Omniscience & Synchronicity

We are all familiar with déjà vu, and with synchronicity, and similar “spooky” experiences, in which some deep, deeply significant connections between apparently quite unrelated things become suddenly apparent to us. The standard explanation of such things is that there is nothing to explain; as pattern recognition systems, we look for and find patterns even where they are not really present. Such experiences then are simply mistakes.

But it won’t do. I say this, not just because such experiences feel as if they are unusually profound insights into reality, in which our apprehension of the truth is better than normal, although that is indeed the case, but because the standard explanation makes no sense.

Each of our moments arises with some knowledge of where and what it is, and of whom. We say that we remember these things, but that’s not enough either. That such knowledge is inherited from our past moments, as indeed it certainly is, does not tell us how that information from the past is able to locate us in the present and tell us what is happening. What is it, pray tell, that connects your past moments to this one in your present?

In his opus 19, the Psalmist sings:

2 One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3 Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard,

4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.

How? How do subatomic particles know how to find each other in order to interact, or when they do, how to “shake hands” with each other, so that they may each inform the other’s future by a physical transaction – an exchange of information?

The longer I go on, the more it seems to me that the fact of Divine omniscience has the straightforward consequence that, because each creaturely event has its origin in God, and is therefore wholly informed thereby, each such occasion therefore simply must know, at some level, and at least by implication, everything that God knows (this being the basis of the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis, and the reason we can reason abstractly to logical, moral, and musical truths). I don’t see any other way that creatures could know, as they arose, what universe they were in, or what causal inputs and outputs were therefore relevant to their situation. If creatures didn’t implicitly know where and when and what God thinks they are, and so what they ought properly to be about, then how on Earth could they ever figure out their worldly nature and locus, before it was too late to do anything coherent? How can one be even an ignorant baby flailing about in the crib, unless one first knows how to be just that?

There cannot be any such thing as “mere” coincidence, that is utterly meaningless. Existence is never just disorderly. On the contrary, it is orderly per se. And to say that things are related in orderly fashion is just to say that they are related meaningfully; that everything, in just being, is ipso facto significant, is about something, tells something.

Our apprehensions of synchronicity, then, would seem to be moments when the veil is slightly parted, so that we may see Providence at work.


Addison’s deathless gloss on Psalm 19:

THE spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heav’ns, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.
Th’unwearied sun from day to day
Does his Creator’s pow’r display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the ev’ning shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the list’ning earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence, all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball?
What though nor real voice nor sound
Amidst their radiant orbs be found?
In Reason’s ear, they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine:
“The hand that made us is divine!”

16 thoughts on “Omniscience & Synchronicity

  1. Well, there is the little matter of discerning whether an apparent coincidence has the meaning it seems to have to us. No doubt if we were like God already, we could easily see it.

    Before we see face-to-face, the danger that lies that way is supersition.

    • True. But this applies to any sort of experience. A correspondent wrote to me only a couple hours ago, “… that’s a great explanation of synchronicity. When attuned to God, we sense some of the things he knows. However, the devil can mix things up too. We have to bear that in mind. He can, for whatever reason, make it seem as if we are attuned to God or make it seem as if we are attuned to other people to create some form of enchanting complacency. Darn bastard, he even takes the fun out of telepathy.”

      I replied: “I know, right? You have a wonderful vision of angels and stuff, and it seems all pure and holy, but nevertheless one of the ugly things you have to bear in mind throughout is that it might be from the Adversary. Sucks.”

  2. More synchronicity – I was looking up this passage, and various glosses, from this same Psalm (and no other) yesterday and the day before.

    But the version in the King James Bibles is incomparable IMHO – even better than the Book of Common Prayer version by Miles Coverdale (which I believe was C.S. Lewis’s favourite Psalm and version).

    Nonetheless, this above analysis is very useful to me, thanks!

    Aside. As an outdoorsman, do you notice how often authors (like Addison here) falsely assert that the moon rises at night? (When it rises about an hour later every day; and is up at night only for about half the lunar month.)

    I have often wondered how this idea of sun by day and moon by night arises. Is it ignorance? Is it because the time when the moon does rise at night is around the full, and the moon is more noticeable then? Or it is just a literary conceit – which ‘feels right’.

    Or because it would be convenient and symmetrical and well-ordered if the nights were always lit by the moon, as the days are lit by the sub – so people assume that it is…? ”

    …as the ev’ning shades prevail, The moon takes up the wondrous tale”.

