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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Grinning Cat, I love it! "Man, being a mammal, breastfeeds his young."

Could not be better evidence for our claim of language used as sexism. 

It seems weird to use "man" for "human" and "he" for "he or she".  

I read once - not sure if it's true - that "they" and "their" was used a long time ago - maybe in Old English - to mean "he or she".  "They" didn't always suggest plural. 

That's what I prefer - "they" is colloquially used as a singular anyway, and isn't cumbersome or with "PC" overtones.

I and others have read the same, Luara, and now use only "they" or "their".

Just as when using the word, "unique," incorrectly is gaining acceptance in modern English and American usage, there have to be irregularities that might shock a philologist or librarian but must nevertheless be tolerated. I have no problem with the following construction: "He or she [or, if you prefer, "She or he"] must recognize their duty to their country." Obviously, grammatically incorrect. But pronouns are pretty irregular as it is speaking in the vernacular. Less attractive are such constructions as "S/he said s/he'd volunteer for the Peace Corps helping a Mayan village in the Yucatan."

GC, congratulations. You've earned yourself a sharpshooter award!

Notice, I didn't say "marksman".

I agree, and I am glad that less sexist language has come to be the standard.  It does matter.  Using "he" as a universal pronoun and "mankind" for "humanity" accurately reflects the mentality that the men are the ones who matter, and the reality that men have been the ones whose opinions are heard. 

I too take notice of sexist language, even old sexist language.  I want to point out that it is what it is, even while quoting it. 

Simone de Beauvoir wrote "The Second Sex" about this "othering" of women. 

When I get to Hell, I will point all of this out to Friedrich.

Wherever! And in the meantime, you can do the work here and now to empower the trend. 

Good for you, Joan!

I agree that examination of hidden sexism in language is important. It's never irrelevant to uncover language bias when we refer to sources in which it's embedded.

Yes, using words such as "he" and "mankind" as universal terms contributes -- wittingly or not -- to a perception that being male is normal, the standard, and women and girls are exceptions.

I'm just glad we stopped giving feminine names to storms ;-)

James, I used to wonder what the grain of truth might be behind Biblical miracles, but then I realized that people a couple thousand years ago were ignorant and superstitious and ready to believe miracle stories, and that Biblical writers were ready to believe them and use them to spread the Word.  A woman I met a few years ago told me with breathless certainty that "they" were raising the dead in Africa--apparently not wanting to accept that "they" were also stoning witches.  Imagine a time when 99% of the population is ready to believe that it once rained quail and another time rained frogs, or that an enormous river turned to blood, or [fill in the miracle].  The smoking gun to me was in Moses turning a stick into a snake, only to have the trick matched by two of the pharaoh's magicians.  Or in Acts, when Peter warns God he has competition from a flying magician named Simon Magus, whom God then knocks out of the sky.  If you already believe in magic, believing in the power of the Lord is just a hop, skip, and a jump.  It's all just literature written by the gullible for the more gullible.Remember, Jesus couldn't do any great works in Nazareth.  The people there weren't so gullible because they knew who he was.

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