Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Last week’s essay on the Axial Age highlighted the mystery of multiple, unconnected (pre-globalised) cultural occurrences in disparate geographic locations, the products of which have formed the basis of the world’s great philosophies and religions. Karl Jaspers who coined the term the ‘Axial Age’ proposed that these key cultural developments occurred synchronically ... what psychologist Karl Jung would have defined as ‘circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lacking a causal connection’ … and, in my own words, circumstances that are deliciously enigmatic!
There has been much argy-bargy regarding whether synchronics – what Karl Jung termed ‘synchronicity’ and what German neurologist Klaus Conrad countered-termed ‘*apophenia’ – are one and the same. (‘*Apophenia’ describes a reverse phenomenum, that of seeing meaningful patterns within randomness). Apparently, we primates use pattern detection to form our intelligence, which in many ways makes it hard for us to accept the random without trying to put it within a framework or matrix for our understanding. (Stay in ear shot at opening night of an abstract art exhibition to hear the many ways people try to come to terms with works that lack narrative or identifiable form. You will get a real sense of this human instinct).
Be aware, however, that our age of AI can induce a momentary belief that our thoughts and the external world are thematically converging. It is a little like wanting to buy a style in car, coat, or whatever, then seeing that object everywhere. I’m sure Henry's readers have noticed that if you surf a topic you are suddenly bombarded with multiple pop-up and advertorial emails on that very subject. This is not synchronicity or apophenia, and you are not suddenly noticing what you beforehand overlooked. It is all about algorithms and is the reason gamblers, conspiracy theorists, and consumers in general become targeted once they show a particular topic has relevancy to them. You’ve been associated with a subject and you have become the hunted, sometimes with damaging consequences. (Google can get it really wrong however. I'm sure I am not the only women in the universe who has been bombarded with online adds for Viagra:)
I love the mystery that surrounds the Axial Age. I also adore Umberto Eco’s novels, Symbolist artworks and Haiku poetry.
We have woven so many opulent archetypes, patterns, narratives and symbols into our various cultures. Human evolution would be no where near as captivating or full of promise if our brains lacked that urge to find meaning.