Some coincidences seem too 'designed' to be dismissed as random events. Remarkable clusters of synchronicity, and the paranormal laws perhaps governing them.

synchronicity, paranormal, coincidence, dark, mysterious

The Darkside of Coincidence

It is time to rescue coincidence from becoming a Cinderella of the paranormal sciences. Leave your cherished notions at the door, if you please, for we are about to delve into the deepest and the weirdest chambers of that facetious conceit popularly known as Reality...

      On September 30th, 1955, the actor James Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder on Route 466 in California when he hit a truck head-on. Dean died from the accident. Rolf Wütherich, a racing driver who was riding with him, sustained serious injuries. The mangled car went on a tour of schools to impress kids to not take risks when driving, but the transportation truck had an accident, throwing the truck driver, George Barhuis, from the cab. The Porsche rolled off the truck bed onto Barhuis, crushing him to death. Fittingly, the car’s next owner was called George Barris. In 1959 on the September 30th anniversary of Dean’s accident the car rolled off an exhibition stand and crushed the legs of a fifteen-year old boy. Weeks later the car slid from the flatbed of a truck onto a road where it caused a fatal accident. In 1960 the car was placed into a train boxcar in Florida in order to be put into permanent storage in California. When it arrived in LA, the seal on the boxcar was still intact, but the car was missing, never to be seen again. The car, which had “Little Bastard” painted on the back, gave a bad feeling to Alec Guinness, who was shown it by James Dean. Guinness thought the car looked sinister, and told Dean: "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.” That was seven days before Dean’s death.

      On the 19th May 1884 Captain Thomas Dudley, Edward Brooks, Edwin Stephens, and Richard Parker set sail from Southampton in the yacht Mignonette, bound for Australia. The uneventful voyage lasted until the 5th July, about 700 miles from the nearest land at Tristan de Cunha, when the ship was struck by a wave that washed away the bulwarks. Sensing the vessel was doomed, Captain Dudley instantly ordered abandon ship, and within five minutes the Mignonette sank. The crew managed to board a flimsy lifeboat, but with only two tins of turnips and no fresh water the outlook was bad. Not even the capture of a turtle could relive the horror of thirst since the crew were unable to procure any rainwater and refused to drink the turtle’s seawater-contaminated blood out of the belief that salt water was fatal. According to the subsequent court trial, on the 16th or 17th July the matter of drawing lots to decide the sacrifice of one person to feed the others was discussed. Nothing came of it for about another week until, with no prospect of rescue, Captain Dudley and Stephens signalled to each other that Parker, a seventeen year old cabin boy who was probably in a coma by then, should be the victim. While Brooks stayed out of the way, Stephens held Parker’s legs while Dudley used his penknife to cut the boy’s jugular vein. “We all was like mad wolfs who should get the most,” Dudley said later, “and for men fathers of children to commit such a deed we could not have our right reason.” The three men survived on Parker’s remains until they were rescued on July 29th.

What interests me about these terrible events is not the cause célèbre of the survivor’s subsequent trial, but how, forty six years earlier, the American writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote a novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in which four starving seamen on a whaling vessel draw lots to decide who to eat. A sailor called Richard Parker first proposes it (with “an air of self-possession which I had not noticed in him until now” notes Pym), and despite the narrator’s attempts to dissuade him, loses the draw, and is stabbed and eaten by the other three. We find that two of the other crewmen “had long secretly entertained the same fearful idea.” The fictional Parker’s killing takes place on the 16th July, almost certainly the same day as the fate of the real Richard Parker was conceived in the minds of his shipmates, Dudley and Stephens.

      Even allowing for Richard Parker being a fairly widespread name, the other similarities – the date, the four men, the connivence of two of them, factored with the extreme rarity of being cannibalized – amount to an astonishing cluster of coincidences. Can they and others like them be explained in the comfortingly dry terms of statistical probability, as those who ‘explain’ our proclivity for noticing strange coincidences by proving how we are far more likely to meet someone with the same birthday as ourselves than we may imagine, choose to think? This is one area of the paranormal where science has from several directions at last begun to vindicate those of us who are do not believe that all coincidences are “mere coincidences.”

      One problem in approaching this subject is the immense variety of coincidence types, so I will leave aside amusing but comparatively trivial examples like aptronyms (names that match occupations), the 23 Enigma (see the works of William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson for where that all started), the Redhead Cluster Phenomenon (don’t ask), the Bible Code (highly suspect), the Dark Side of the Rainbow , 911 weirdness, unfortunate anagrams, random tales of long lost books finding their owners, and other paranormal coincidences which stray even further from where we began, like telepathy, precognition, twins’ lives. Instead, let’s look closer at events with that ‘Richard Parker factor’, where the events rack up to form a kaleidoscope so utterly improbable that getting a feel for what is going on must necessarily invoke both science and the paranormal. Coincidentally (or not) these all involve tragedy.

