The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne

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The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Stacey Barkley
Reviewed by Stacey Barkley
Summary: A bid to draw together the research on coincidence, and to add to this wealth a clarity of categorization.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 200 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Imprint Academic
ISBN: 9781845409159

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Browne does not mislead with this choice of title; he does without a doubt explore the many faces of coincidence.

Last week I picked up the phone to call a friend, to check on how she was doing. She laughed, sounding somewhat bemused, and explained that she was right outside the door. Unprompted and uninvited she had decided to pop in and had arrived, almost unbelievably, just as I had thought to call her. What are the chances? Laurence Browne would undoubtedly be able to provide the chances to the very last digit. I, alas, cannot. But I can now reach for a wealth of research that has attempted to categorise and explore these incidences that we almost can't believe.

To this end, Browne opens with an introduction of a term introduced by Jung: synchronicity. Not content with the general term of coincidence, Jung sought to separate experiences, such as the above, which hold greater meaning for the individual(s) involved. In part, the rationale for this distinction relates to the spectrum of belief around how we conceive of and explain such occurrences. On one end we find those who point to chance and the laws of probability and on the other those who believe in something greater. When a chance occurrence holds an emotive meaning, it feels flippant to explain it away purely by chance.

Neither perspective can offer a proof, but Browne's aim is to explore both approaches in order to highlight how synchronicity can offer a way to bridge a gap between the two, and to accommodate the meaningful aspect for those involved. This exploration throws up some fascinating topics. Petitionary prayer, for instance, is something that even those not following a religion have been reported as doing in times of need. This would suggest a belief in a power that can intervene to produce a set of desired outcomes, a belief which links back to the idea of a greater meaning behind certain coincidental occurrences. Equally in exploring explanations, Browne highlights the role of coincidence in developmental learning; there are many dog breeds, and so in order to learn the category of dog, we must first be able to recognise the similarities, which will initially be experienced as a coincidental occurrence. While the content in places is quite heavy, the variation in examples maintains accessibility to the discussion.

Despite the clear title, I picked this up half expecting a popular science style that I would merrily speed read my way through while gleaning the odd factual tidbit on the nature of coincidence. How mistaken I was! The wide scope of research that has been spent is evident and Browne has produced an extensive history and analysis of the nature of coincidences, including its historical and philosophical underpinnings.

This was by no means an easy read; it took effort and concentration, but by that end each conclusion of another chapter was replete with a sense of having achieved something, of having been intellectually challenged throughout. Browne considers coincidence from the grand perspective of the cosmos, the perfect precision of the universe to produce life on earth as well as right down to the very personal stories of identical twins reconnecting.

In short: concentration required, but absolutely worth it; intellectually stimulating and topically fascinating. For further philosophical musings on human thought and understanding Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen would be a good addition to the reading list.

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Buy The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne at


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