Sunday, August 07, 2016

A Theory Re. Coincidences: Reality or Placebo?

Connecting With Coincidence: The New Science for Using Synchronicity and Serendipity in Your Life
Author: Bernard D. Beitman, MD
Published by: Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL, 2016
In our society, the word “coincidence” is well understood by almost everyone by the time they reach ten years of age, if not younger. Coincidences are observed by us all and most of us are quick to explain their happening either as a mystery (an act of God for the believer) or strictly an event that occurred randomly (by chance). I was no exception, although I employed (and still do) both plausible causes identified above, depending on the circumstances under which a coincidence occurred and its significance. Therefore, it was easy for me to agree to review this book when given an opportunity by the distributor. That decision, however, resulted in a personal challenge.
Psychiatrist Dr. Bernard Beitman is a brilliant author. His book is professionally laid out in three main sections. In part 1, his aim is to convince us (it does not take much) that weird coincidences do commonly take place; part 2 is dedicated to how one can integrate coincidences into their life; and part 3 is devoted to the serious reader who wants to more closely examine a new ‘theory’ about coincidences. [Beitman more correctly uses the term ‘theory’ here as compared to the sub-title of his book where he uses ‘science’ to describe his beliefs.] In this last part he introduces us to what he calls the ‘psychosphere’, or mental atmosphere, where we all, in his view, subtlety exchange forms of energy and information with each other.
As the author is a medical doctor as well as a psychoanalyst, we get to learn some very interesting things (e.g. twins joined at the head are called ‘craniopagus’ twins; those who have identical medical issues in hospitals heal faster if their bed is by a window; and so on). And he asks some very interesting questions such as “Why is joy not shared at a distance in the same way as negative painful emotions?” which he then proceeds to answer as best he can.
Beitman is both a realist and very clever. Examples of the former are that he admits his mathematically inclined colleagues and people of faith, would say coincidences are examples of random chance at work or God, respectively. Examples of the latter are his statement that he couldn’t convince either of them otherwise as “theirs is a fixed belief” in the laws of probability or God’s total involvement in our lives.
As a ‘religious scientist’, the author believes that we use our “God-given abilities to influence the way we, and others, live.” There’s something that sounds right with that, but does it go far enough?
Beitman describes the environment in which we are most likely to notice coincidences in our lives. These include high emotions as well as being in a state of transition.
He is also very careful to caution us on the misuse of coincidences.  At one point he describes a couple that married as a result of coincidences, but the marriage didn’t last long because marriages he writes, “must be maintained through trust, commitment, caring and consistency.”  The book is full of useful “ideas” and suggests which he identifies with an icon of a light bulb. One of them is the thought that while “coincidences (may) deserve a seat at the table of your romance – they don’t deserve to be the decider-in-chief.” He also deals with “library angels” and “internet angels” – a more recent form of coincidences.
In a section entitled, How Romance Coincidences Are Created, Beitman describes the fourth step in the process as “The person often enters an altered state of consciousness.” And that’s where he loses me.  He does, however, indicate that those who know useful coincidences commonly occur come to expect them as part of daily life. My experience is that whether one does or does not expect them, the same coincidences would happen – that is, albeit one who is not looking for them may miss them but they would still occur in the absence of expectation.
Part 1 is full of examples of coincidences that have been recorded through family ties, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, health situations, ideas in the air, timely money, pets, and work.  One cannot argue with what happened in these stories. One only has the option of assigning a cause to the coincidences. For example, one person prayed to God for money and he was led to where he found it. He “believed that God guided him to the money.” But Beitman believes the person himself played a collaborative role with God in finding the money.  I can even buy that.  After all, God is the One who has given us a brain and a memory with which to think and reason things out and act accordingly.
Throughout the book, the author talks about “base rates” with respect to various probabilities of things happening randomly. But while he walks us verbally through one example, he never uses number for one reason or another, and that would have helped greatly. While he believes we can take steps to increase our ability to notice and take advantage of coincidences in our lives, he also quotes the old saying, “The dog that trots about in the right places finds the bone.” So maybe it is more about perseverance, being optimistic, learning from failure, and relying on intuition than anything else.
In the last section of the book, Beitman tries to show us how “simulpathity” (connecting with the experience of others at a distance without knowing how we do it) and “Human GPS” (finding our way to people, things and ideas without consciously knowing how) together get us to “loved ones in distress whose location we don’t know” just in time to save them. While he argues well for his case, that still is not an idea I am willing to swallow as it is based on there being “mechanisms by which energy-information is converted into electrical nerve impulses the brain can process into emotion and behavior.”
As a creationist, I parted company with Beitman when he wrote near the end of his book, “I believe that our physical being seems to have emerged from a primordial soup, a rich mixture of energy (perhaps electricity) and information (perhaps simple molecules).” May I suggest, perhaps just a theory. This psychosphere leads us, in his mind, to “the One Mind, of Consciousness, of the Universe, of God” and to the realization that we are all one and the same. All bringing déjà vu of Shirley Maclaine’s “I am God” philosophy.  I was hoping scientists had gotten past that these days, but alas, perhaps not.
While Dr.Beitman has a lot of things right, including about the internet and social media, I would take issue with him on his conclusion that the “spread of personal qualities through social networks adds yet more evidence for the existence of the group mind and, by extension, the psychosphere.” In reality, it can also point towards our great diversity of mind.
So, who is this book for?  A lot of people who know the word “coincidences” and want to learn much more about how they may happen and the related theories that try to explain them. It should however be read with a critical mind for once we try to explain something like this beyond the two traditional explanations, we are wading into waters where true science can only accompany us so far, and the rest is simply conjecture. We’re on our own.
Now, just in case you think I am being too tough on the author and the book, let me share with you the following: When I was about to start my careful reading of Part 2 of Dr. Beitman’s book (while taking in the sun and the beach at Garden City, S.C.), I stopped and checkd my phone in case there was a free wi-fi around.  Just prior to that I had been reading (in his book) about Oprah Winfrey’s audition for the role of Sophia in the film, The Color Purple. In my search for free wi-fi, up came two possibilities, one of which was Purple Rain. I intentionally wrote a note about what had just happened and observed, in the margin of the book, and then checked the wi-fi availability again. ‘Purple Rain’ was gone.  Was this coincidence? Did I really see it on my phone?  Who knows?  At least I noticed it and Dr. Beitman would have been quite pleased, I’m sure.

By Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, May 13, 2016.

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