Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness
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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician,
counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a
number of selfpublished books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjaminphilosopher.com.
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Open Minds, License Plates, and Respectful Communications
Elliot Benjamin
I did not intend to be writing any more Integral World essays in 2010, but I would like to end the year with a brief response to David Lane's latest article: The Numbered Universe: Where Synchronicities Abound and the Zahir is 895 in our extended synchronicity debate series [1].
First off, I want to thank David for his much more respectful tone to me in this article, and for his favorable comments about me (aside form his little “Voodoo Statistics” quip). The feeling is quite mutual, and I also appreciate his wife Andrea's favorable comment about my writing. This is the kind of respectful communications that I wish to have in the context of philosophical disagreements in essays. I am also appreciative that David took my mathematical request for response quite seriously, and I am especially impressed with how much he has engaged himself in his own personal experiments, though of course his intent is clearly to demonstrate that there is absolutely no validity to synchronicity or “meaningful coincidence.”
I must say that I find this intent to be every bit as biased as David finds my own initial mind set to be, and I think this can be portrayed perhaps by the title of “AntiApophenia,” which one can define as “the tendency to discount the possibility of finding any meaningful information in highly unusual 'coincidences'” But let me be careful to not say anything further that David Lane may possibly find personally insulting to him, and stay with the crux of his arguments in his latest article.
Once again I want to affirm that I am not claiming that I know there is something going on here beyond chance and coincidence. Rather, I remain open to this possibility and I am comfortable keeping my “agnostic” perspective, as I have described in my Agnosticism, Probability, and Aphophenia Integral World article [2]. I will also say that I have found David's personal examples of his unusual coincidences to be quite interesting, both his example of his fantasy coming true in his Apophenia and the Intentional Fallacy Integral World article [3], and his description of his 496 series of “coincidences” in his latest Integral World article [1].
I am not convinced that David's thoughts and intentions did not have some kind of “quantum entanglement” that might have had an effect upon all these “coincidences” taking place, but once again I am just keeping an open mind here—not making assumptions either way. When David started to describe checking out the Motor Vehicles Bureau to try to find out their method of assigning license plates, I was hoping he would uncover a system that perhaps could explain why numbers are more prevalent than letters, or something to that effect. Without knowing anything more about how the MVB assigns their license plates, in my probability calculations I decided to use 36 possible entries for each slot (26 letters plus 10 numbers). I offered my probability estimations as merely illustrations, and they were not intended to be indicative of serious mathematics, as David is correct that much more information would be needed to make these calculations mathematically accurate. But since David has taken the time and trouble to analyze my calculations, let me at least give a bit more explanation as to how I arrived at them.
Yes, of course when there are 6 or 7 slots the probability of attaining a 3 number sequence is much greater than if there are only say 3 or 4 slots. This is why I add the probabilities together, as I explained in my Synchronicity and Mathematics article [4]. The aspect of affirming beforehand what you are wanting to observe is a valid point by David, and I must say that when I was in the Caribbean I had absolutely no initial desire to see any more 496's. But after I saw the first one, I did have “496” in my mind, and seeing this on the very first license plate in the novelty store therefore I estimated to have the probability as follows: first (1/36) X (1/36) X (1/36) for the three particular numbers, which is 1/46656, and then taking into account that there were say 6 possible slots, there are 4 possible places they could have appeared in (slots 123, 234, 345, 456), so multiplying this probability by 4 is how I arrived at my approximate 1 in 10,000.
Now lets assume my Caribbean probability estimation for my first car of 1/2000 was inaccurate by taking into account some of David's criticisms. Lets say for argument sake that the likelihood was something more like 1/100. Then multiplying the probabilities of the two events together (since I am assuming they are independent events) we would end up with a probability of approximately (1/10000) X (1/100) = (1/1000000) = 1 over a million. Again, my probability calculations are just meant to be illustrative and by no means mathematically exact, but this is the kind of problem I still have with prematurely assuming that everything can be explained simply by chance and coincidence.
Now it is actually somewhat ironic that I am not particularly impressed with David Lane's two 895s in his successive license plates, as the probability of this occurring would be extremely more likely than any one particular 3 digit number specified in advance, such as 496. This actually has a mathematical resemblance to David's mathematical birthday problem which he delightfully described in his latest Integral World article [1]. But I did find it quite amusing and uncanny how David found all those 496s in the universe, from his restaurant receipt to his checkbook to his birthdate (with a bit of stretch to use the last digits—but interesting). I would think that the mathematical probability of all this occurring would again be tremendously low, and I wonder why David's thoughts and temporary good natured immersion into disproving there is anything about synchronicity that should be taken seriously, could not have had some kind of “quantum entanglement” effects.
But all of this is getting dangerously close to the whole debate of the validity of laboratory studies of parapsychology and occurrences of psi [5], and I do not want to whet David Lane's appetite to start a whole new series of Integral World debate articles between us!
NOTES
1) See David and Andrea Lane (2010), The Numbered Universe: Where Synchronicities Abound and the Zahir is 895. Integral World website; www.integralworld.net
2) See Elliot Benjamin (2010, Agnosticism, Probability, and Apophenia. Integral World website; www.integralworld.net
3) See David and Andrea Lane (2010, Apophenia and the Intentional Fallacy. Integral World website; www.integralworld.net
4) See Elliot Benjamin (2010, Synchronicity and Mathematics. Integral World website; www.integralworld.net
5) See Harry Irwin & Carolyn Watt (2007), An Introduction to Parapsychology. London: McFarland; and Dean Radin's books: The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena: New York: Harper Edge (1997), and Entangled Minds: Extransensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. New York: Paraview (2006).
