Monday, August 5, 2013


I became a grandfather for the first time on May 31st when our son Jeff and his wife Bei welcomed their son Stanley into the family.  A few days later I was speaking with our daughter Michelle about the new addition to the family, and she related to me an interesting incident.  Michelle knew that Bei’s due date was in late May but she didn’t know that in fact Bei had gone into labor on the night of May 30th.  Nevertheless, on the evening of the 31st Michelle had had a sudden thought that perhaps Stanley had arrived.  She later learned that Stanley was born at very nearly the same time that she had been thinking about him.  Psychic phenomenon?  I think not. 

To support my point of view, following is an illustration that I have shamelessly borrowed from a source I can no longer recall.  It goes as follows:  “The other day I started thinking about an old friend whom I hadn’t thought about in a long time.  And just then the phone rang.  It wasn’t him.”

This illustrates an important point.  We routinely have thoughts about family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances.  In the vast majority of cases any such thought never gets linked to an actual event relating to that other person and so the thought is quickly forgotten.  For example, I recently dreamed of the death of a former professional colleague.  On another occasion I suddenly wondered about an old friend that I hadn’t heard from or even thought about in many years.  In neither case did any real life event occur relating to those persons.  Another example might be that I think of a relative and then get an email from an unrelated person.  Or I think of a friend to whom I recently spoke and then read the obituary of someone else entirely.  Or, even more mundanely, I think of an old classmate and just then the air conditioner kicks on, or I think of an old pet I used to have and just then the mailman comes by with my electric bill.  Obviously, there are virtually endless numbers of such possible meaningless pairings.  But since these are events the pairings of which have no significance to us, they are generally not even noticed in the first place.  

Of course, what we do tend to notice and to remember are those instances where a thought and an event are paired up in time and there happens to be a relationship between the two.  So if on occasion a thought and related event are linked temporally, do we say, Wow! There must be some sort of connection between the two and, because there’s no apparent causal relationship, it must be a psychic phenomenon?  Or do we say that there are simply so many people we think of and so many events that just happen at the same time that there are bound to be a few pair that will appear to be meaningfully linked but are really just a coincidence?  I think the answer is clear.

© 2013 John M. Phillips


  1. Alright Uncle John , you have me hooked. I want to tell you about 2 such "pairings" that happened to me. You still may feel they are just coincidences but to me they were gifts.

    I'm going to tell you about the most recent one first. I want to state that although my husband is a Christian as I am, he does not believe in the paranormal or that animals go to heaven. I do believe that animals go to heaven and I am interested in the paranormal but remain skeptic with an open mind.

    My dog Shadow was a dear pet that we had for 16 & 1/2 years. She was a mutt but mostly Border Collie. Brent found her at work one day skinny and dirty and brought her home to me and our other dog Lucy (who is currently 18 & 1/2). Sadly, about a year ago, Shadow's back legs went out on her and she was not able to walk and we had to make the dreaded decision to put her to sleep. I was comforted by the fact that we had rescued her and she was with us a long time.

    About a week later I awoke on a Saturday morning and remembered my wonderful dream about Shadow. I was sitting on the end of the bed and she came up to me and I hugged her as she wagged her tail and I could even feel her soft fur, it was so real. In my dream Brent walked in while I was hugging her and I said "look Honey, look how healthy and happy she looks". He smiled and suddenly that was the end of the dream.

    I was comforted and I believe it was a gift to help me move on and know I did the right thing. But, that's not the end of the story. When Brent got up about an hour later I couldn't wait to tell him about my dream. He listened and (remember he doesn't believe in these things) told me he had a dream about her too. In his dream, he was at the foot of the bed and Shadow was walking towards him but I started to walk in behind her not seeing her. He put his hand up to have me stop but I kept walking and Shadow disappeared. We both had those dreams on the same night. My husband says, that was pretty weird.

    The next 'pairing' happened when my Mom died (your sister). When she was air lifted to Phoenix because she wasn't responding and her oxygen sats were low, Brent and I rushed to the hospital (about a 6 hour drive from where I live). I got there 20 minutes after she passed away. It was devastating to say the least. I am so grateful David was with her at least.

    It was late about 11PM and we were all so exhausted that we decided to get a hotel before driving back the next day in the daylight. After we got David settled in we decided to get something to eat across the street at a Burger King. We were on a 2nd floor and walked down the stairs to the parking lot that was closest to the the restaurant. As we were walking down the stairs my cell phone beeped that I had a missed message. I listened and it was from my MOM! She said "I'm on my way home now and I love you and I'll talk to you soon." I even let Brent listen to it. The other ironic thing is the message self deleted about 5 days later and other messages have remained on the phone.

