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
© 2013 John M. Phillips