Coincidence, Synchronicity, Post Hoc Reasoning, and the Disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

Nietzsche said that hope is "the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” The torments of the lost Malaysian Flight 370 passengers and crew are unimaginable, but one cannot fear categorization as a "typical uncaring atheist" in critiquing comments of friends, family members, lovers, and business associates of those on the passenger manifest, now apparently deceased. Since all possible scenarios for the disappearance of the Boeing 777 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing have been rigorously examined by experts in aviation and either ruled out or thought unlikely, the handwriting is on the wall and it scrawls a dark, depressing message.

Yet some of the passengers' loved ones continue to maintain hope. These include the domestic partner of Philip Wood, Sarah Bajc, who as late as March 21, 2014, told a Time reporter,“All I can say is I’m sure they are still alive. I am absolutely convinced.” She also told Anderson Cooper on CNN, "Miracles do happen, they happen everyday."

Uh, no, Ms. Bajc, they do not. A miracle is defined by Webster's as "an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause...such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God." As non-believers, we immediately see that Ms. Bajc has become an object lesson in proof of Nietzsche's statement. That an extraordinary event such as the survival of the Flight 370 passengers and crew, or at least some of them, might "surpass all known human or natural powers" would not be proof that there was a "supernatural cause," much less evidence it is the "work of God." By coincidence, during the now-14-day-old search for the missing jet, I happened to be reading a book dealing in part with human sexuality containing a longish chapter comparing the opinions of Freud and Jung. The jet disaster reports reminded me of Jung's treatise on what he called "synchronicities," which he defined as "meaningful coincidences" that cannot be explained but somehow partake of the numinous. This is but another way of saying that the "coincidences" are "divine."

Miracles attributed to Jesus might be viewed by Jungians as synchronicities, but all of them may be explained with reference to science. A crowd mesmerized by a charismatic leader might take one bite of a sardine and a crumb from a bread crust and feel satisfied, convinced that only a few fish and one loaf fed a multitude. Ditto the water transformed into wine at the wedding reception. The raising of Lazarus might merely have been an ancient occurrence of a phenomenon such as we only recently witnessed of a man thought dead only to wake up in a body bag in a morgue, thereby avoiding the fate of a character in Poe. (Some biblical exegetists even claim that what Jesus actually did was to revive not Lazarus per se but his flagging sexual apparatus, especially since some gnostic sects believe Reb Yeshua was bisexual and had knowledge of both Lazarus and John, the "disciple whom Jesus loved.") Even the "resurrection" has been explained as tantamount to a magic trick, sheer prestidigitation. Advocates of that position note that the person who bought the prophet's body from the Romans, Joseph of Arimathea, was a member of the Therapeuts, an Egyptian gnostic sect that was famous in the Levant for their mastery of medicinal herbs. Surely it is possible they used scientific methods to concoct a soporific that mimicked death in such ways as lack of a pulse and lowered temperature. (It might be asked if this was not what Shakespeare had in mind when had the Friar Laurence put Juliet to such a sleep it convinced her family, then Romeo himself, that she was deceased.)

The problem with coincidences is that they are subject to more than one interpretation and believers usually dull Occam's razor by grasping at the straws of religious belief for explantions. During my occult period (mid-80s to early 90s) I was absolutely fascinated (in all senses of that word) by what is known as the "23 phenomenon." Robert Anton Wilson recalled how William S. Burroughs obsessed on the number, citing numerous incidences when it figured in disasters both at sea and in the air. Cabalists, using a letter-number correspondence system called gematria, noted that 2+3 = 5, which has all manner of links to this and that. One can, and I myself almost did, become mad tinkering with gematria and its Greek cognate, isopsephia. (The late Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, has a footnote proving to my own satisfaction that when John of Patmos wrote his "Revelations," warning converts to Christianity of "the Great Beast, 666," he made reference to current, rather than future, events. In Greek, "the Great Beast" is To Mega Therion, and it so happens -- note "it so happens" -- that 666 corresponds precisely, in Greek, to "Nero Caesar." If Graves is right (and he was a rigorous researcher) think of how foolish today's fundamentalist Christians appear, predicting their Rapture when the events "foretold" actually happened almost 20 centuries ago!)