The deaths of two young women, Mary Ashford and Barbara Forrest, are entwined with coincidences, for the location and circumstances of their deaths, and also by the men accused of murdering them. Mary Ashford was last seen alive around 4 a.m. on the 27th May 1817 as she was leaving a house at Erdington, a village a few miles outside the centre of Birmingham. Less than an hour later George Jackson found her bloodied clothes and shoes near a mill outside the village, and by 6.30 a.m. workmen from the mill were raking Mary Ashford’s body from a nearby pit. The presence of a man’s footprints and blood leading to the pit formed a universal belief that Mary had been raped, killed, and dumped by a killer wanting to conceal his crime. Abraham Thornton, a local bricklayer who had danced with Mary the previous night and escorted her home, was quickly arrested and stood trial for her murder. Thornton contended that, while he had been with Mary that night, they had parted by 4 a.m. Thornton spoke to a gamekeeper around 5 am, three miles away from the place where Mary was found. Interestingly, there is no certainty that she was murdered. The case against Abraham Thornton was all circumstantial. The surgeon who examined Mary concluded that she had drowned, possibly, according to later investigators, out of guilt at having given herself to Thornton. When the jury acquitted Thornton, Mary’s brother William launched an appeal. Thornton’s response was to claim the right to trial by combat, the last one in England.

      Celebrated as these events were, what interests us more are the startling parallels between this and a murder that took place on the same date in 1974. The victim was Barbara Forrest, another twenty year-old living in Erdington. She was also returning from a dance on the night of 26 May (also a Monday) and by the early hours of the next day she had vanished. Despite an intensive search her body was not found for another nine days less than half a mile from where Mary Ashford died. After sexually-assaulting and strangling her, the killer had tried to hide her partially-clothed body. A man called Michael Thornton, a co-worker, was accused of her murder. The jury also acquitted him.

      Both tragedies took place on the same date in the early hours of the morning. The deceased were twenty year-old females, both reportedly virginal and uncommonly attractive. Both were returning from a night of dancing. Two men called Thornton were tried for murder, and both were acquitted.

The deaths of two young women, Mary Ashford and Barbara Forrest, are entwined with coincidences, for the location and circumstances of their deaths, and the men accused of murdering them. Mary Ashford was last seen alive around 4 a.m. on the 27th May 1817 as she was leaving a house at Erdington, a village a few miles outside the centre of Birmingham. Less than an hour later George Jackson found her bloodied clothes and shoes near a mill outside the village, and by 6.30 a.m. workmen from the mill were raking Mary Ashford’s body from a nearby pit. The presence of a man’s footprints and blood leading to the pit formed a universal belief that Mary had been raped, killed, and dumped by a killer wanting to conceal his crime. Abraham Thornton, a local bricklayer who had danced with Mary the previous night and escorted her home, was quickly arrested and stood trial for her murder. Thornton contended that, while he had been with Mary that night, they had parted by 4 a.m. Thornton spoke to a gamekeeper around 5 am, three miles away from the place where Mary was found. Interestingly, there is no certainty that she was murdered. The case against Abraham Thornton was all circumstantial. The surgeon who examined Mary concluded that she had drowned, possibly, according to later investigators, out of guilt at having given herself to Thornton. When the jury acquitted Thornton, Mary’s brother William launched an appeal. Thornton’s response was to claim the right to trial by combat, the last one in this country.

      Celebrated as these events were, what interests us more are the startling parallels between this and a murder that took place on the same date in 1974. The victim was Barbara Forrest, another twenty year-old living in Erdington. She was also returning from a dance on the night of 26 May (also a Monday) and by the early hours of the next day she had vanished. Despite an intensive search her body was not found for another nine days less than half a mile from where Mary Ashford died. After sexually-assaulting and strangling her, the killer had tried to hide her partially-clothed body. A man called Michael Thornton, a co-worker, was accused of her murder. The jury also acquitted him.

      Both tragedies took place on the same date in the early hours of the morning. The deceased were twenty year-old females, both reportedly virginal and uncommonly attractive. Both were returning from a night of dancing. Two men called Thornton were tried for murder, and both were acquitted.

      Are these impersonal and meaningless set of coincidences, or is there an organising principle underlying them?

