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Are You Superstitious? Do You Believe In 'Signs'?

Updated on August 5, 2012

Superstition: are you susceptible to it? Do you throw salt over your shoulder when you spill it? Curse when a black cat crosses your path? Avoid walking under ladders and touch wood whenever you find yourself verbally tempting fate? Well, don't we all – or at least most of us. It's hard to resist such socially ingrained tradtional rituals of superstition and invocations for maintenance of security.

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But even apart from the standard, popularly accepted folk superstitions such as these, many of us are susceptible to an interpretation of the world that takes random events as signs of a greater meaning and intentionality to life – a greater, wider plan if you will. This approach to viewing life as deeply meaningful, and coincidences as anything but, is very popular in the New Age type community (or communities) and amongst readers of books such as The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

Certainly this way of thinking about your life can be deeply comforting. The thought that everything has significance, is planned out and guided instead of being a frustrating, uncontrollable jumble is lovely, and perhaps rather suspect because of that. Is it just wishful thinking? Well, what other guidance are you going to find in this uncertain life? Certainly I have on occasion been guilty of wishfully interpreting suggestively synchronicitous events in the most convenient way possible for my preferred version of reality, and acting accordingly. The results of such muddled thinking have not always been stellar – mixed, to say the least! (There are innumerable meanings you can give to the littlest thing when in the grip of an insane crush... let us say no more!)

Unfortunately statisticians who know rather more about the subject than I do (since a couple of modules on statistics and probability in college don't exactly qualify me to comment), rather seem to be of the opinion that startling coincidences are, uh, not so startling as all that. Getting a call from an acquaintance after reading the single email she ever sent you while deleting your archives? The obscure name you'd picked up for your first-born popping up in three separate places on a first date with a new guy? The book recommended by your sister, your boss and a random stranger on the bus within the space of forty-eight hours? I'm sorry, these all fall within the range of plausible statistical co-incidence – apparently. Seems like it would be more unlikely for apparently 'meaningful' events never to randomly happen, than for them to stagger us with their terrifying implausibility. That, plus sequential lottery winning numbers are no less likely than any other combination... It just messes with your head!

But does it really matter if there's no objectively deducible higher power or deeper meaning that shapes the events of our lives? What if the important meaning of the narrative that we live on a daily basis, is the subjective meaning we choose to give it. Maybe the personal symbolism we bestow upon random events enables us to make better sense of our lives and live them usefully and joyously, irrespective of any 'objective' and 'real' meaning. Perhaps the subconscious or the 'id' can better direct us to benefiical channels and routes through existence, than some pre-prescribed prescriptive system such as politics or religion, at least with the help of mysterious synchonicity.

Of course, if synchronicity and the meaning of chance events are actually, objectively real, then all of this is the merest speculative steam blowing off the mouth of a whistling kettle! But will we ever know? Perhaps we'll never know...


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