When African tribes were shown silent motion pictures for the very first time, they reacted by taking up spears and attacking the screen. The believer mind is a primitive mind. Some primitives, including many today, must think that because science cannot explain everything (one imagines some even saying that they accept the Big Bang theory, but it was God who caused it), God must be the answer. Myth, superstition, and failure of critical thinking in education -- the logical fallacies should be taught in elementary school! -- all play roles in the preference for faith over rational thought. Mine was a primitive mind for almost a decade of my adult life prior to the realization that God was unlikely, which was prior to my certainty that the only god there is is the one between one's ears.

Thus, if I were still in thrall of such wasteful pursuits as Cabalistic letter-number correspondences, I would analyze the flight number, 370, and make the following findings. According to the collection of correspondences known as the Sepher Sephiroth, 370 = Leviticus 23:40 (which see, although it would be a complete waste of your time); while, it also refers to the reduction of 370 to the number 37 = "perished," "God," and "flame." Aha! There must have been a fire aboard the 777 and it was caused by God, and someone perished as a result, perhaps everyone on board. Further, when 37 may, by genatria, be reduced to 10, which has correspondence o to the Hebrew for "elevated," "exalted" and "high." These are obvious references to jet airlines in flight. And so on and so forth. If one is not careful, one can be imprisoned into interpreting all numbers as significant. Talmudic scholars believe that not only is the O.T. the literal word of God, it tells the entire story of mankind from beginning to end.

The trouble with such thinking is that the believer goes looking for that which confirms God's message, ignoring all else, including scientific explanations that are much simpler. No doubt, Ms. Bajc is a deeply religious person. Perhaps she is unaware that even the Vatican maintains rigid skepticism about "true miracles." Lay persons categorize events as miracles by the same process employed by prayer. When one hopes for a certain outcome and it actually works out that way by some unknown factor, one might say, "I prayed and it happened," yet this requires an extrapolation backward to connect the effect with the cause, a process that is only theoretically possible in quantum theory. And even there, God is removed, since God is thought by the faithful to be the cause and quantum theoretical postulates refer to effects without causes. The quantum model does not require post hoc reasoning for an explanation.

This is the third time I have attempted to write this comment. The first failed due to computer problems, and even after running Microsoft Security Essentials to hunt down and kill viruses, I found the PC running so slowly that I abandoned a second attempt. Finally I took the puter to the repair service for virus removal -- a science -- and set to work on the entry using my PC at work. Now, a suspicious (paranoid?) person might say, "It was those crafty Christians sabotaging your efforts, putting a virus on my PC so that I wouldn't be able to write a comment for AtheistNexus debunking prayer and miraculous events. That sort of thinking is itself post hoc (prayer, miracle) thinking. How can I just know that Franklin Graham or Mike Huckabee arranged for a hacker to put a virus on my computer when it could just as easily have been the employee of a Russian oligarch or an Iranian mullah? Or a 16-year-old nerd sending out viral greetings indiscriminately just for the thrill of it. No, the believer simply must leap to (however unlikely) conclusions. The main reason Ms. Bajc believes in miracles is that they're commonplace yet no more susceptible of proof.

During my attempts to write this piece, after I gave up on the PC that is in the shop, I turned to a backlog of magazines to which I have subscribed. It was at this point that I stumbled upon a back issue of Time with a story about Seth MacFarlane and the movie, Ted. I had known that MacFarlane was an atheist, that he produced the new Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson," and that he had produced brought several very popular TV shows into creation on Fox. What I had not known -- although there are abundant web sites mentioning it -- is that he was one of ten celebrities who failed to board one of the flights that that Muslim jihadists boarded on 9/11. In fact, MacFarlane had a reservation on the Boston plane, but he missed the flight. Ms. Bajc would say it was a miracle he missed it, but MacFarlane told the magazine he regarded the affair as an operation of chance.

If there is a god, She, He, or It is surely the deity of aleatory events. Still, the number of MacFarlane's flight was American Airlines Flight 11, and it so happens that this number is regarded by occultists as "magic." In fact, the Sepher Sephiroth notes attributions to, among other things, the Hebrew verb for "to tear, cut, attack." That certainly explains 9/11. The Muslim jihadists attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by cutting and tearing into them with jet airplanes employed as bombs.