    I believe it was a gift and something sent to comfort me. Of course, it was probably a missed call from the day before but why it came through so much later and at the time it did??? I don't believe it was a coincidence at all. Call me a believer!

    Love You!

    1. Hi, Julie,

      I'm sure that Shadow was important to both you and Brent. In that sense it doesn't seem that unusual that you each would have dreams about her. What made it most out of the ordinary--and memorable--was that you both had a dream at the same time. Perhaps if only you had had a dream or if you and Brent had had dreams at different times it wouldn't have seemed that "weird."

      As to Donna's call, it must have been difficult and emotional to have heard her voice on the missed call. It's tempting to think that it was a post-death message from her, but it sounds like you recognize that she must have sent it the day before. Even now, I miss your mom and I'm sorry that she and I weren't able to spend more time together in the years before her passing. But I'm sure you know how that is when there is a geographical separation. I always saw her as someone with great practical sense.

      I'm not sure if you are aware of Occam's Razor. It is something that I might write about in a future post. It is really just a practical rule of thumb in scientific reasoning that states that if there is more than one explanation for an event, then--all things being equal--one should prefer the explanation that requires the fewest "givens" or principles to be assumed without proof. Since asserting that an event was caused by something beyond the principles of science requires reliance on additional "givens," then explaining the event without recourse to the paranormal is to be preferred. Not a hard and fast rule, but it has been useful in advancing our knowledge through science.


  2. Hey Uncle John, it is your other niece. I thought I would put my 2 cents in the mix. This is the second time typing all this out, since blogger just ate my other response. Ugh.

    Anyway, I wanted to talk about the coincidences you were writing about. Probably in most cases, I do tend to agree with you, that there is a good explanation for whatever happened. But I do think that in some cases, God has a direct hand in what is going on. For me, there is two times in my life that I know 100% that He was directing and guiding me onto a new path that I should take.

    The first time was when I was living in California. It was after my divorce and I was in a pretty bad place at the time. I was convinced that I was going to remain single and childless forever, never attaining the dream of having my own family. In fact, I had looked into going back to school to get my MBA, figuring if nothing else, I could have a great career. Until one night, I woke up with one thought and one thought only - to work at H&R Block for the tax season doing taxes. The thought had not entered into my brain until 2:30 am that night. So I did get on the computer in the middle of the night and applied on their website. Well I got hired for the tax season and started working at the H&R Block inside of Sears at the local mall. Within the first week of working there, I met my husband Jim. He was working at Sears in between jobs while waiting until his background check was completed for his job with Customs & Border Protection. Well you know the rest of the story. In a short time, we found out that I was pregnant with Jack, despite the two years of infertility treatments I had previously while in Seattle. We got married and are very happy to this day. I truly believe that God woke me up that night to get me on the life path that I am now. There is no coincidence in my eyes that Jim and I just happened to be at Sears in January 2003.

    Part 2 next comment - Dawn

  3. The second time was when we were trying to sell our house in California. It was 2006 and the housing crash was just beginning. We had our house on the market for about 3 months with no offers and hardly any people looking. We lived in a very desirable neighborhood that just two years prior, there were waiting lists of people trying to get in. We had come down to one week before Jim had to leave to start his new job in MS. It was looking like me and Jack, who was 2 at the time, would have to stay behind until the house sold. It was not looking good. Jim had mentioned that it would take a cash offer in order for us to move as a family to Gulfport. I laughed at that. I mean really how many people out there would have $520,000 in the bank and would want to buy our house. HA! But I remember saying a small prayer that night just to help us move as a family. The very next day a couple came to look at the house and later that day made an offer. It was not a cash offer, it was contingent on the sale of their house. On the advice of our agent, we declined their offer because it basically would have taken our house off the active listing in hopes their house would sell. I wrote the couple a nice letter explaining our situation and regretfully could not accept their offer. A few hours later, our agent called and told us that couple came back with a cash offer and bank statements to back up the fact that they indeed had the cash to buy our house. We were moving 3 days later! Again, in my mind, it was God guiding that couple to our house. He had plans for us here in Gulfport. I could go on and on about those plans, but I won't bore ya.

    The thing about faith is, that until you feel it, you will never understand it. You can not dissect it, nor break it down into formulas of some evolutionary process. It just is there. And for somebody who has no faith in God to talk to somebody with that faith, they may as well be talking foreign languages to each other. One will never understand the other.

