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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Jesus' fraudulent magic tricks should unsettle people who think Jesus was only human but "a good man".  He was a cult leader with the contradictions that implies:  unusual goodness but also self-deception, duplicity and probably not much awareness of others.

That sounds like a good assessment to me. A man with a Jesus Complex. 

So in the past people were more willing to flexible about reality, more willing to believe.

Perhaps this affected the psychology of cult leaders.  From reading about how cult leaders talk, they aren't integrated people.  Similarly to religious people in general, but more so, they have detours in their minds, circular thinking that logic doesn't address. 

So preaching high ideals and practicing deception on people with magic tricks, can coexist in their minds. 

Perhaps people in the past were more flexible about having inconsistent personalities, just as they were more flexible about what they accepted as reality. 

Now, the Simon Magus episode intrigues me. I did an extensive if not exhaustive investigation into the situation in the Levant during the time of the prophet and Simon Magus. As you know, there were dozens if not hundreds of magicians and soothsayers rambling about the Holy Land at the time Jesus is supposed to have appeared on the scene. Simon Magus may well have been the most important of the lot, particularly if we read his holy book, his prophecy, his magnum opus, which paints a very different picture than the one you found in Acts. In fact, I would contend that the image of Simon Magus is so completely bogus it besmirks Acts and the likely author or attribution, Paul. Think about it. This was a rival magic man with a similar claim to divinity. The version we see in the Hollywood biblical epic, "The Silver Chalice," 1954, is high camp. Jack Palance eats up the scenery in his portrayal of Simon, claiming he will demonstrate his divinity by leaping from a high tower and flying gently back to earth.

That makes me laugh, Craig. Jesus couldn't do great works in Nazareth where he was known!

I wonder if we can move through the savannah of our evolutionary journey into a new level of development to a place where we can come together as a species and see that might does not make right, that power does not reside in the ones with the biggest bombs, and that we have to take the Earth into account when we make our decisions? I wonder if we can make that transition with the moderate religious community or if it will not happen until and unless we are able to shuck off the mantle of superstition?

James:

This is an awesome piece of work. Man, you are so intelligent that it boggles my mind. If you haven't already, you should write a book on atheism, several books man. And by the way, my computer is acting up just as you said yours was, and in the same way. I read a report, and I think I posted on AN about it, where two phone companies, or something, I forget now, were trying to buy the internet or something, and begin a campaign of censorship, and that it would cause the internet to begin to run extremely slow for almost everyone. And I read this report only a few weeks before my computer began to run so slow. Even as I type this AN as not yet finished downloading, though I can still post. And I get all kinds of pop ups now, and nothing I attempt fixes the problem. Unlike you, however, I cannot afford to take it to a shop, or buy a new computer. Coincidence ? I have no idea.

Thanks for your compliments on the comment. I used to be a professional writer, and I have been keeping a big file marked "Religion," containing all sorts of stuff like this. Maybe someday....The pop up thing was the worst. I have never had so many at one time. It was like, every site I went to, I had a new window come up asking for a survey on behalf of the site. Now, I knew that not all of those sites would burden me with a survey right off the bat, so I had to think it was a malware or adware trying to use the information to sell to the sites. Then again, the info they were asking about may have been an attempt to get things out of me they needed to do harm in some other way. Microsoft Security Essentials identified one of the viruses I had and deleted in an effort to keep from having to resort to the repair shop as a virus that robbed passwords from the hard drive. That way, they could go to sites I use and enter my password and get anything they wanted. I have computed since 1991 and I do not recall ever having so much trouble with invasive pop ups and jump screens.

James, you need to download and run "Dr. Web Cure It" just like Tony does. It always works for me.

I have seen this lady's remark that she is absolutely convinced that they are still alive. Certainly she wants to believe so, but her "faith" is most likly a false hope. The reality of the evidence (or lack of any evidence) is against this happening at this stage. It's almost like blind relgious dogma.

A resale shop owner told me there is something going on here with this missing flight, and she hints at conspiracy because flight 370 just dissappeared. I told her that radar does not cover everything and that cameras cannot record every event. If the plane cannot be tracked by its own instruments you have 2 basic choices on what happened.

1. Flight 370 crashed into the sea.

2. Flight 370 crashed on land somewhere but we don't know where.

We can make the better movie of Flight 370 if we elect number 2 and make it all very dramatic and Movie of the Week. Add number 3 that "the flight was highjacked" and everyone is alive somewhere and you go into everyone's wishful thinking. People just cannot understand how this plane seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.

Investigators admit that the pilot and the co-pilot did not ask to be paired together, and yet they suspect them of "doing something." They have every reason to examine the pilot's flight simulator, and they suspect that when the plane changed course early on that it would have taken 2 people to do that. No claims have been made, so try to examine other possibilities of what might have happened. What failure could we have had here? Ask every question. We need to know what happened.

I believe the flight ended up in the ocean and broke apart with all lost at sea, but these days I'm not very religious.

Nietzsche said that hope is "the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”

There are times to ignore Nietzsche, and this is one of those times. He was neither strong enough nor desperate enough to end his torment. He took the passive-aggressive option: insanity.

There's another time to ignore him. He agan and again extolled the "strong man" but, in Zarathustra, he gave the words "God is dead" TO AN INSANE MAN. In doing that, he too obviously gave himself a defense to the inevitable attacks by xians.

And James, are you too much a literalist to open your post with one of the following?

Nietzsche said that hope is "the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of [mankind].”

Nietzsche said that hope is "the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of [humankind].”

Literalists, including the biblical kind, weaken their own cases.

Tom, I need some clarity. Watching the people crying, wailing, lamenting, and not knowing whether their loved ones were alive or dead was a prolongation of torment. If the plane crashed and was found at once, they would have cried, wailed and lamented upon knowing the truth, and then gone about the business of putting their lives back without their loved one.

Maybe I should put my name on the statement, "hope is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of humankind” and leave anyone else's name off of it. However, I would be accused of plagiarizing. I try very hard not to do that.

I can speak personally about hope. I hoped, prayed, pleaded, begged, cried, and did not escape abuse until I ran away from family and created my own community. It is hope that prolonged my agony, from the first time I watched from my crib as my father beat my mother in 1936 until July 1, 1974, I hoped. It became a reality on July 2, 1974.   

It is hope that prolonged my agony

I don't understand that. Without hope, things would be less agonizing?  Because one would commit suicide?

Hope keeps one struggling and looking for answers. 

Sure it's true if hope means suspecting but not knowing something bad.  But otherwise? 

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