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joculum has been posting many insightful and challenging (deeply learned too) notes on coincidence, and the nature and meaning (if any) of them.  This is a subject that has entranced me too for years.

In my old story "In Blue", coincidence was integral to understanding human interaction and the social network (the subject of an imaginary science I proposed called "Act Field Theory")  A calculus derived from Act Field Theory could (it was claimed) reduce the entire field of human activity to a measurable, predictable (in shape if not in specifics) flow, chaotic but intelligible.  Coincidence played a role in this calculus, because unlikely coincidences formed spikes in the act field that needed to be accounted for, i.e. reduced to an expected part of the field.  A certain pattern of coincidence was predicted in the theory and measurable by the calculus; coincidences of  greater magnitude than those predicted would form an "implicit spike" and would themselves be accounted for.

All this guff was fun to toy with, but more than one real scientist, or thinker about science, was intrigued -- well, two anyway -- one just recently, you can find his post down a ways below. 

Anyway -- Coincidence magnitude (that is, how spectacular or mindblowing a coincidence was) was posited in the theory as being a function of unlikelihood and meaningfulness.  If it could be shown (but how?) that everybody in Iowa  blinked at the very same moment, that would be a coincidence of high improbability but low meaningfulness, yielding a not-high magnitude.  A random story on the radio about a lost child being sought for, whose name is the same as your mother who that day died, is far less improbable but more meaningful.  Act Field Theory can calculate general levels of expected coincidence magnitude, but of course we can't (since the science is yet to be invented).  What we can do is try to find out how rare high-value or high-magnitude coincidences really are, something that probability theory can't predict because probability theory can't deal in meaningfulness.

So to help future researchers -- do you have a cherished example of an astonishing, high-magnitude coincidence?  Multi-part ones are the best , i.e. ones that connect along more than one parameter (see joculum 's remarks on W.G. Sebald) but all are welcome.  Science seems to have taken little notice of our dream researches; we can try again.


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Nov. 11th, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)
I love coincidences so strong that they seem to be a form of synchronicity. And one of my favorites occurred some years ago when I was visiting my college room mate. We were discussing my wonderful Connemara pony who'd lived to a ripe old age of 31 years. I had him for 29 of those years.

Anyway, his name was "Ballin". As we left her apartment building talking about some of his personality quirks, we nearly bumped into a car parked right in from of the doorway. The license plate on that car was "Balin". That was close enough for me. ;)
Nov. 11th, 2007 01:54 am (UTC)
Many coincidences in my life around the number 23, many connected to Illuminatus! in some ways, providing the context of meaningfulness for 23. Perhaps the best is when my spouse supergee, whom I first met at Track 23 in Grand Central Station, and I went to a Fortfest to see Bob Wilson, not long after his article on seeing messages in license plates came out. We cruised past various buildings, not sure where the activities were, and then saw a car parked in front of one, the license plate "END 23." Sure enough, that was the building, the end of our drive.
Nov. 11th, 2007 04:38 am (UTC)
A few years ago I was scanning, proofing, and critiquing the 800-page manuscript of an unfinished novel by Samuel R. Delany the original electronic files of which had been irretrievably lost, and one day during the period of my work on it I got on a crowded rush-hour bus in downtown Seattle and the older, scraggly-bearded man who sat across the aisle from me pulled from a bookstore bag a newly-purchased (I could see that day's date stamped on the receipt he pulled from the book when he opened it) used copy of the early '80s mass market reprint of Delany's Tales of Neveryon (with the Rowena cover) and started reading it. And I thought, I could start a conversation with this stranger and tell him that I just happened to be in the middle of editing an unfinished novel by the writer he was now reading. But I smiled at the thought and said nothing.

A few minutes later I got off the bus in the University District and sat down to wait for a connecting bus to my neighborhood, and immediately two young women walked by, deep in conversation, and the only thing I overheard as they went by was one woman saying to the other, "Very Neil Gaiman-y, yeah!" And I laughed and thought, looking at the ground in front of me, I could leap up and say to them, You know, I once went to a Day of the Dead party at Neil's Victorian mansion on the plains of Wisconsin! And I laughed, and of course did no such thing, but I did look up at that very moment -- just in time to see a newish white van drive by, on the side of which was painted, in tall elegant black letters, the single word DAHLGREN [sic].
Nov. 11th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)
My wife was in an ill-fated attempt to put together a band in Ohio. Someone brought a second-hand violin she had purchased in Chicago, which turned out to be the very same violin my wife had sold to a pawn shop in Baltimore years before. It even had the same rosin, with a familiar price tag.