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"Coincidence, Synchronicity, Post Hoc Reasoning"!

The substance of which life is made, as well as accidents, flukes, chances, luck and correlations.  As you write, "Nietzsche said that hope is "the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man a person”. Hope turns to magical thinking during times of stress and unknowns.

Miracles don't happen! That is the reality. There is luck, but that can't be measured or quantified. Luck is a feeling, something that can be distorted into all kinds of thought. Magic and mystery have a cause. Finding the cause reveals the natural effect of some action. Magical thinking does not take away the grief, it is hope that prolongs it. Magical thinking becomes a screen between desire and reality to deny what is real.

"Logical fallacies should be taught in elementary school!"

If not, young minds will not have the tools to recognize delusions and denial. The magical talk of gods, or religion, or numerology, or other occultist's thinking complicates cognitive thought and decision making. Too many adults lack the skills of critical thinking and the delusions carry on for another generation. Critical thinking is so easily taught to children and adults who desire those skills. However, they take one out of childish thinking into mentally healthy, mature, adult thinking. 

Chance and luck cannot be predicted or controlled. It is the stuff that creates depression and anxiety. 

I see two alternatives when faced with the pain that those who wait for news about the plane and its passengers. 

1. Do what one can to stop rumors from flying world wide, creating havoc for everyone; 

2. Stop, sit down, empty your mind of imagined circumstances, and wait, gaining calm and strength for what may lie ahead. You can't change anything by worry or frantic thinking. You can take control of your mind and body in a way that strengthens you for facing reality when it becomes known. 

Mourning is the necessary outcome of finding them not alive. Grieve in ways that express your feelings. You may choose to grieve verbally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. This is the time for letting go.  


Joan, Nietzsche meant "man" in the sense of the species, homo sapiens. He wasn't being misogynistic. :-)

Oh! James! How many times have I heard that trivializing statement. It usually comes from the mouths of men who say it and then turn around and step on our rights, or pay women less for the same job done by men, or think they know what is good for women's bodies and minds without consult with the woman herself and her medical consultants. Sorry, James, I have to call baloney even with the likes of Nietzsche.

Language is so very important. I wish I had kept track of all the husbands and fathers, ministers, wives, mothers and police officers state how they managed their children or wives was discipline ... when it was clearly assault. 

I do not accuse you of being so absurdly immature and aggressive, however, dismissive language is what it is. 

He was writing a very long time ago. When he used the word, "man" he meant mankind. It never occurred to him to be politically correct. That concept awaited the 20th century. It is redundant given the usage to write "man and woman" or "mankind and womankind." Sheesh! Some women wear their feelings on their sleeves.

James, I understand that, and that is why I cross out any sexist language and leave the word in so that it is obvious I am changing the words. When women have access to education opportunity based on their interests and talents, when women can move into leadership positions if they have the qualifications, if a women is POTUS and Chief Justice Of the Supreme Court, and topples the Pope and creates a system that honors women, takes care of children, and stands up to corrupt power, then, maybe, I will stop editing copy. 

Well, this is Burger King; you can have it your way.

Noted that Obama, speaking to the King and Queen of Brussels, today inserted two words into the Declaration of Independence, "all men [and women] are created equal...." Now, I cannot quibble about pronouns. I will try to be mindful in the future.

James, you are a real gentleman. Thanks. We have a team!

James, I looked for a copy or a video of Obama saying "all men [and women] are created equal...." 
Can you remember where you learned of that insertion? It would make my day!

Probably on YouTube or at MSNBC or CNN as it was from Brussels today just after the G-7 meeting where Russia was dethroned.

Ah yes, it finally appeared: 

"Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves – the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle—through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution—that a particular set of ideals began to emerge. The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding. Those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the Founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men—and women—are created equal."

~ U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts - BOZAR) in Brussels on March 26, 2014.

emphasis mine. 

Hear, hear!

The word "man" has clearly lost its Old English sense of "person (male or female)".

My favorite demonstration that "man" is a false generic is "Man, being a mammal, breastfeeds his young."




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