INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
And Two More Waves
Kelly & David Lane
What we tend to forget in this game of intended wishes is how many times it doesn't work. We only remember our "hits" and neglect how many misses there have been.
I enjoyed M.A. Rose's response to our article Desultory Decussation. I can well understand his skepticism of our apparent dismissal of Elliot Benjamin's license plate synchronicities. However, in a follow-up rejoinder to Benjamin's reply to our invocation of Littlewood's Law of Miracles (entitled “Apophenia and the Intentionality Fallacy”), we wrote the following,
“I appreciate Elliot Benjamin's recent attempt to justify his belief in mysterious synchronicities and his elaborations on why his personal experiences do not seem to be the result of Littlewood's Law of Miracles or even Desultory Decussation. I agree with him, in part, because a close analysis of his license plate encounters clearly points to an easier, even more rudimentary, explanation for the phenomenon. Contrary to what Elliot Benjamin may wish to argue, the details he presents shows quite clearly that the major factor determining these so-called “spiritual” intersections is his own desire to find meaning in seemingly random events. Quite frankly, Elliot is projecting and transferring his own intentions upon a series of license plates and then deriving some purpose or design as to why those letters or numbers have some special significance.”
Thus, the real thrust of our critique didn't need to invoke Littlewood's Law of Miracles at all, since as we wrote at the time “A close analysis of the first four license plate synchronicities that Elliot Benjamin provides tells us more about his own predilections than it does about some transmundane occurrence. Ironically, the mathematics that he invokes to objectively substantiate the improbability of his encounters are, in fact, a complete ruse. Probabilities and the like have actually nothing to do with the synchronicities, since the real issue at hand is Elliot's own pattern seeking. What is at work here is the intentionality fallacy, where we as subjective creatures conflate our subjective needs and wants with outward events, mistakenly believing that the latter is literally contouring to our internal forms of awareness. Elliot Benjamin hasn't tapped into some integral networking of the divine that supersedes rational science. No, what he has uncovered is how easy it is to confuse one's neurology for ontology and then pass it off as beyond current scientific explanation. What is most important in Elliot's examples is what he leaves out, since it is in those middling details that we can uncover how intentionality, and not some heavenly agent, is at play.”
Yet, regardless of whether M.A. Rose will see eye to eye with our critique, I think his contribution is important in keeping this desultory decussation alive.
I personally feel that this issue, predicated on the theory of large numbers (and what fantastical intersections can transpire over time) is of elemental interest and should be a critical part of any future discussions on parapsychological claims.
Interestingly, the day I received M.A. Rose response I had put the final touches to an essay on the how something akin to Littlewood's Law of Miracles (or its modified offspring, Desultory Decussation) appears to be at least contingently (if not fundamentally) connected to how consciously aware we are of overlapping and meaningful correlations that arise moment to moment.
Perhaps the following article will be of some interest and hopefully keep this fruitful discussion (pro or con) alive.
It may have been Drainpipe at Zuma Beach or even T's at Santa Monica, but I have a distinct memory that my surf companions and I first discovered the magical mantra at Corral beach in Malibu. The ocean was nearly flat and I was out in the water with my childhood friends, Pat Donahue, Joe Dichiro and Rob Gilmore. I was 13 or 14 years old. We were all attempting to bodysurf but no waves were coming in, when all of a sudden someone in our group came up with a most infectious chant, apparently improvised right on the spot.
and two more waves;
you know we need them
and we need them today.”
We started chanting in unison, splashing the water, and laughing out loud. Then to our utter amazement, as if King Neptune had turned on his hearing aid, a set of waves approached from the horizon. Pat caught the first wave and the rest of us caught the second one which was slightly bigger. And then, almost as if responding to some hidden cue, the ocean went flat again.
I think it was right then and there that the Voodoo Voodoo chant became part of our surf lore and one which we used whenever we were in need of waves.
Of course, we never literally believed that the chant worked, but over the years we did find a number of remarkable synchronicities whenever it was invoked. It always seemed to produce the desired effect.
I bring all of this up now because this last summer I was in Waikiki with my family for a much needed vacation. The surf had been surprisingly good for most of our trip. However, near the end of our sojourn, the South Shore had gone flat.
Due to the sea's calmness I decided to take my youngest son, Kelly, out for a paddle. He was only five so the fact that there were essentially no waves worked to our advantage. I just thought we would have some fun looking at the sea turtles and the surrounding reef.
Kelly and I paddled out pretty far out to a spot called “Pops” (slang for “Populars”), since I thought we might find a tiny little wave to ride. But alas no such luck. After looking around at the surrounding beauty (with a breathtaking view of Diamond Head and the wall to wall high rise hotels), Kelly asked me why we couldn't surf a wave together. I explained that there was no incoming swell so most of the waves that were coming through were not breaking strong enough to ride.
