Help Me Find Synchronicities
November 2, 2008 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of synchronicity, or evidence of "collective unconscious"-- like world records that, once broken, are broken by many others, or two musicians coming up with similar tunes without knowing each other, etc. Has there ever been historical evidence of synchronized events?
posted by dmaterialized to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Calculus was invented independently by Newton and Leibniz. We use Newton's terminology with Leibniz's notation.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:01 PM on November 2, 2008

Malcom Gladwell recently had an article in the New Yorker positing, in part, that simultaneous scientific inventions are the norm. Here's an excerpt with examples.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:10 PM on November 2, 2008

Regarding scientific/mathematical discoveries: Basically all are, to use the cliche, building on the shoulders of giants. Bigtime. Generally, it's not a lone genius making an otherwise-impossible connection; it's many people who are very (and roughly equally) smart thinking about the same thing at the same time, and taking advantage of the same developments, which tends to give you the same kinds of discoveries within a relatively tight time frame.

It's the same with world-record-breaking: an awful lot of record-smashing is due to better bikes, or swimsuits, or shoes, and not the abrupt arrival of physically superior humans; alternately, it's sometimes due to changes in the sport itself. For example, as sports enter the mainstream, more people are able to participate in them professionally, which means they have more time to devote to training, and will start breaking records simply because their predecessors were all amateurs who had to do other things with their lives. Point is, there are factors that one person will take advantage of that are also becoming available to others around the same time.

Also, you need to take confirmation bias into account: Human brains are really powerful pattern-finding machines, and will look for patterns in everything. Think of the sheer number of tunes being created by millions of songwriters and singers all the time... statistically, it'd be surprising if some of them weren't very similar or even identical. Especially when the societies people live in are similar, they have access to the same or similar inspirations, genres, trends, etc; you have a great recipe for simultaneous creation of similar works.

In short: there are perfectly reasonable explanations for all those things that don't rely on there being actual metaphysical synchronicity going on, or collective unconsciousness. If you look hard, you'll certainly find stuff that seems to be that way, but confirmation bias is a perennial topic in AskMefi for a reason.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:24 PM on November 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

Nylon was invented simultaneously & independently in New York & London (hence the name: NY-Lon).

You might also want to google "morphic resonance".
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:49 PM on November 2, 2008

Darwin & Wallace: they were pretty much in sync, though on opposite sides of the globe, in coming up with the idea that natural selection caused the evolution of species.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:51 PM on November 2, 2008

The following phenomena isn't synchronicity, exactly, but more like evidence of the collective unconscious:
Shortly after the Vietnam Veterans memorial was built, people started to leave offerings: not just flowers, but open cans of beer, soda, and water, items that belonged to dead or missing individuals listed on the memorial, food items, and more. I took a tour of DC that involved a visit to the memorial & saw some of these items. Now, the sheer number of middle Americans who left these items could not have known that this was the common religious practice in Vietnam & nearby S. East Asian nations. It seems the average American automatically knows what to do when confronted w. a giant Buddhist funerary monument.
posted by bunky at 5:07 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

The latest Nobel Prize in physics - discoveries made independent from one another:
posted by perpetualstroll at 5:40 PM on November 2, 2008

From Jung's memoirs we learn of a personal synchronistic event, which in all probability aided in shaping his views:

"While Freud was going on this way, I had a curious sensation. It was as if my diaphragm were made of iron and were becoming red-hot--a glowing vault. And at that moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over on us. I said to Freud: 'There, that is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorization phenomenon.' 'Oh come,' he exclaimed. 'That is sheer bosh.' 'It is not,' I replied. 'You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that in a moment there will be another such loud report! 'Sure enough, no sooner had I said the words that the same detonation went off in the bookcase. To this day I do not know what gave me this certainty. But I knew beyond all doubt that the report would come again. Freud only stared aghast at me. I do not know what was in his mind, or what his look meant. In any case, this incident aroused his distrust of me, and I had the feeling that I had done something against him. I never afterward discussed the incident with him."

I've heard that the "report" was the sound of wood shelves that cracked and split in the dry heat near a winter fireplace.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:44 PM on November 2, 2008

Regarding nylon.

Also it's advisable to take with a large pinch of salt any evidence you come across when morphic resonance is your search term, and check it thoroughly.
posted by edd at 5:45 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

There was recently an article in the New Yorker about Alexander Graham Bell and, um, the other dude discovering the phone at the same time. But I can't remember the title...
posted by np312 at 5:49 PM on November 2, 2008

Hi edd!

Yes, morphic resonance is utter crackpottery in my books, but people who are into it (is there more than one?) would be presumably quite good at creating confirmation-baised lists of synchronicities.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:50 PM on November 2, 2008

damn, that nylon naming story is a myth? i'll have to take a pen to my Trivial Pursuit question card!
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:57 PM on November 2, 2008

Check your memail.
posted by the latin mouse at 4:42 AM on November 3, 2008

One time I wrote a song and then heard it on a Faith No More album that was released a few weeks later.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 9:22 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my personal, unscientific, anecdote-based opinion, children's names are a great example of this. Some names just seem to become popular in the collective parenting subconscious at around the same time, with no particularly discernible reason. For example, I gave birth to my first child last year. During the pregnancy me and my bf spent a while looking for names that in some way reflected our British heritage (in other words, names that seemed British and not very American, since we are immigrants), and that did not feature in the US top twenty names for the last 5 years or so. It had to be uncommon enough that the kid wouldn't be running into other kids with the same name at school all the time, but not so weird that people couldn't spell or pronounce it. Another requirement was that we didn't know anyone with the name, and it couldn't be a popular current celebrity name. I never bothered to check the UK popular names, since I don't live there.

We chose a name, thought it was great and were happy. Then a couple of months ago I checked the list of UK popular baby names, and lo and behold, the name we chose was in the top 5, as it has been for a few years recently. I am mildly irritated, but mostly amazed and intrigued - how does this work?
posted by Joh at 9:55 AM on November 3, 2008

I think Rupert Sheldrake has done extensive study into this kind of thing... (I think there are some who oppose/discredit his ideas, so it may be worth looking into both sides before formulating an opinion).

I know that there's a lot of evidence of this kind of synchronicity in classical music and art history, but my mind is drawing a blank. I'll post again if I remember any.

When I was a kid I noticed that this happened a lot with movie releases (the 'pair' I remember was Top Gun and Iron Eagle, both released in 1986. Recently there were "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige"). But these could be explained by other factors (maybe fighter jets were popular in 1986, maybe rival movie studios use similar subject matter to compete, maybe movie studios release several movies with similar topics in order to keep a topic in the public awareness for merchandising purposes, etc.)
posted by Alabaster at 3:38 PM on November 3, 2008

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