Tag Archives: metaphysics

What is a coincidence?

By Arthur Kary.

The aim of this post is to get deep into coincidences, and try to figure out what exactly is going on. It would help if you thought of this as more of a hypothesis than any attempt at a theory, just me throwing out a few ideas to get everyone thinking about it. I’m going to argue that the dominant aspect of coincidences is the subjective attitudes we have towards the events, rather than the ontological nature of the events themselves.

Coincidences themselves do not exhibit the properties of ‘remarkable’ or ‘weird’. That an event is a coincidence is not like an object refracting particles of light, doing so whether someone is watching it or not. What makes coincidences so interesting to me is that they rely on an observer to recognise them. They need someone to add the remarkable to it through their perception of the event. A definition of coincidences I propose is ‘an unlikely and apparently uncaused relationship between objects or events, the observation of which causes in the perceiver a particular emotional response’. I will now talk about that particular emotional response, focusing on why we might feel it, and also bring to light the big role it plays in the overall coincidence phenomena.

Unlikely in that definition, taken simply, means you don’t come across it very often. But unlikely can also be looked at in a more abstract way. Given someone’s way of understanding the world, the possibilities and significance of any particular event occurring are apt to change.

The feeling of coming across a coincidence, I think, is the violation of one’s schema, or way of understanding the world, by an event that doesn’t fit in it, or is improbable according to it. Coming across someone who shares a birthday with you may seem an unlikely event in your schema, you may term it a coincidence, but as anyone who has attended a Phil Staines lecture knows, the probability of being in a room with someone who has the same birthday as you exceeds 50% with only 23 people in it. For the person who has that knowledge, that relationship does not have the same significance. Another important point is that despite each scenario ending up with different outcomes, either experiencing a coincidence or not, the physical events leading up to it are all the same. It is the interpretation on behalf of the individuals that changes the outcomes.

So to sum up my argument, I think coincidences are primarily the result of our expectations of the world compared to the world itself. Events and relationships in the universe do not have a significant quality or a weird quality as part of their constitutions. These properties are attributed by us, in our experience of those events. If we look at coincidences in this way, we are able to avoid attributing extra forces or phenomena to the universe, instead acknowledging how we may be shaping the world through our experience of it.

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Why Free Will Doesn’t Matter

By Tim Dean

diceFree will is an illusion. There, I said it. Now, let’s move on. For it matters not a jot.

Only, it seems we can’t move on. Despite evidence, physical and metaphysical, to the contrary, a majority of people refuse to acknowledge that we have no free will.

But perhaps this is a good thing? Evidently, people who believe in free will behave in more magnanimous ways. Even if it does result in some startlingly incoherent beliefs. And I quote:

If we don’t have free will, a perverse kind of anarchism emerges, one which seems to encourage us to act any way we choose.

Hang on a tic, let’s get this straight… If we don’t have free will – meaning we don’t have choice – we end up having anarchism, where we act any way we choose. Well that’s pretty clear…

All this says to me that the psychological notion – the illusion – of free will is important in every day life, but let’s divorce that from the physical and metaphysical notions once and for all.

Philosopher, Saul Smilansky, has already outlined a similar position, called Illusionism. From what I’ve read of it, it needs some polish – mainly because the topic as a whole is horrifically confused and riddled with equivocation over what different terms, like ‘free’, mean – but it offers a compelling roadmap to escape the free will dilemma. Basically:

Illusionism is the position that illusion has a large and positive role to play in the issue of free will. In arguing for the importance of illusion, I claim that we can see what it is useful, that it is a reality, and why by and large it ought to continue to be so. Illusory beliefs are in place concerning free will and moral responsibility, and the role they play is largely positive. Humanity is fortunately deceived on the free will issue, and this seems to be a condition of civilized morality and personal value. (Smilansky, 2005)

So free will is a kind of ‘error theory’. It doesn’t really exist, but it’s useful to assume it does.

Why am I sympathetic towards this view? Because my own research indicates a similar thing might apply to morality. Yeah yeah… That’s even more contentious than free will, but let the truth take us where we will. Wishful thinking about free will or morality won’t change the facts.

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