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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Do you know the Pandora's Box legend?

Surely it's somewhere in cyberspace.

The Urban Dictionary tells it most like the way I heard it when I was a kid.

When I was in Greece with Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler, we discussed the myths of Greece and their historical underpinnings. It seems, that according to ancient legends and songs, Gimbutas discovered that Pandora had a jar and when the people needed something, she reached into the jar and pulled out water, or grain, or game, or whatever it was that they needed.

When the Greeks took over the ancient legends, they changed the story to say that Pandora had a box and when it was opened, all the pain, suffering, diseases, hardships flowed forth. 

Which myth do you want to hear? 

I saw the Pandora story in a book of fairy tales, where it was a prank played by a trickster god. Pandora opened the box, and after all the evils that would afflict humans had escaped, Hope fluttered out. Years later when I was beginning to feel Catholicism's and life's cruelties, I saw the prank's cruelty.

If my siblings and I were still on speaking terms, I would ask them if they saw a connection between Pandora and Eve. For myself, despite my years in Catholic schools, I saw nothing of Eve in my mother. She worked too hard and too long to care for her kids.

In high school, girls puzzled me. I took a girl to a movie and, as we walked I wondered how she could look so calm while I was everything but calm.

I didn't date until I got out of the Navy and was in college. I realized two things:

1) My mother had often said what she liked or disliked and I hadn't learned how to read the minds of people who didn't say what they wanted, and

2) When I heard of how some boys treated girls I angrily wondered if girls liked being treated badly. I was angry because I knew I wouldn't be able to treat them the way they apparently liked.

I WON'T WRITE ABOUT MY R'SHIPS WITH WOMEN! SO THERE!

Well, the version where everything coming out of the jar is awful sounds like misogyny to me.

If one hopes for a healthy environment, and nothing happens, the status quo is maintained and perpetuated. Frustration destroys peace. 

If one hopes and makes something happen then change can occur. 

If one hopes and can't make something happen, then one can develop the skills of peace, joy, and calm, even as nothing changes. 

Hope isn't the quality that brings about change, or manages frustration. 

Hope does bring about change because hope causes one to try to change things. 

Let us hope that it is turned into thought and action to solve the problem or conflict. 
Some people say time cures all ills. I put time in the same category as hope. One can wait and wait and wait and die waiting. 

Let us hope that people use time to think critically and to take effective and efficient action. 

Where one places hope is crucial.  Just as where one places time is crucial to cure ills. 

Everyone would agree with Nietzsche if he said "unwise hope".  Yes, it's very painful to hope for things to change and they don't.  Even more painful than hoping someone is still alive, I think. 

Joan, you said you need clarity, but reading the rest of your post didn't tell me where you need it.

It might be with this: you escaped further abuse when you stopped hoping and found the strength to run away.

Or, it might be with the following.

To escape a plagiarism charge: attribute. Identify the source.

Allen and I both attributed Nietzsche's words.

I altered Nietzsche's words slightly with a device widely used in non-fiction; I put my alteration in square brackets.

Tom, I referred to hope. Who ever said hope was a tyrant, I agree with him/her. Hope was like mind bindings that kept me bound to attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions and values of my foremothers. 

It was when I was in China and met a woman, probably in her 80s, although I don't know for sure. She was sitting on the edge of a bed when I walked into the large room of many beds lined up along each wall. Benches beside the many beds held families who provided fresh linens and garments for the patients, they changed bandages as needed, they brought food to feed the person. This particular woman had needles sticking out all up and down her spine. Her family sat on the bench beside her bed. I noticed her feet had been bound. I went to her, offered my hand to her son, daughter-in-law and children, and then to her. I chatted with them for a while through my interpreter.

She told me her story, slowly at first, telling of the needles in her back to relieve the pain that she suffered her whole life. When she was about four years old her mother and aunts bound her feet because she would be more valuable when she grew up if she had small feet. She would bring a larger bride-price.

She described the process of foot binding. the four toes on each foot were bent back onto her heel, breaking her foot bones. She described what I know as compound fractures. The bones broke through the flesh and long pieces of gauze were wound around her feet to keep them in place. The big toe of each foot extended out. The bandages were changed and rinsed in alum to stop the bleeding and pus.

As she grew, her toe bones calcified into a permanent small foot, small enough to fit into the mouth of a man. It was their belief that sucking on a woman's foot was sexually stimulating for him.  

Her voice began to rise in tone and volume. She shook her finger at her daughter-in-law and sounded very angry. She, the family and we were becoming quite alarmed and we, my interpreter and I, were asked to leave.

When we left, the interpreter told me that her mother and aunts deliberately crippled her so that she would be more valuable to them. They had no concern about the pain she experienced, and ignored her screams. The old woman shook her finger at her daughter-in-law because she didn't want her son to treat her as badly as her family and husband had treated her. In essence, she said they bound her feet and the real crime was they bound her mind. 

This shocking event stayed with me as I contemplated the role of women in society, the pains they suffered at the hands of attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions and values of their cultures. There was no concern about the pain women suffered. Society did with them what benefited it. 

From that experience came my understanding of "footbind/mindbinding". No one stopped the practice that had gone on for a thousand years until 1912 when the women refused to bind the feet of their daughters. Women, standing up for little girls, made the cultural change. 

Hope was like mind bindings that kept them bound to attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions and values of their foremothers. 

Foot Binding Tradition

Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition by Bever...

Joan, thanks for the info; no thanks for the horrid details.

Here in the US of A I have long seen women's high heel shoes as a kind of foot binding.

While I was doing hard ball politics in Arizona in the early 1970s, though I met and learned from some women who were politically active, I slowly came to see women as a majority who are treated like a minority: badly.

During the late 1970s when the Equal Rights Amendment was in the states, I was in SF, active with Common Cause, and a member of NOW. I put in a lot of hours asking men to support the ERA's ratification. Most men did. A few balked until I pointed out that if they became ill and their wives had to support them, their family income would go way down. A few men told me I was crazy. One man glared at me and called me a traitor. Though surprised, I laughed.

About ten years ago, on a fund raising walk for Women with AIDS, a theme was "Walk a Mile in Their Shoes" and a woman organizer asked me to choose a pair of low heels and wear them. Though I saw none that looked large enough for me, I feigned indignation and replied, "You want me to wear shoes that any woman can take off any time she wants?"

Good for you, Tom! Perfect answer: "You want me to wear shoes that any woman can take off any time she wants?" I agree, wholeheartedly! It is up to women to take control of their lives - just as those Chinese women did in 1912 by refusing to bind the feet of their daughters. 

A woman is as free as she thinks she is. Women, trained to have bindings on their thinking, have the power to take those bindings off. 

Glad you were not pleased with the horrid details. The better to help you remember the principles underlaying them. 

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