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March 22, 2011

Synchronicity (and other related terms)

A Wikipedia copy/paste of definitions:

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events, that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, and are yet observed to occur together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in the 1920s.

The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead, it maintains that just as events may be grouped by cause, they may also be grouped by their meaning. Since meaning is a complex mental construction, subject to conscious and unconscious influence, not every correlation in the grouping of events by meaning needs to have an explanation in terms of cause and effect. The idea of synchronicity is that the conceptual relationship of minds, defined as the relationship between ideas, is intricately structured in its own logical way and gives rise to relationships that are not causal in nature. These relationships can manifest themselves as simultaneous occurrences that are meaningfully related.

Synchronistic events reveal an underlying pattern, a conceptual framework that encompasses, but is larger than, any of the systems that display the synchronicity. The suggestion of a larger framework is essential to satisfy the definition of synchronicity as originally developed by Carl Gustav Jung who paid particular attention to the synchronistic attributes of the Chinese divination system I Ching, which essentially works upon the seemingly random combinations of 64 hexagrams.

Jung coined the word to describe what he called “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.” Jung variously described synchronicity as an “acausal connecting principle”, “meaningful coincidence” and “acausal parallelism”. Jung introduced the concept as early as the 1920s but only gave a full statement of it in 1951 in an Eranos lecture and in 1952, published a paper, Synchronicity — An Acausal Connecting Principle, in a volume with a related study by the physicist (and Nobel laureate) Wolfgang Pauli.

Jung believed that many experiences that are coincidences due to chance in terms of causality suggested the manifestation of parallel events or circumstances in terms of meaning, reflecting this governing dynamic.

Disambiguation is the process of resolving the conflicts that arise when a single term is ambiguous, and so may refer to more than one topic. For example, the word “Mercury” can refer to an element, a planet, a Roman god, and many other things.

In computational linguistics, word sense disambiguation (WSD) is an open problem of natural language processing, which governs the process of identifying which sense of a word (i.e. meaning) is used in a sentence, when the word has multiple meanings (polysemy). The solution to this problem impacts other computer-related writing, such as discourse, improving relevance of search engines, anaphora resolution, coherence, inference and others.

Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness.” In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a type I error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity).

Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the finding of images or sounds in random stimuli. For example, hearing a ringing phone while taking a shower. The noise produced by the running water gives a random background from which the patterned sound of a ringing phone might be “produced”. A more common human experience is perceiving faces in inanimate objects; this phenomenon is not surprising in light of how much processing the brain does in order to memorize and recall the faces of hundreds or thousands of different individuals. In one respect, the brain is a facial recognition, storage, and recall machine – and it is very good at it. A byproduct of this acumen at recognizing faces is that people see faces even where there is no face: the headlights & grill of an automobile can appear to be “grinning”, individuals around the world can see the “Man on the Moon”, and a drawing consisting of only three circles and a line which even children will identify as a face are everyday examples of this.

Serendipity denotes the property of making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated, or the occurrence of such a discovery during such a search. The amount of benefit contributed by serendipitous discoveries varies extensively among the several scientific disciplines. Pharmacology and chemistry are probably the fields where serendipity is more common.

Most authors who have studied scientific serendipity both in a historical, as well as in an epistemological point of view, agree that a prepared and open mind is required on the part of the scientist or inventor to detect the importance of information revealed accidentally. This is the reason why most of the related accidental discoveries occur in the field of specialization of the scientist. About this, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD properties by unintentionally ingesting it at his lab, wrote

It is true that my discovery of LSD was a chance discovery, but it was the outcome of planned experiments and these experiments took place in the framework of systematic pharmaceutical, chemical research. It could better be described as serendipity.

Another example of Serendipity in science is associated with Alexander Fleming and his discovery of penicillin against the serious diseases at the time. He accidentally left a petri dish of Staphylococcus bacteria open and a mould had got inside which had appeared to have killed around the bacteria. It turned out that it was the fungus Penicillium and he turned the fungus into a groundbreaking anti-biotic.

The French scientist Louis Pasteur also famously said: “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” This is often rendered as “Chance favors the prepared mind.” William Shakespeare expressed the same sentiment 250 years earlier in act 4 of his play Henry V: “All things are ready if our minds be so.”

Zeitgeist is “the spirit of the times” or “the spirit of the age.” Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambiance, morals, sociocultural direction, and mood associated with an era.The term zeitgeist is from German Zeit- ‘time’ (cognate with English tide and “time”) and Geist- ‘spirit’ (cognate with English ghost, without being really translatable into English – this is why the German term is used).

A meme is a unit of social information. It is a relatively newly coined term and identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

Memes spread through the behaviors that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Memes that replicate the most effectively spread best. Some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.A field of study called memetics arose in the 1990s to explore the concepts and transmission of memes in terms of an evolutionary model. Criticism from a variety of fronts has challenged the notion that scholarship can examine memes empirically. Some commentators who question the idea that one can meaningfully categorize culture in terms of discrete units.

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