    If only.


    • Well, the notion goes all the way back to Genesis, and a creation myth the Hebrew shepherds shared with the Chaldean magi, who were profound astronomers. Neither sort of men would have thought for a moment that the moon shone only at night. The whole thought world of the ancient Near East was ordered in celestial terms.

      Perhaps it is just as simple as that the moon does often light the night, whereas the sun never ever does so!

      I still remember the first time I saw the moon up during the day. It must be one of my earliest memories. I remember being totally staggered at the sight, and realizing that my chthonic astronomical theory had to be wrong. How odd, to have a Kuhnian paradigm shift as one of my earliest important experiences.

  3. “…the standard explanation makes no sense.”

    Yup. Which (in another bizarre instance of synchronicity) reminds me of a post I either made at C:tB a while back or was in the process of writing, re: the atheist argument that man, being a pattern-seeking machine, would of course “see” God/gods where none exists, and which I was thinking about just this morning.

    If the experience of transcendence is a product of man’s “pattern-seeking” nature, why is it that we should see *this particular* false pattern, over and over again, in virtually everything, when there’s a potentially infinite number of falsehoods out there to falsely perceive? Why should virtually all peoples in all times in all places until a small minority born about five minutes ago all perceive the same falsehood, within a narrow range of error?

    For that matter, if there’s no real pattern there, if God/gods is/are just the epiphenomenon of a pattern-seeking mind, why should we believe that any of the other patterns we observe are not equally illusory? After all, if we can safely discard several centuries of natural theology without even bothering to read it, why can’t we likewise discard several centuries of natural philosophy? How do we know “meiosis” isn’t just the arbitrary invention of a mind projecting order into a meaningless and ungoverned chaos?

    How can we even trust that we are “pattern-seeking animals” if our tendency to seek patterns is, itself, a pattern, which we must never trust? And if there’s no reason, then, to believe that we are in fact pattern-seeking animals, why should we believe that the pattern of transcendence stamped in creation is untrustworthy?

    • Just so. The proposition that we are nothing more than pattern recognizing machines is itself just such a pattern. So it is subject to the argument from retortion, and even though it doesn’t automatically devour itself, it does vitiate itself.

      Isn’t it odd that posts about synchronicity should themselves be so often the occasion of so many experiences of synchronicity? Every time Auster posts about synchronicity, readers comment that they had just been thinking about something in his post when they read it. Indeed, this very post originated as a message to a correspondent who had responded to a previous message from me yesterday by saying that she had just been thinking about me when my message arrived in her inbox.

  4. The reason the standard explanation “makes no sense” is because those that embrace the standard explanation can not sense synchronicity. At the point of synchronicity and from the universe-wide view stands a set material configuration representing a unique one-time phenomena (the universe now) wholly encompassing another unique one-time phenomenon (said synchronicity) and a theoretical physicist “able” to see “nothing” at all. The theoretical physicist simply cannot observe unique one-time phenomena. So much so, that he must actually reject the existence of unique one-time phenomena.

    So in the concrete realm, this means at universe-wide view, he sees “nothing.” At subatomic levels, he “sees” something come from “nothing.” And here on earth, he rejects synchronicity, conception, miracle, grace, resurrection and all other manner of unique one-time phenomena.

    He really only sees foam, redundancy and multiverses.

  5. The longer I go on, the more it seems to me that the fact of Divine omniscience has the straightforward consequence that, because each creaturely event has its origin in God, and is therefore wholly informed thereby, …

    The world is, moment to moment, because God *knows* it is.

  6. Just as paranoids have real enemies, so we pattern-seekers sometimes see patterns that are really there. The truth or falsity of a proposition has nothing to do with whether we “evolved” to seek truth or to seek patterns instead. It’s like the olden days when people said that birds fly south in winter because of instinct. In other words, they had no idea why birds fly south.

    Same with the pattern theorists. There’s no there, really.

    P.S. Which means they’re the ones imposing a pattern on reality! How ironic, except not.

