Synchronicity

In late 2003 I walked into The Royal Museum in Edinburgh, what is now The National Museum of Scotland. The first thing I saw was a Nisga’a totem pole. I recognized it easily, as I’d just moved from British Columbia and everything that didn’t fit in my backpack was waiting for me back there in Nisga’a territory.

No doubt B.C.’s totem poles are internationally interesting and probably everyone who travels finds connections to their home. But my first few months in Edinburgh were magical to me, and there were several things that pinged the “It’s a sign!” part of my brain. Carl Jung called it synchronicity, when events seem meaningfully related but are not causally related. He wrote, “it cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity.” For me, at that time, everything from the job I got to the guy I dated seemed right and inevitable and interconnected with everything that had come before.

It’s a comforting feeling. Rather than constricting, it’s reassuring to see “evidence” that there’s a plan or a design and it’s working as intended. Yet the idea that my life has been planned or designed by anyone other than me is the opposite of comforting. Suddenly I feel trapped and rebellious. I can only conclude that if synchronicity is indicative of a real underlying force in the universe, I’d rather it stay underlying. The less I know, the closer I stay to that mysterious balancing point between freedom and inevitability, the happier I am.

Synchronicity

Hypatia

Hypatia lived from 355 to 425 and was the leading astronomer and mathematician of her time. As she was Neoplatonist, Hypatia was considered pagan. She was murdered by Christians who may have been associated with Saint Cyril, or maybe not. It was a long time ago.

But Hypatia’s story fascinates me. She was around as the ashes of the Library of Alexandria were cooling (metaphorically–it was being destroyed for ages in one way or another) and her life’s work, as far as we can tell, was to ensure the survival of Greek mathematics and astronomy. But nothing she wrote has survived to our time. The Encyclopedia Britannica says “her philosophy also led her to embrace a life of dedicated virginity” and here we are accepting knowledge about the sex life of a woman who lived 1600 years ago. Sure we are.

I don’t know how she spent her days. Maybe she woke at 5am and wrote in a journal until heading out to debate and breakfast. Maybe she had two good years and spent the rest of her life in a crushing depression. She might have been a virgin until her death, or she might have been gay, or she might have been asexual and relieved to be removed of the burden of sex by academic structure. All I needed was these few details: math, astronomy, a woman, a pagan, remembered. It makes me wonder who alive today will be remembered 1600 years from now, and for what.

Hypatia