Robert Brown
Nov. 11th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
I met a person several years ago, Greg, under somewhat strange circumstances (but not coincidental), and as we got to know each other we discovered that not only did we know a lot of the same people, but that we had been at the same parties and events on several occasions and never crossed paths. But the real coincidence was discovered a year into our relationship (we dated for a couple of years, once we did finally meet) while looking through some of my photos - a year a two before we met someone snapped a picture of me sitting in an outside cafe, and caught driving by on the street behind me was Greg.
Nov. 11th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
I first thought that Act Field Theory was a virulent criticism of Marxist dialectical materialism, back when I thought that your personal worldview was closer to mine. It seemed to me that it was bullshit, and most of the people knew it was bullshit, with a lot of people using expertise in the 'science' to get ahead in the society and a few idiots (like your protagonist) taking it seriously - much like Marxist 'science' was treated in the gone but not lamented tyrannies of Eastern Europe as well as Cuba and N Korea. Now I am not so sure, having learned to my slight disappointment that your worldview is much closer to the standard eastern Academic one than I had supposed.

By the way, you might very well be interested in knowing that modern pratitioners of the enochian system of magick do consider 'All of the angels are fallen angels' to be as authoritative an utterance of Madimi as any of the others.

Nov. 11th, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC)
"the standard eastern Academic" would refer to what, exactly? Ivy League colleges? Non-California learned? Not sure. Different I guess from standard Eastern academic (madrasa? Zen monastery?) Not sure I even have a "world-view" though that's perhaps a little like our now-lost old-time liberals who were quite sure they didn't have a politics.

Your take on "in Blue" was shared by several, including Tom Disch. It's certainly defensible.

I am awed and honored to have entered the esoteric record. Harold Bloom once asked me where I found that line, and I think has never entirely believed that I made it up. Maybe I didn't!
The Standard Eastern Academic - vakratunda - Nov. 14th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
I hadn't actually thought about that story in a while-- not since reading a paper on it in "Snake's Hands"-- but the fact that it comes up now is interesting in itself.

I have been cruising in my career on an A.A.S. degree I got while in the Air Force (in blue no less, though as a hospital worker I more frequently wore white). That was in April 1989. Now, eighteen years later I have found a new love that not only dovetails nicely with my (current) career-- but promises to open up just this sort of line of inquiry. I am going to complete my BA in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science, and then go on to complete an MS in a relatively new field called Data Mining.

I was first intrigued by this science when I read an article in a (relatively) obscure publication on database science (the ACM's SIGMOD Journal, if you really want to know). The article was about the different ways of relating data to one another. For instance: Today, practically all data are related based on the basis of alphanumerical similarity (e.g. 'Date of Birth = 05-05-1963' or 'First Name starts with B') But what if the data you need to correlate is not related by values but by location in a three-dimensional space (as in geographic surveys) or points in time (as in historical events like stock market prices). True, these individual data can be converted to a numerical equivalent, but then essential data are lost in that translation since a numerical equivalent is not the same as a rocky promontory or spike in stock price. Plus, a promontory is more than a height-- it fits into a landscape. Likewise, a stock price is only one datum of many that constitutes an event-- one also needs to look at volume, trend og the general market, and other indicators which will have an effect on the significance of that number which represents the price of one share at one fixed period in time.