  7. I don’t think the whole idea of strange coincidences is very interesting. I think the seemingly obvious is interesting. How do I know that I am I? I do I know that I am here? How do I know that other things are there? What is this “here” and “there” that I know? How do I know that others are before me, embodied in these living bodies “there”? These questions are the despair of analytic philosophers. The reason is: we do not know these things through our effort. We do not know these things through the laying of some sort of foundations we can establish through the power of our minds. We do not know these things through what they call the “marshalling” of evidence–through evidence we can objectively grasp and publicly proclaim. But we do know. And this knowledge is given to us along with our very being. This is the knowledge we have through being what we are. This really is the greatest mystery and the greatest miracle. And it is inconceivable apart from a theistic perspective. But is is a revelation of God? No it is not. This has something to do with what Schleiermacher called “the feeling of absolute dependence.” There is something we feel in the very heart of our being which leads us to question the origin of our being and suggests to us something like the very idea of origin. But this rationality at the very heart of our existence as such is contradicted by the reality of suffering, pain, evil, and death. It is impossible to rationally or even emotionally reconcile these two absolutely fundamental aspects of life: the rationality of being with its ineluctable hint of origin in a transcendent good, and on the other hand the reality of death. I find the greatest and most honest expression of this inescapable paradox in the book of Job. This is why I question the ultimate salience of the viewpoint expressed in the poem by Addison. Job is the perfect answer to Addison here. And so is Tennyson: “Nature red in tooth and claw shrieked against his creed.”

    • Yes; it’s not just that atheism does not or cannot (in principle) explain such things as you mention, which we all know to be true. If that were as far as it went, it would be as meaningful as the village atheist whinging because Christianity doesn’t explain gravity.

      No, the promlem, for atheism, is that these things we simultaneously know to be true and know that we never can (even in principle) rationally “explain” — for, indeed, these are the builbing-blocks of our rational explanations of all else we know — are contradictory to atheism.

      THUS, since we know ‘B’ to be true, and know that ‘A’ contradicts ‘D’, we know that ‘A’ is false.

    • I want to qualify one sentence. I said, “Is it a revelation of God? No.” But “no” is too simple of an answer. What I really want to say is that in some sense at the heart of our experience of our own being there is something that begins to lead us in the direction of what we may later call the presence of God. What enables us to “later” truly recognize God’s presence? Is there a revelation of God apart from Christ? My point here is not that there is or there is not. My point is that, rather, whatever the content or meaning may be of the revelation or inkling of God given to us through our very being, it faces a paradox that is impossible for us to figure out how to resolve: the paradox of a good, at least possibly divinely created world which ineluctably includes suffering, (including innocent suffering), death and evil. This is why I object to the attitude of an Addison or a (Alexander) Pope. And I think this is the central message of the book of Job. Here is the most extreme accusation Job hurls at God, first in Mitchell’s translation, then in the RSV:

      He does not care; so I say he murders both the pure and the wicked.
      When the plague brings sudden death,
      he laughs at the anguish of the innocent.

      It is all one; so I say,
      he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
      When disaster brings sudden death,
      he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.

      God does then soon show up and speak out of the whirlwind. But he does not offer any sort of explanation that humans can grasp. There is no “solution” to the problem of evil provided. Job is asking, “Hey God, if you are good, why do you allow the innocent to suffer?” God does not answer this question in the book of Job. (And it’s important to note that Job is speaking not from the perspective of natural theology, but from the perspective of belief in the revealed God of Abraham and Moses. Even here the paradox remains. Or rather, it becomes all the more acute.) And when Tennyson cries out: “Nature red in tooth and claw, shrieked against his creed” that is, I think, an echo of Job hurled against both Wordsworth and Pope.

      So I agree with everything Kris is saying about the depth of the involvement of God in the world–a depth that is really incomparably greater than we ususally guess, and is also of course infinitely greater than we can comprehend. (Although I am not sure what I think about ‘coincidences’) But I want to point out that the presence of suffering, evil, and death simply cannot be reconciled with the fact of divine creation. So the depth of human experience may be leading us on to God–but at the same time it bears incontrovertible evidence of the impossibility of God. I don’t mean that the existence of God can be disproven. In fact, if we attempt to forge a rational, speculative account of the nature of the world and of being, we have no choice but some form of theism (a long story, but that’s the position I’ve come to). Rationality itself dissolves without theism. But at the same time, the evidence of our experience of suffering, evil, and death is simply incompatible with theism. It is out of the anguish of this contradiciton, I believe, that Job is crying out. And it seems to me that this sort of contradiction demonstrates the limits of reason. At that point, two choices remain–detached skepticism, or faith.


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