I’m not a religious person. Neither am I a particularly spiritual person. Generally speaking, I’m science all the way down.
On the other hand, and thanks at least in part to scientific thinking, I realise that it would be very unlikely indeed that this time in which we’re living right now is somehow the critical time where we have a good handle on things, not like those unfortunate ‘historical’ people who blundered about in rank ignorance.
I began writing this post this morning, but it’s a difficult topic to write about without falling into new age mysticism on one hand and blind faith in scientific fact on the other hand. In fact, even setting those up as the horns of my particular dilemma rings false, but that would appear to be the standard spectrum that these issues lie on.
I’ve heard, as you may have, stories about birds all over the UK spontaneously learning to open milk bottles, in a very short space of time and without any possibility of the normal cultural learning channels being the cause. I also recalled an article about newspaper crosswords, which said that they are easier to solve after having been published in a nationally distributed paper, due to the fact that so many people had already solved them. These effects were attributed to a theory called ‘morphic resonance’, which sounded fascinating, but which I had never investigated in depth before.
The reason it’s been on my mind lately is that I’m having an irritating experience with writing. I do like to try to be original, even though I know that’s something of a lost cause. The problem is that as soon as I settle on a topic or theme I want to write about, within a couple of days at most I will see a reference to that exact thing, to a scary level of detail.
I know what you’re thinking – this is adequately explained by the recency or frequency illusion. And yes, I know they’re not exactly the same thing, but they’re close enough for my purposes. This is where the struggle kicks in. I’m aware of the recency illusion, and yes, I know I have fallen prey to it on occasion, particularly before I was aware of it. So these days it’s my go-to explanation for these kinds of spooky, ‘get-out-of-my-head-universe’ co-incidences. And yet there are times when I know I would have noticed if I’d come across something before. When I’ve spent days or weeks stitching together little pieces of things that fascinate me into an outline that I can care about working on, and then see the whole thing spread out in whole cloth on Facebook – well you can be damn sure that I would have found that combination of things striking whether or not I’d assembled them myself. There’s a point where saying ‘recency illusion’ and moving on feels like making a symbol to ward off the evil eye. Maybe there is something going on that we don’t have an adequate explanation for yet.
Here’s something which happened today which illustrates the recency illusion nicely. I went with my husband to a town which we don’t visit very often, maybe three times in the past two years. While wandering around the town, we passed a second-hand-book sale, and decided to browse. There’s very rarely anything good at these, since they’re usually the books that someone’s grandmother is throwing out to begin with, and then they’re pretty well picked over by the time we come to look at them. But today, I found a novel in a series which I have been reading on and off, and a book which is recommended reading for a course which I’m currently working on (and struggling with a little if I’m being honest). So that’s an interesting little co-incidence, but I’m not going to read anything into that. No pun intended.
The one which is more of a stretch is that having started to try and write this post earlier today, and put it off due to getting sidetracked in research and running out of time, I then went to an internet forum where I am a member, and read a post by another member speculating about almost the same thing. In something of the spirit of the (possibly apocryphal) story about the horseshoe bringing you luck whether or not you believe in it, I feel it would be petty to refuse such a blatant sign that I should finish writing the post, even if I don’t believe in any intelligence that could originate such a sign.
This is where the morphic resonance theory comes in. What I’d heard of it did seem to somewhat cover the hole that I didn’t have a good explanation for, so I went to do some reading up. I was pretty disappointed in what I found. It seems that the key supporters of this theory are known for, shall we say being a little overenthusiastic in the interpretation of their results? They have a very strong opinion about what they believe, and they’re sticking to it, and equally the members of the scientific community who oppose them are very vocal in saying so, and in attempting to disprove and discredit them.
It’s truly a shame that cults of personality, politics, and dogged adherence to elaborate but unproven theories have such a big impact on our search for understanding. My own take on it is that there may be something there, but right now it’s so obscured by the cloud of mud that’s been stirred up, I’ll be very surprised if becomes well understood in my own lifetime.
tl;dr: shit is weird, man.
Gloria Hanlon 2016 All Rights Reserved
Photo credit Toshiyuki IMAI 2006