Coincidence or Destiny?, by Phil Cousineau

Phil Cousineau’s Coincidence or Destiny?: Stories of Synchronicity That Illuminate Our Lives (1997) is a compilation of almost 90 anecdotes in which individuals recount remarkable experiences they consider to have been synchronous.  Essays by Cousineau discussing the concept of synchronicity, and musing on the significance of the stories, top and tail the collection, and he provides brief introductions to each section.

The respondents are drawn from various walks of life, but there is an American Esalen-style vibe running through the book.  It is debatable if all of these reports can be characterised as synchronous, however that concept is defined.  What marks them as significant is the import they hold for the individual.

The slipperiness in pinning down synchronicity can be judged by Cousineau’s summation on the final page.  He explains that synchronicities are ‘more than chance, less than causality; more than magic, less than fantasy.  More an enigmatic pattern suddenly detected, than a solid link in a chain finally proved.’  One might then deduce that you know them, or rather feel them, when they happen, even if they can’t be explained.

Some of these are intriguing, others are the sorts of unusual things that happen from time to time.  Many could be attributed to psi processes.  More prosaically, there is no mention of the law of large numbers: it suggests that out of an enormous pool of interactions there are bound to be some which, viewed in isolation, appear to defy probability.

The sense of an underlying order to the apparently random may, then, be an imposed meaning generated by our pattern-making cognition, rather than an aspect of reality.  Even Cousineau concedes that extracting meaning from the connections requires a degree of faith.  It is up to the experiencer to deduce what is significant, and thus considered synchronous, and what is not, injecting a subjective element.

What one takes away from the book, if read with a generosity of spirit, is a feeling that there is a profundity to life if we could but see it.  If willing to be open to the interconnectedness of the Universe, there will be a greater likelihood of such events occurring, with beneficial consequences for mental and spiritual health, as well as the social good.

For the sceptic, it is not possible to define the supposed mechanism by which these conjunctions occur, and overinterpretation of chance seems the most likely explanation.  The event may have been compelling for the individual, but that does not mean it reflects an underlying reality, however much we might want there to be one.

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