I have never met anyone as stupid as those for whom the world is a simple place. Those people who see patterns everywhere and, being no one’s fool, can tell immediately what is afoot, when no one else can. You know who I’m talking about. The conspiracy theorists who view every coincidence as proof of their higher level cognitive abilities (they see things that we don’t) and point to them as proof of whatever tidbit of imbecility they’re hawking this week.
You know, the Obama birthers, who think that the rest of us are too intellectually frivolous to see what is plain to them. The truthers (9/11 conspiracy nuts) who think George “Cowboy” Bush brought down the twin towers, as well as the moon landing doubters and their ilk. These people see the smallest of coincidences and assume that they are seeing patterns. They are among the most ignorant of us, because their ignorance manifests itself in theories so ludicrous as to be impossible to prove false. How can you prove that Obama’s birth certificate is not a fake, or that GW Bush did not enable 9/11, or that Nasa did not fake the moon landings. All you can do is show evidence to the contrary. You can’t prove a negative.
But, these self-appointed deep thinkers continue on, as confident in their imbecilic theories as a 5-year-old explaining to a 4-year-old why Santa is real.
The reason behind these empty and banal theories is the burning desire to not be seen as stupid or naive. The irony of which is, of course, that the act of trying not to be stupid or naive only serves to make one appear to be exactly that. It’s like that guy we all know. No matter what subject one brings up, he has had a more interesting experience than you. No matter how good or how bad your roller-coaster ride was, his was better/worse/higher/faster than yours. No matter how smart your kid is, his got better grades or more praise from a teacher. No matter how tough your boss is on you, you ain’t seen nothin’ until you’ve seen his boss. These are the people for whom being anything but on top of every possible outcome of every possible scenario is more critical than oxygen.
Carl Jung called what we view as coincidences,”Synchronicity” and wrote, regarding patterns and coincidences:
“Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers”.
Our inclination to find connections and patterns in random data is what’s known in psychology as apophenia. So when we spot a coincidence, what’s really happening is that our brain is simply exercising its fundamental ability to identify patterns — something we can do even when there are none, statistically speaking. We, as humans, try to find coincidences as a way to explain a world that we have trouble explaining. We, (well some of us, anyway) need to reduce the world to our intellectual level, rather than try to educate ourselves enough to figure out its true meaning.
This is one of the reasons we have religion. When the world is too complex for us, we boil it down to something we can understand, like ribs that make women, boats filled with animals, and benevolent gods who threaten us with eternal damnation and hell-fire, while telling us how much they love us. This is the ultimate conspiracy theory-impossible to prove wrong, yet very easy and comforting to believe.
I’d rather spend my life in wonderment at just how complex the world is and enjoying my ignorance of it all, than make shit up just so I can win an argument in a sports bar.