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In the early 20th century Paul Kammerer, an Austrian biologist, developed his theory of Seriality to explain his collection of coincidences. Seriality is a force which tends towards unity, acting selectively to bring about affinities outside the laws of physics. Kammerer wrote charmingly of a “cosmic kaleidoscope which takes care of bringing like and like together.”  Albert Einstein himself liked the notion, and it must also have influenced Carl Jung’s infinitely more famous idea of Synchronicity, generally understood as a meaningful coincidence that is personal to the one perceiving it. While Jung tormented the limits of language to explain synchronicity in terms of psychology, Wolfgang Pauli, a physicist and friend of Jung, extended the principle of events related outside of ordinary space and time from particle physics, where it was recognised in the ghostly world of quantum physics, to large-scale physics where it was not, and is still not, widely acknowledged. John C. Lilly, a scientist originally employed by the military to forge communication with dolphins, described the existence of hyperdimensional beings who arranged synchronicities from ECCO, the Earth Coincidence Control Centre. At last, lab physics is starting to converge with these ideas.

      The latest research using extremely sensitive instruments to detect gravity waves is producing unexpected confirmation that the universe is a gigantic hologram. Holograms are flat surfaces that contain three dimensional images, and when a hologram is split apart each separate piece retains the entire image. This is because they are made of information, as is the universe at its deepest level. Energy, Matter, Time – these great buttresses of the classical physical universe – are incidental to the information that underpins it all. Calculations show how the stop at the end of this sentence contains enough information to extrapolate our entire galaxy. And then some!

This also happens to be a useful way to get a grip on synchronicity, since this ‘holographic principle’ reveals the deep interconnectedness of everything, mind as well as matter. The physicists’ confirmation that everything reflects everything else across all of Time is not so far from Paul Kammerer’s ‘cosmic kaleidoscope’, the Akashic Records of the Theosophists, and teachings found in ancient Indian and Japanese traditions. Other experiments demonstrating how subatomic particles can instantly ‘communicate’ with each other across any distance, sidestepping the speed-of-light barrier, add more indications of a deeper, hidden reality, what some physicists call the implicate order. The ‘common sense’ idea that Time flows only in one direction is also kicked into touch – something you might want to bring up the next time someone accuses you of ‘wasting’ it.

      So did the casual conjunction between four people in the village of Erdington on the same date at the same time provide enough impetus to evoke a holographic principle of cause and effect, enabling a pattern to ‘lock in’, binding the fates of the two women and the men accused of killing them? Did the actions of one pair influence the other, so that the deeds of either Thornton enmeshed his innocent namesake? Maybe both Thorntons were truly innocent, and their proximity to the women in mirroring aspects of spacetime was the catalyst for a ‘design’ that led to their accusation. Barbara Forrest lay discovered for nine days as police trawled a small lake just yards away from her body (as Mary Ashford’s finders did), adding to the symmetries. Maybe when a few chance preconditions are met a threshold is reached, at which point the ‘law of coincidences’ gains a momentum of its own, producing clusters of symmetry that erupt into existence, sometimes with terrible consequences.

         And what about the two Richard Parkers? One of the implications of a holographic universe where everything is information could be that the real and the fictional Parker are interchangeable at the most fundamental level, and that the distinction between what real and imaginary is quite irrelevant. The Parker affair is a startling example of how the psyche can mirror – even influence – material reality, a bridge between worlds that magicians and mystics have explored ever since humans became self-aware. Now it looks like science is starting to catch up with them, as well as everyone else who has sensed that a given coincidence is more than ‘mere chance.’

         Coincidence is related to the sense of deja vu. The awareness of their existence allows us to notice them more often, giving the impression that they are ‘happening’ more when, and if we had the vantage point of a deity we would see they are implicit everywhere, all the time. It is Nature’s way of saying, “This is all a lot more bizarre and wonderful than you can imagine, so pay attention!”

 

Special thanks to Helen Sangha at Sutton Coldfield Reference Library, and Ann Pearce and Jill Turner at Erdington Library.

synchronicity jung coincidence

SOURCES

 

All The Year Round by Charles Dickens (1867)

There Are No Accidents by Robert Hopcke (1997)

The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler (1972)

The Scientist by John C. Lilly (1996)

The Rupture of Time by Roderick Main (2004)

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot (1985)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v._Dudley_and_Stephens

http://www.underworldtales.com/dean.htm

When the jury acquitted Thornton, Mary’s brother William launched an appeal. Thornton’s response was to claim the right to trial by combat, the last one in England.

Maybe when a few chance preconditions are met a threshold is reached, at which point the ‘law of coincidences’ gains a momentum of its own, producing clusters of symmetry that erupt into existence, sometimes with terrible consequences.

Originally published in PARANORMAL magazine, July 2009.

edgar allen poe

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)