Friday, January 13, 2012

The Dead Zone: Synchronicty

(Friday, January 13th) The Dead Zone:  Coincidences, Synchronicity, or Random?

For about five or six years it was popular to say ‘That's random.’   We passed through that discursive phase, as I rarely if ever hear on campus any students saying “That’s random.”  The passing of a popular saying doesn't, however, constitute the fading of a phenomenon.  “The gods have flown away," said Heidegger, but I've always felt their presence nonetheless.   So too with the experience of randomness, a term that, I think, was/is intended to describe what Jung called ‘synchronicity,’ or what most folks call‘coincidence’.  

I once spoke to a psychotherapist and mentioned to her that I often experienced synchronicity, and wondered if I might have just have noticed  strange coincidences a bit more often than most folks because, well, I just did, or, perhaps, it had become a habit to notice them?   She gave me her take on Jung and synchronicity, which, as she understood it, was a description of a universal ordering principle that functioned as an alternative, and complementary  force to the more dominant law of cause and effect.   The causal force was more dominant, she said, because in the West, anyway, we had, since the age of Reason (or Rationalism) and Science, become trained ('educated') to perceive the universe determined by the logic of cause and effect.   This explanation reminded me of Foucault, and the way he documented practices throughout history, the way, for example, the ‘self’ has been constituted.   Might we say the same for perception?  Could human perception be a historically and culturally ‘produced’ experience?  

I have a colleague at Hofstra who is an excellent philosopher.  She also happens to be a hard core determinist, and has won over more students than any other colleague I know.   I became aware of this in Spring 2011 when I was teaching a seminar on Existentialism in the Honors College.   A few students in the class were having difficulty with the Sartrean foundation of the course of study, the assumption of human freedom.  At first I couldn't begin to argue for or defend ‘freedom,’ because I didn't understand the determinist way of perceiving the universe.   As the semester unfolded we arrived at some common ground when we read Arendt, who talks about humans being ‘conditioned’ in a way that Kant talks about the a priori categories that shape human experience.   Arendt also famously emphasizes that each and every human being has the capacity to initiate something new.  We are beginners, she says in a riff on St. Augustine, because we can begin.   And, for Arendt, there's no question we experience freedom, and she doesn't think this is a historical phenomenon, despite explaining that the ancient Greeks and Romans set up very unique opportunities for the experiences of freedom.    

In what sense are we ‘conditioned’ to perceive experiences and events through the lens of cause and effect?   And why is it that we only sometimes experience strange coincidences, and synchronicity? 

When I record the Dead Zone I often times experience synchronicity, and I wonder if it's the orbit of planet Grateful Dead that lends itself to such experiences.   For sure, planet Grateful Dead has its own kind of gravity, atmosphere, as well as unique temporal and spatial dimensions.   The most recent example occurred last Saturday morning when I was recording The Dead Zone for Jan 8th.   This year on the show we are exploring the Dead's performances in Europe, thereby commemorating the 40th anniversary of the famous Europe 72 tour.  We'll focus on the tours from 1970, 74, 81, and 90, i.e., performances that are not as well known as those from April and May of 1972.   We started this documentation this past Sunday with my favorite Europe show, March 28, 1981, from the Grugahalle, Essen, West Germany.   (It's cool to write ‘West Germany.' I think I miss that distinction. Not sure if the Germans do.)   So as I was recording the Dead Zone last Saturday morning, my wife Kelly called to tell me she'd started a new novel, The Summer We Read Gatsby.   She started by saying, “Hey, you know how in those Perrotta novels we encountered all those references to the Dead?  Yeah, well, check out what I just read in the beginning of this novel.  The narrator in the novel is named after the Dead tune ‘Stella Blue,’ because her parents are Deadheads, and the night she was born they played “Stella Blue.”  And then narrator says, 'I became a Deadhead myself when my mother took me to see them in Germany. I was ten years old.'      Funny, right?”  Kelly added.   I paused for a moment, smiled and replied, “Yeah, that's funny, really funny, in fact its weird, because the show I am playing as we speak, and that will be on The Dead Zone tomorrow night is from Germany!” Another moment of synchronicity, or what I often call Grateful Dead moments.

I wonder if it's possible to be ‘educated’ in the perception of synchronicity?  I've done a  lot of thinking on that question, and even written a few papers on improvisational teaching and learning.  A would conjecture that synchronicity is experienced intensely by great improvisational musicians and the groups of musicians who accompany them (e.g., Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead,  John Coltrane and the 'Classic Quartet' of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones.)  Can the same experience happen with teaching?   I noticed in doing some reading on Jung that he more or less left the research on synchronicity as a project for the future.  Perhaps this is a field of study in education and philosophy that can and should be taken up?

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