    I admit that until 2003 when I met Jim the way I did, I had very little faith. But since then, my eyes have opened to possibilities of life with God and faith in Him. It can start out small by one little incident happening in your life that makes you stop and wonder and then grow from there. I don't believe that it happens over night, as some religions want to make you believe. It really doesn't have anything to do with "religion" at all. It is just one small little spark that you can either flame and let it grow or you can squash it. That is the beauty of it, God gave us the choice to believe or not to believe.

    I just realized the novel that I wrote. I do enjoy your blog and look forward to reading more.


  4. HI, Dawn,

    Thanks for for adding your "2 cents" to the discussion and for visiting my blog.

    I know that the two incidences you mention, meeting Jim and selling your home in California, were major turning points in your journey. I'm so glad that they were such positive turning points for you.

    At the risk of mischaracterizing what you wrote, I believe you are saying that these events were not coincidences. Rather, these were incidences when God directly guided you in the right path. In effect, you are saying that you would have gone in a different direction had not God intervened. In my view these fall into the category of miracles, a topic that I plan to address specifically in a later post. In short, God's intervention into the affairs of this world is equivalent to his overriding the laws of nature. Classic examples are such things as the parting of the Red Sea, healing of the sick, or raising the dead. In each case, but for God's intervention, the sea would not have parted, the sick would not have been healed, those who died would not have come back to life.

    The two incidences you describe are not as obviously miracles, but I think you are saying that had it not been for God's guidance (intervention) you would have wound up on a different path. In your case the interventions were more subtle and occurred internally. Something happened inside your head, Jim's head, and the heads of the party buying your home that would not have happened but for God's involvement.

    But if you read my post on Points of Belief, you will see that I do not believe that the rules of nature are ever broken. Ever. So, whether action is occurring on a large scale (parting of the Red Sea) or small scale (neuronal activity in one's brain), everything happens in strict accordance with those rules. What seems like a miracle or direct intervention is simply a case of not understanding how those laws of nature have acted in a particular case. And the history of science has been one of finding natural explanations for events that previously had been considered miraculous. The scriptures are filled with accounts of miracles. Today, not so much, as they say.

    One further point: I'm afraid I have to agree with you that discussion of these matters--faith vs. science--can seem like speaking two different languages. My sense is that nearly everyone who reads this blog is an individual of faith, or at least more faith than I have. One of my goals here is to represent and articulate the "other side" (no, not the "dark side") in language that will be understandable to those readers of faith. I am doing my best to listen to those whose world views differ from mine. I do have a history of faith, though it has been a long time. I do not really expect to change anyone's mind. I just hope to be able to state my point of view in a way that others will be willing to listen to and to understand.

  5. Sure, you can chalk up many things to coincidences and leave it at it science or magic or whatever.

    I think it's hard for someone who hasn't taken the advice to "be still and know," to be aware or to comprehend God's voice. The first time I really heard it was in BC.

    I was a social worker and traveled to all the shady parts of town to visit clients. I drove a big black 4 -door Chevy Caprice. It had not power anything, and it was annoying to lock all the doors. I couldn't reach the back doors without exiting the car and walking around to lock or roll the windows down on a hot summer day. So I drove around with open windows and doors...and not seat the way...freedom! Anyway, one day I was driving towards "angels corner" with my car in this state. A very distinct impression came into my mind to stop and roll up the windows and lock the doors. It seemed ridiculous and I drove on, but again, even more convincing the impression pressed on me to stop. So I did, got the job done and drove down to the stop sign at the corner of Kendall. There were 4 black guys on the corner, and as soon as I stopped they had their hands on the car. One in front and the rest on the doors...I can never forget the thankfulness that poured from my heart and the trembling weakness that filled me with the knowledge of what could have happened on that hot day, if I had ignored that Voice. Since then I have always had deep faith, not that bad things don't happen in my life, but whatever comes, God is always there to see me through, to guide me, out of usually my own willful ways which lead to unpleasant consequences...and so far He has never failed.

    1. We all have had our remarkable, memorable coincidences. I've had a few of my own. And they can be powerful and fun to relate. But of course that is not the point of my post, is it? Rather, I am pointing out that the number of possible coincidences is vast and if one considers all the possible alignments of events, it is not unusual.

      The odds of winning the Powerball lottery are approximately 1 in 175 million. Yet when someone wins, we don't attribute that to some sort of psychic phenomenon or to God. Given the number of people playing, it is virtually bound to happen at some point. There are instances of the same person winning the lottery more than once. What are the odds of that? Actually, quite high.