Sunday, February 14, 2010

Evaluating The Unmeasurable

It's understood that the notion of true "objectivity" is difficult, if not impossible. Still, we like to measure reality by as much reason and rationality as we possibly can. It's also understood that there are many things not easily explained through the methodologies of reason and rationality. You can take the reliance on such methodologies to an extreme (i.e., logical positivism). The stock responses to things that are not easily explained are coincidence, hoax, or delusion.

I would submit that such a cut and dried response is flat out wrong at worst, and unsatisfactory at best. I suspect that a lot of dismissal of unexplained things has its roots in fear, namely the fear of uncertainty. The mind has a predisposition to putting things into neat categories. When something doesn't fit, we want to believe it somehow isn't "real".

When it comes to the shadowy and uncertain world of the mind, many attempt to explain away things by citing mental illness or delusion. In the realm of the psychic, much is dismissed as a hoax. I've heard it said by scientists that in all of the years of such supposed phenomena, not once has anyone been able to prove that it happens. But what is proof? As I've said before, anything presented that is empirical--a recording, a photograph, a video--is immediately dismissed as not conclusive enough, as a possible or probable hoax, or a misinterpretation of data as a result of "matrixing". The bottom line being that there is no real way to test such things. They're not orderly by nature, and they don't perform on cue. Therefore, there is no lab experiment that can be designed that hardcore skeptics would ever accept as providing real evidence of anything.

What is interesting about this very narrow scientific perspective is that certain branches of science are showing us that the nature of reality is very different from what we've taken for granted. At the very least, you would think science would take a second look at such phenomena in the light of new theories and discoveries about the nature of matter and the universe.

Most of us probably don't think much about these things on a day to day basis; after all, they are out of the "ordinary" to some degree. But what interests me are the things that DO happen every day that we frequently ignore, or are taught to ignore. To a certain degree, I would bet that most people have some kind of intuitive foreshadowing of events in their life, or "coincidences" that seem meaningful in some way. How does one evaluate those things? On the one hand, you could simply ignore it as "imagination", but you may be ignoring cues from your own psyche about issues you've managed to sublimate, and are not dealing with effectively. On the other hand, it's probably not prudent to read everything as a "sign" of something else--some measure of validation should take place. But what should it be?

Let me give some examples from my own experience. First--I find myself planning my travel (given how expensive it is) around John Foxx events. Between now and the end of June, three major family events are occurring, two of them out of state. I found myself getting a bit nervous, because I didn't know if I should commit to any or all of these events. As I was looking at the invitations, suddenly I heard inside my own head, "The first two are okay--but don't go to the last. You'll be in London." The last family event takes place on June 5. A week later, I got the announcement that John Foxx would be playing the Roundhouse in London on...June 5.

So, how do I evaluate this? First of all, there had to be a verification--if I had the thought and nothing came of it, then it's just a thought. Second, one should consider the chance of coincidence--out of 3 possible dates, I had a 33.3% chance that there might be a Foxx event on one of those dates. Of course, there is the broader context of 365 days in a year (or however many are left for 2010), and the probability that an event would fall on that one date out of all the possible ones in the year. But I wasn't exactly making a "guess". Where did that information come from? And how did I know I'd be in London, and not somewhere else?

In my own world view, I tend to think that we're all connected in some unconscious way, so that if we just listen to ourselves, the information is already there. Our connections to some people are stronger than others at times, for whatever reason. I don't think there's anything "supernatural" about it. But--a skeptic would suggest that this is a coincidence. My subjective worldview is meaningless in that light. But what variables would make it meaningful to a skeptic? Aside from what I've mentioned, it doesn't follow any "testable" pattern, and any definite conclusions based on that evidence would be unsatisfactory.

Let's take something more complicated--a string of related events. There are a couple of levels of "meaningful coincidence". One might consist of thinking about a person and suddenly seeing or hearing that person's name everywhere--perhaps mentioned in conversation, on a social network, or in a news article. One could argue that this is a sort of "mind matrixing"--you're thinking of the person, so your brain is more sensitive to picking out that bit of information. Easy enough to explain. But what about someone you've not thought of in years, and then suddenly you see their name everywhere--and later get a piece of important news about that person?

I would suggest that those are two of a kind--a series of "symbols" points you to someone, whether it's because you're thinking about them, or because something intense may be happening to them. But there is another level of meaningful coincidence that is more puzzling. Here is my own puzzling example:

I have a Facebook friend who I didn't know personally when I friended them, but met them later on. About a month before I met them (and I didn't know I was going to meet them), I was puttering around my house when suddenly I had a vivid image of talking to this person--I was sitting in a room on a windowsill, and there was a bright light behind me. This person made a very specific statement (which I won't repeat here). The image then faded. I thought it was weird, took a mental note of it, and moved on.

The day I met this person, I expected it to be a short and quick meeting, but it ended up being longer, and we talked for quite a bit. About 3 hours into our conversation, this person suddenly made the specific statement I'd heard in my waking vision--and as it turns out, I was sitting on a windowsill with a bright light behind me. I had that moment of deja vu, which stunned me for a moment, but I didn't say anything.

Two months later, I had e-mailed this same person about something, I had a question that needed an answer. A month went by, and I heard nothing. I had a dream one night that I was walking with my guru, and in our conversation, I mentioned that I hadn't heard from this person. She replied, "Oh, don't worry--you'll have a message waiting tomorrow morning." I then had a strange vision of this person at home, in an angry mood. There was a woman there, who spoke to me about it. I later recognized the woman when I met relatives of this friend. I had never seen her before. And, by the way--I did have an e-mail from this person when I woke up.

Fast forward a few months--I had another dream about this person, that they had posted something to a message board, and it was 2 lines--almost like a poem. I don't remember the exact words, but it had to do with not realizing what could go wrong when things were quiet. As I was waking up, I said to myself, "Oh, I didn't realize that _______ had broken up with their significant other," and "I didn't realize they were still upset over their parents' divorce." I had no reason to believe that either of these things were true, but later that week, I had verification that both things were true--unsolicited verification.

I find this kind of chain of events puzzling. I like the person in question well enough, but they are not a "significant other" of mine, nor are they particularly close to me. Why would my psyche home in on events happening in that person's life? I don't have any valid reason for knowing why this is the case. Yet, it all seems much less coincidental, because I'm getting very specific information, and I'm not necessarily even thinking about this person. To what end, I don't know. Does there have to be an end? Am I trying to impose order on something that may not make a whole lot of sense? I am inclined to feel that some sense to the whole thing will eventually show itself. But again, that's just a feeling. How do I evaluate this highly irrational but nonetheless strange series of events?

In the end, there's not much you can do with such things but observe them and see where they "take" you, if anywhere. But my point is that not everything can be neatly explained and put into labeled packages--and that doesn't mean it's a figment of one's imagination. Neil deGrasse Tyson had made the comment that other "universes" are not obliged to follow our laws of physics, logic, or anything else. It seems that there are things in our own universe that don't follow our own "laws" of logic and rationality. But to my mind, it's further proof that reason and logic only go so far, just as feelings and experiences only go so far. You need both to give you a picture of the universe you are creating.

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