I am an antitheist and have seen no evidence for the existence of any deity, yet I find myself strongly attracted to many natural phenomena, such as sunsets, starry nights, trees, rocks, seascapes and mountains, in what I experience as a ‘spiritual’ connection and I am a great believer in a zeitgeist that influences a culture/era greatly.
It is quite probable that my ‘spirituality’ is little more than human psychology. I am strongly attracted to things that aesthetically please me or pose feelings of wonder and awe. As a scientist I suspect that we will find a scientific reason for the effect of a zeitgeist. I feel sure that there is a lot to be discovered about the human mind and mass psychology. How it works I do not know, but I believe we will.
In terms of synchronicity – meaningful coincidences (Carl Jung) – I have encountered a number. Some come out of my scientific background and some are more trivial but were boggling.
In terms of the scientific ones: my mind was taken with the way certain scientific theories seemed to simultaneously arise in different places at the same time – Darwin/Wallace seems the obvious one. Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin were both independently developing the same radical theories of evolution via natural selection simultaneously. That is remarkable given the far-reaching impact and gigantic leap of such a theory. For two people to have happened upon it at the same time is almost beyond coincidence. As a one off we can write it off but there are numerous other scientific coincidences of a similar nature.
In a more trivial sense I remember being shaken by my roommate and great friend from college. We had many synchronous experiences and often found ourselves extolling the virtues of the same book that we had both started reading. In the long summer break I discovered this book by the Sci-fi writer Robert Sheckley, called Journey Beyond Tomorrow, that I was greatly enjoying. Pete rang me up and told me about this great book he was reading. It turned out we were both reading the same book at the same time and were about the same way through it. The same thing happened with East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
I love books and had a habit of browsing through second-hand bookshops. In one I discovered this art book of Edward Burra’s paintings. It looked as if it had been sitting there for years – dusty and a bit tatty. I’d never heard of him before but was immediately taken with his paintings of Harlem in the 1930s with its gangsters, pimps and ladies. The richness of colour and stylistic portrayal was unique. Clutching my prize I went back home to discover that BBC2 (we only had four channels back then) had a documentary on Edward Burra that evening. I watched that and discovered that there was an exhibition of his work on at the Tate gallery. The next day I was standing in front of his wonderful paintings. I have never seen any of his work, or heard anything about him since. A weird experience.
Coincidence? Quite probably – but sometimes it appears that these coincidences, which have occurred a number of times to me, are extraordinary. Is there some other phenomenon going on?