This is what is going on in the science of Data Management today and-- come to think of it-- it is starting to look as if at least a nod in the direction of something like how you describe Act Field Theory. So now I need to start reading joculum's journal as well as revisit the story (which, I admit, I had no clue about when I first read)

Sorry about the long-winded response, but this really gets me fred up about something I already was pretty excited about.
Nov. 13th, 2007 12:27 pm (UTC)
You (and another responder elsewhere who found much of interest in Act Field Theory, I will try to find the post for you) have inspired me with dreams of glory -- to be the Jules Verne of a new science. "First put forth in a little-noticed but astonishingly prescient SF story in the 1980s, the ideas that would transform data management and statistics in the 2020s..."
Nov. 11th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
One day about 1990 I was in the Indiana U. Library researching John Dee, and I went to the nearest copy machine to run something off, and the fellow in front of me was copying part of a dissertation. Mine, in fact. It was Tomasz Basiuk, a Gaddis scholar from Warsaw, and when I pointed out the situation, he immediately quoted Gaddis on "the unswerving punctuality of chance." RC
Nov. 11th, 2007 10:24 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of an odd article from a few months ago: http://rigint.blogspot.com/2007/08/author-author.html, which ponders the idea of the universe as an associational database -- basically, a Google-like search engine. Coincidences abound when we "type in" a search term (seemingly unconsciously). Its seems, like Google, that the universe sometimes turns up results that match exactly what we're looking for (a high-meaning coincidence), but also some that are only distantly related.
Nov. 13th, 2007 12:20 pm (UTC)
Eric Van, founder and impresario of Readercon and semipro brain researcher, gave a lecture (he gets to) at R'con about brain chemicals and the occasional preponderance of certain ones (ask him not me), which in certain brains -- say the brains of creative word people -- tend to get search results that are loose in Google terms, to evoke clouds of sort-of relevant or nonrelevant but interesting results, which then the executive function can organize into rich word constructs. Inefficient in real-world get-it-done terms but good for speculating.
Nov. 11th, 2007 11:37 pm (UTC)
If y'all can do something with it
Joculum & I have talked about this stuff for a long while now, & decided to do something about it--one of these days. Real soon now. Several months ago, I installed the Semantic Mediawiki framework on his Lost Worlds Fair website and copied over the texts of the dreams posted here, hoping to find patterns. Neither of us quite got around to figuring out the syntax, or using it, but if any of y'all want to try your hand at recording & marking up coincidences, be my guest.

Send me a message at utopyr at oh, say, lostworldsfair.info--yeah, that'll work, and I'll set up an editor's account for you.

Going to fetch the address for Semantic Mediawiki, I see there's a new piece that will probably make the process easier:
Halo Extension
so things might change unannounced beneath you. But not at the moment--I've got a twenty-minute walk to supper with, by coincidence, joculum.
Nov. 12th, 2007 09:21 pm (UTC)
Re: If y'all can do something with it
If, by some chance, any of y'all tried writing & didn't hear back from me, the utopyr address at lostworldsfair.info finally percolated through the various nameservers & now works. Durn. Pretty sure I did exactly what I've done before that worked. All that left brain action.

"Hoo-ha! They ain't no brain left!"
Nov. 12th, 2007 12:30 am (UTC)
I have some recurring dreams. One takes place in a fog of colors-blues, reds, and I am bodiless, its just my consciousness, I am calling out my friend's name, and she calls out mine. Its like the dream takes place before this life, before we are born, and we arent physical, and we are practicing being alive. I decided to tell my friend M. about it, and wrote her a letter. We live in different states. I have known her since I was a young girl. At the last minute, I bought a little necklace, and put it in the envelope. She wrote back and said, "when I opened your letter, I couldnt believe my eyes." The necklace that fell out of the envelope was one she was just admiring that day at the store, and wishing to buy.
Nov. 12th, 2007 02:33 am (UTC)
dream coincidence
I had a dream in which someone was a psychoanalyst.

Weeks later, in South Station in Boston, I recognized the person from the dream. So I sat next to that person, had a conversation, and found out the the person was a Jungian psychoanalyst.

Nov. 12th, 2007 09:38 pm (UTC)
Probably one of the most meaninful coincidences in my life occured right here on this web site. I had just gotten back into writing fiction after a break of 16 years or so, and that same week I discovered that I am related (distantly) to you, John Crowely, my favorite author! Incidentely, for me "In Blue" was mostly about how it's impossible to derive satisfaction or meaningfulness from ANY system, and that life only fills us with meaning when we decide to participate in it, not just sit back and analyze. cheers.
Nov. 13th, 2007 02:12 am (UTC)
High improbability but low meaningfulness - why just last week there was a red bandanna beside my car at work that I noticed as several of us were leaving the building. Asking if anyone knew who owned it (no one did) I picked it up and snapped it clean of dust and tucked one end in a strange little non-functional spigot sticking out of the building beside my car where the flag whipped in the stiff wind and I figured it wouldn't stay. Against the white stucco building I couldn't see how anyone could miss it. The next morning (16 hours later) I thought about the thing just as I rounded the corner and into the parking lot at work and there it was still stuck and waving in the wind and just then at that moment fell from where I'd placed it to the ground. In that two second window (literally "one mississippi two mississippi") out of 16 hours of two second windows (28,800?) - as if it waited all night for me to return so I could see it drop.

