Synchronicity. I don't believe in it as something supernatural or miraculous. Just as an interesting phenomenon which has a natural explanation. Still...
I enjoyed the connection between a book I started reading this morning, and a new video from David Lane, a.k.a. neuralsurfer, I came across a few minutes later via a Lane Facebook post. Common theme: brain-produced hallucinations which can seem absolutely real to the person hallucinating.
The book is Oliver Sacks' "Hallucinations." Sacks is a professor of neurology who writes books about ways the brain produces unusual experiences.
Here's some of what I learned in the first few pages:
It is not always easy to discern where the boundary lies between hallucinations, misperception, and illusion. But generally, hallucinations are defined as percepts arising in the absence of any external reality -- seeing things or hearing things that are not there.
Perceptions are, to some degree, shareable -- you and I can agree that there is a tree; but if I say, "I see a tree there," and you see nothing of the sort, you will regard my "tree" as a hallucination, something concocted by my brain, or mind, and imperceptible to you or anyone else.
To the hallucinator, though, hallucinations seem very real; they can mimic perception in every respect, starting with the way they are projected into the external world.
...Hallucinations have always had an important place in our mental lives and in our culture. Indeed, one must wonder to what extent hallucinatory experiences have given rise to our art, folklore, and even religion.
...Do "ecstatic" seizures, such as Dostoevsky had, play a part in generating our sense of the divine? Do out-of-body experiences allow the feeling that one can be disembodied? Does the substanceless of hallucinations encourage a belief in ghosts and spirits?
After putting down the book I watched Lane's "The Illusion of Certainty," a short 5:38 video about Faqir Chand. He was an Indian guru who realized how devotees' miraculous visions were produced by themselves, projections of their own desires and expectations.
Well-done, David Lane. I like the title.
Certainty is a subject I've blogged about a lot. Evolution/natural selection favors those who aren't paralyzed with indecision when confronted with, say, a tiger about to leap on them. Bursting into action by feeling certain about what to do, even if the decision isn't optimal, is better than remaining actionless.
And soon after, killed.
But it also is necessary to be in touch with reality. Hallucinating things that aren't there, or failing to see things that are there, also isn't conducive to staying alive. Or living productively.
However, hallucinations of supposed supernatural phenomena often can co-exist with someone living a more or less outwardly normal life. If someone's vision of a guru, heaven, angels, God, Jesus, or some other spiritual entity doesn't interfere with necessary practical actions and thoughts, then he/she can believe wrongly that reality has been augmented, rather than diminished.
The video makes a strong neuroscientific point: expectations and prior experiences have a big influence on perceptions.
My wife and I hate the brownish California ground squirrels which have migrated north and made Oregon their home. They dig destructive tunnels and can kill plantings with their chewing. But we like the native gray squirrels. Sometimes they can be hard to tell apart.
If we've been having problems with ground squirrels, often I'll look out the window and think "Damn! A ground squirrel is sitting on that rock!" However, a closer look reveals the truth: it's a lighter colored gray squirrel with its tail hidden (tails of the two species are quite different).
What I see is affected by my past experience and current expectations. Same goes for visions, hallucinations, illusions. If a religious devotee desperately wants to see God, guru, or whoever, his or her mind may oblige with a subjective perception that feels absolutely real.
Feeling certain about the objective reality of an experience is by no means a guarantee that what was experienced exists outside an individual's mind/brain. This is why demonstrable evidence or confirmation by other sources is so important to truth-seekers.