(We added those glasses!)
A few months ago, we e-mailed a query letter to the editor of Psychology Today suggesting an article about synchronicity. We would explore some of the leading edge research on the subject, including the studies of Bernard Beitman, MD, who has suggested a new interdisciplinary field called Coincidence Studies. A couple of hours later, we noticed that we’d received a visit from Psychology Today. (The visitor’s ISP was linked to a media company which owns the magazine.) After that, nothing. No response, favorable or otherwise. Not even a form letter rejection.
So it was interesting when, barely into July, we happened to spy the August issue of Psychology Today on the newsstand with the cover story SIXTH SENSE: Premonitions, Deja Vu, Coincidences, Near-Death Experiences. As we perused the article, the author quickly assured us that all of these ‘anomalous experiences’ were simply tricks of the mind.
“We often explain such experiences using concepts related to spirits, luck, witchcraft, psychic powers, life energy, or more terrestrial (and extra terrestrial) entities. Such explanations are often more appealing, or at least more intuitive, than blaming an odd experience on a trick of the mind.”
We were also told that these experiences “may be associated with stressful circumstances, personal pathologies, or cognitive deficits.” In other words, if you experience something psychic, you might be stressed, mentally ill or just dumb!
Author Matthew Hutson, a former editor of Psychology Today, makes it clear in the first few paragraphs that this mainstream science journal was not going to dabble in any unorthodox explanations of such ‘outlier phenomena’ as synchronicity. In fact, the article avoids the term. What we call synchros, Hutson refers to as apophenia – the ability to recognize patterns. Even though he says this ability is helpful for our survival, he warns that sometimes it gets away from us.
He uses the example of Mark David Chapman who, before killing John Lennon, noted 50 connections between Holden Caulfield’s time in New York City in The Catcher in the Rye and his own life. Hutson suggests that overactive dopamine transmissions help us find meaningful coincidences in things. It’s also called schizophrenia.
Thankfully, he concedes that these experiences also might be ‘healthy inventions’ of the brain, which is often busy searching for patterns. What sends some people into mental illness can lead others to be creative and insightful.
But he quickly returns to mental dysfunction when he notes there is a significant correlation between belief in the paranormal and in conspiracies. “A key trait that predicts a belief in conspiracy theories is paranoia.”
The article continues with a lot of generalizing about ‘magical thinking’ and the usual attempts by mainstream science to explain away telepathy, precognition, and remote viewing, as well as near-death experiences, and spirit contact. It’s nothing new, just more of the same rigid thinking on these subjects that mainstream science has generated decade after decade while ignoring hundreds of studies to the contrary by so-called ‘fringe’ scientists. If there’s any crack in the dam here, it’s a grudging recognition that noticing patterns, i.e. synchros, might be a healthy pre-occupation.
Hutson, though, seems most comfortable writing about pathologies related to paranormal beliefs and struggles a bit in presenting the concept that exploring psychic experiences has a healthy psychological benefit for many people.
“People high in sensation-seeking–those who search for novelty and exciting stimuli–also report more paranormal beliefs and experiences. Perhaps they’re drawn to the idea of a world inhabited by mysterious forces. So, being a pattern-finding sensation-seeker means you’re more likely to experience odd coincidences in the first place, and then more likely to entertain unconventional explanations for them. A one-two punch.”
When he refers to coincidence, Hutson turns a bit cynical. “Research shows that we find coincidences involving ourselves much more surprising than identical coincidences involving others, because we feel we’re somehow special. (Yes, I know, you really are special.)”
Bottom line: when it comes to dealing with anomalous experiences, Hutson assures us it’s all in our heads, tricks of the brain. Think you’ve seen a ghost? Think again. “Once you have it in your head that you might see or hear something, your brain is often happy to oblige by presenting a hallucination, especially when you’re tired or scared.” That may be true, but is that always the case, 100% of the time? Hutson implies over and over that it is, which places him squarely in the rear guard of psychic exploration. It’s hard to investigate a subject fairly if you don’t believe it exists.
While pursuing these experiences might be healthy in small doses, Hutson concludes that two thirds of the population is either misguided or mentally challenged when it comes to understanding the source of such phenomena, and some of us are downright crazy.
We probably would’ve reviewed this article even if we hadn’t queried the journal on the same subject with a different approach. But that gave us an added incentive. We saw a pattern, a connection, one that even extended to Hutson’s own work. He published a book this year about coincidence and the paranormal, and called it: The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking. Hmm, sounds like the mainstream science response to The 7 Secrets of Synchronicity.
Or maybe we’re just seeing things.