Magical Coincidences

// Kevin Murray

“All I knew about the word “cyberspace” when I coined it was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page.” —William Gibson

If you have been following The Fallout Files then you know that strange coincidences show up in these tales. While some readers may cite statistical probability, dumb luck, and confirmation bias as likely culprits, I beg to differ. Sigmund Freud tried to explain these weird events as “uncanny” actions of the unconscious, while his student Carl Jung took it a step further, naming it “synchronicity”, which suggests that events in our lives are not causally related. Instead, they are grouped by resonance, like the way a plucked bass can vibrate a window pane. Jung was accused of magical thinking, but his theory persisted, and people continue to recognize strange alignments of phenomena. Despite our rational skepticism, sometimes an event strikes a chord, and octaves go off in remarkable directions. Here’s an example:

William Gibson coined and popularized the term cyberspace in his seminal novel Neuromancer around a quarter of a century ago, about 15 years before my best friend Stef namedhis dog “Molly” after a femme fatale in that same tale. Stef and I were discussing this at the Five Point bar on Main Street a few years back.

We had been brought together due to a surprise visit from an old high school buddy, Teeroy, aka “The Chosen One”. He had earned the name for his remarkable fortune: he was raised in a trailer park, spent graduation night on ten hits of acid, and after spending a few grey years as a heavy metal hopeful in a South End apartment, he left the old country of St. John for the bright lights of the Downtown Eastside – to get himself hooked on heroin. When that didn’t pan out, he enrolled in a government sponsored re-training program designed to help get heads off the street. In little over a year, he was working with computer graphic imaging (CGI) systems in Ottawa and was part owner in one of the highest quality 3D imaging machines in North America. He had just finished processing Keanu Reeve’s head for Neo’s fight scene in The Matrix.

It was a natural segue: Gibson’s Cyberspace is the Matrix, and so we waxed on into another pitcher, reminiscing about techno, artificial intelligence, and dogs named Molly. That’s when I looked up and noticed that William Gibson himself was sitting in the corner by the window. We all stopped, stunned. A glitch in the matrix had somehow occurred, forming a drunken node of auspicious variables. We ordered more beer.

In the case of our meeting at the Five Point, it cannot be said the any of us caused the coincidence, including Gibson. This would be mistaking Jung’s idea.

An example can be found with the case of scifi author Jack Womack, who, when examining the uncanny similarity between Gibson’s 1984 idea of cyberspace and the modern Internet in 2000, asked, "What if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?" Actually, Jung argued how archetypes emerge from the collective unconscious by apparent accident, in sympathetic coincidence, as if life is following a script that is being written as it happens. The Buddha would call this interdependent co-arising, but at the time, I just called it spooky.

It gets spookier still. If we explore this idea even further, about two and a half millennia earlier, we find ourselves with Plato’s parable of the cave and his theory of forms. As the story goes, all of humanity is bound in the cave, chained, and forced to watch the lights from a nearby fire as it flickers on the cave wall. We imagine these shadows as the real world, and are doomed to live in the half-light latticework of illusions, while the truth shines behind us. Meanwhile, a strange god called the demiurge tends the fire and guards the cave. If we look at the Gibson coincidence through this lens, then my friends and I may even be illusions ourselves, slaves to some unknowable entity from a different dimension.

Flash forward to the first or second century, and we find this demiurge still active, though it has received an upgrade. Now, it is known by the Gnostics as an archon, or an otherworldly archetype, like an angel, demon, or extraterrestrial, only malevolent. Rather than operating in Gibson’s cyberspace, they bear a closer resemblance to the sentient machines of the Matrix. They feed on the energies of our very souls, prompting us to seek experiences with strong psychic charges, which they consume, like telepathic vampires from another dimension. Or, like the ancient Muses which they resemble, they inspire and fascinate artists, forcing them to channel their strange plans into existence –plans that manifest as books, movies, magic, or coincidence.

It that all were true, then by writing these words, I would be admitting that my agency has been subverted. I would be exposing my agenda and admitting otherworldly intentions. I would also be orienting your awareness to the presence of the archons, as if they desire your attention. Perhaps I am dancing around a secret, because, as Gibson says: “Secrets … are the very root of cool.” In any case, it would be safer to avoid magical thinking, especially when performing science fiction.

// Kevin Murray, Columist
// Illustration by Jason Jeon

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