Less probable more meaningful: while my father was away on an a one-of-a-kind extended work trip my mother sent to him an unusually large Hallmark card for their anniversary which fell unfortunately during this trip. It was as big as a picture frame and she had to post it with several stamps before putting it in our mailbox and tipping the flag. The next day it was curiously still there in the mailbox until we noticed that the stamps had changed - it was the exact same card my father had picked out eighteen hundred miles away and two days earlier mailed to her.
Nov. 13th, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)
You know part of the actual science of measuring spikes in both probability and meaninfullness (relevance?) would be to also chart ebbs or dips in the same - this would however be very hard to measure. I don't know if I could idenfity a finite stretch of time defined by results of high probability and low meaningfullness. Except of course for the (insert president of your disliking) administration.
(no subject) - crowleycrow - Nov. 13th, 2007 12:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 13th, 2007 08:30 pm (UTC)
Okay - so this is a multi part story... sorry so long only not really. I'll try to tell the extremely abridged version... Skip it if you like.

I was homeless on Maui for a few months, and munching wild mushrooms every day ... and it seemed like we could get more or less anything we wanted. We would call for Apple pie and later that day some tourists would come by and offer us apple pie... (there are really so many examples of this that it's unbelievable) So... anyway... almost our last night there and we're up on acid on the beach, just four of us, and like a football field across and empty beach from anyone who could have heard us and tried to mess with us, and we were talking about Mauifestation, and if it was trying to teach us something, and you know kinda being cocky and daring the damn thing - okay if you want to prove something show yourself - so okay, lets try to manifest something... and all we really collectively wanted was for someone to wake up and smoke us out cause we were all cracked out at 5 am and wanted to sleep... so we put our hands together under the sand and we try to invoke the phenomenon... and of course nothing happens ha ha ha. This one guy Solace rolls out his sleeping bag there... cut to the next scene halfway across the beach where my partner and I are bedding down - all four of us said damn we felt it before, lets try it one more time, same ritual, no result, we go to sleep. The next morning I'm awakened by a hysterical Solace... "oh shit, oh shit you guys, you won't belive this - oh we of little faith! We never even ran our hands through the sand to see if it came true! I was packing up my sleeping bag and dug up some sand right where we were, not a foot away, and there was a baggie in the sand with a nugget in it!" And I had not taken a breath to say no way when somebody passed by EXACTLY the spot where we were the second time and said "hey Marge, I just found a joint in the sand!"

SO... cut again to Burning Man this year... and I'm telling this story to a kid in my camp. I'm saying I can manifest anything at a big festival with lots of kids on drugs and lots of Chaos, and he said that he had broken two cello strings and I would prove it to him if I could come back with some. Which strings, I ask. C and D. So later that night I'm tripping clit and me and my best friend go the wrong way and end up way out in the middle of nowhere, and there is this sculpture made of dead cellos! Check for stings. None. But just then the artist drives up. Do you have any strings? No. But we shoot the shit for a while... as I'm leaving he says wait a minute... he digs around under his seat... oh hey, I do have a couple, but I only have a C and a D string...

So we head back to camp with our prize, to find this kid coming up on serious psychedelics for the very first time, impossibly standing right out in front of the camp... and we laid them silently in his hands and whispered "anything is possible."

True story, cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. (what a weird thing to say)

Edited at 2007-11-13 08:34 pm (UTC)
Nov. 13th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this -- great story -- though I'm not sure that finding lost drugs on the beach at Maui is exactly high-order improbablility -- though (as noted) anything is possible...
(no subject) - ruespieler - Nov. 13th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - crowleycrow - Nov. 14th, 2007 12:05 am (UTC) - Expand
love it! - (Anonymous) - Nov. 15th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC) - Expand
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