Kelly was a bit sad since he really wanted to surf with me. It was right then I that told him of how when I was quite young my friends and we came up with a chant that when rightly repeated could generate waves. Naturally, I exaggerated a bit and added some spice to the legend, detailing the mythological lore with tidbits about how King Neptune and his crew make waves by blowing huge bubbles from under the sea whenever they have a birthday party. Kelly was wonderstruck and, to my chagrin, bought the story hook, line, and sinker.
Then Kelly exclaimed, “What is the chant? Let's do it now!”
I hesitated for dramatic effect wanting Kelly to think of how truly magical the mantra was and how only very few surfers in the world know of its power. Moreover, I was fearful of disappointing Kelly if the chant didn't work, which given the calm state of the water I thought was quite likely. Being so young, his patience for my strung out narrative, lasted all of about five seconds, so I finally gave in and explained precisely how one had to sing the chant. Kelly immediately understood and in unison we sang, “Voodoo, Voodoo, two more waves; you know we need them and we need them today.” The emphasis, interestingly, is on the last syllable of Today (such as “Day ay ay ay”).
Well, to my complete astonishment, right when we finished singing the chant, a series of unexpected waves came, triple anything that had come in for the past few hours.
Kelly and I didn't even have to paddle but two yards and we were gliding down the pristine face of a three footer. We rode the wave for nearly a hundred yards, hooting the whole time about our surprising good fortune.
As we paddled back to the lineup, the ocean went to sleep again and was as smooth as the sheets on our beds at the Royal Hawaiian. But Kelly was too stoked to give up now. He turned to me and yelled, “Let's do that chant again.”
I tried to explain that it only works once or twice during a session and one doesn't want to overdo it, lest the mantra lose its efficacy. But Kelly wasn't buying any of my delay tactics. We chanted again, but this time a bit louder since I explained that King Neptune lives deep down in the ocean and sometimes is hard of hearing. I didn't think it was going to work at all, or at least I didn't think our chant would correlate with the natural ebb and flow of the ocean's wave production.
But I must admit that I was completely shocked when a set even bigger than the last one loomed on the horizon. We did a no paddle take-off and this time we went left down the line and rode almost all the way to the beach.
Kelly was beyond excited and we ended up doing the same ritual several more times, each time catching waves that I didn't think even existed until we repeated the magical mantra.
Later that night as we were all having pizza at Il Lupino, Kelly wanted to know why the chant worked as it did. He sensed that there was some rationale behind the apparent magic. I told him and my other son Shaun about a famous mathematician from Cambridge University named G.E. Littlewood who had by his study of large numbers come upon a little known and little understood secret about the probabilities of a miracle occurring once every month. I wanted to explain my own take on this subject, which I called Desultory Decussation, but I knew it was a little too complicated for Kelly. So instead I said something slightly simpler, but nevertheless true. “Every once in a while things happen in nature, just by chance, that appear so wondrous and so surprisingly that we think that it must be due to some supernatural intervention. But on closer inspection, it turns out to be due to just the odds of how things work out. Just as when we play the card game Crazy 8's or War, sometimes an unusual sequence occurs, such that they look to be part and parcel of some guiding intelligence.
But if we play enough card games we soon realize that it is just the nature of the game that has a set of ascending numbers or values. Likewise the ocean is, in this analogy, similar to a vast card game where all sorts of hands can be dealt. Therefore, on occasion, the chanting surfer can be just plain lucky when his wishful mantra correlates with his or her object of desire—a set of waves.
What we tend to forget in this game of intended wishes is how many times it doesn't work. We only remember our “hits” and neglect how many misses there have been.
Most of what I said sailed over Kelly's head, and he very amusingly replied, “So, Littlewood and not Neptune, is why we chant Voodoo Voodoo.”
I replied, “Not exactly, but he was the guy who is responsible for our understanding of how unusual things can naturally occur. Just as getting a royal flush is very rare when playing poker, but it becomes distinctly possible, nay probable, if you play enough hands.”
The Littlewood Game
It was right at this juncture that I realized that Littlewood's Law concerning large numbers (a miracle a month, as Freeman Dyson once shorthanded it) could actually form the basis of an intriguing game, but which is not played out on a board (though it could apply just as well there too), but in one's day to day life. If the matrices are true then the more aware we become of what I have termed desultory decussation (where two apparently random events intersect to form an X), the more often we should experience “synchronous” events—events so unusual and unexpected so as to seem like a “miracle.” Perhaps the reason we don't experience more amazing desultory decussations in our lives is because we remain unaware of Littlewood's Law and thus unconsciously blind ourselves from all the fantastic possibilities and probabilities that await us.
I think the real reason the magical mantra “Voodoo Voodoo” worked on occasion is because it forced our little band of surfers to open up to the ocean's innumerable possibilities. Indeed, maybe that is the secret behind all such magical rituals: by invoking them we consciously awaken to nature's underlying and never ceasing game of roulette. As the advertisement for the California Lottery states it, “You cannot win unless you play.”
Or, as Kelly (wise beyond his years) explained, “It isn't because King Neptune cannot hear us or is asleep, Papa. It is because Voodoo Voodoo wakes us up.”
and two more waves;
you know we need them
and we need them today."