy of desolation. My desire fills me, and like a burning bush that is not consumed I persist in a state of total love born of absence.”

Narrative incomplete engages me, and especially when it is my own personal narrative. If I know in advance there would be nothing of meaning, as it would just be a script playing itself out as it must.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - Yes, but you are making the a priori *assumption* that the events are random and any meaning is psychological/subjective.

Thought experiment: you are in a world in which there really is meaning to *some* synchronicity events - these events really are incomplete glimpses of a larger narrative - but you live in this world with the attitude that all coincidences *must* be random.

That thought experiment world is this actual world we live in.

You will never detect the meaning which is really there, and which is all around you; if you have already decided that - whatever experiences you have - there is no meaning to be found.