Are we living on Islands or in the Synchroni-City?
During my recent morning walk I followed a yet unexplored path and realized it led me to a small peninsula. I reached a place where to my left and to my right two small streams merged into a river. For a while, standing on this thin moss-covered patch of earth with water all around actually felt like being on a mini-island. There was something handwritten on a stone. Apparently, someone wrote it several years ago, and it almost seemed to have disappeared: “Island land”. How funny, I thought, in fact we have all become small island countries during the pandemic, isolated and distant.
Interestingly enough, literature on the art scene of the Eastern Bloc countries often addresses the topic of isolation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and integration into the EU, these countries were often referred to as peripheries. My question here would be: What are they isolated from? And why don’t we speak of isolation of the West in this case, since the politics of the Iron Curtain made mutual exchange more difficult? For me, the reason is a hierarchical way of thinking. Why is it assumed that the so-called Eastern Bloc countries would miss something, if their exchange with the West was restricted? Why is it not assumed the other way around? Are the Western countries rather a periphery of the East?
Nevertheless, I believe that this inverted way of thinking leads to further categorization and polarization – so same story, just on the other riverside. Having a closer look at the art scenes around the globe, even if exchange was difficult, surprisingly often artists had similar ideas at a similar point in time.
One example is the work by Czech artist Milan Knížák, who became the director of Fluxus East in 1965. The idea of something that was later on called happenings however had emerged much earlier and without any knowledge about the Western Fluxus Art scene. The art historian and critic Jindřich Chalupecký mentions in his collection of essays on Czechoslovak artists:
“Knížák … had not even heard of Kaprow, and after I told him, following the first action walk, that what he was doing was a form of happening, he was rather astonished … at that time nothing was known about happenings: Knížák had only heard the word once on the radio accompanied by negative commentary.” As a reaction Jindřich Chalupecký shared information on Knizak with Kaprow, who replied: “I can’t express how excited I was by the scenarios and photographs of happenings of Milan Knížák that you sent me. (…) These are works of absolute beauty, and I was very happy to learn that they were born independently of mine. Happenings have the same marvelous property as mushrooms: they spring up everywhere …!”
Therefore, I consider isolation to be an illusion. The phenomenon of simultaneous ideas is of course not restricted to the arts. Inventions or discoveries occurring independently from each other are documented in the book The Natural History of Innovation by Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson. Among these, are the discovery of sunspots (1611), the invention of the first electric battery (1745 & 1746), the law of the conservation of energy (end of the 1840s) and research of the effects of X-rays (1927) . I am deliberately picking out the inventions that are related to the history of light, as I suspect that the transmission of information occurs through light and might explain why people across the globe might have equal flashes of inspiration.
“Really, we should think of ideas as connections, in our brains and among people. Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters,” explains Johnson. Ideas, as the he puts it, should not be viewed as isolated phenomena, but as a swarm, because in order to arise, a specific constellation of thousands of neurons must fire simultaneously until the idea reaches our consciousness.
In the occurrence of surprising coincidences, psychologist C.G. Jung suspected a deeper order that he called synchronicity. He used the general concept of synchronicity in the special sense of the temporal coincidence of two or more events that are not causally related to one another and have the same or similar meaning.
During this time, Jung and Einstein were in close exchange and mutually influenced by each other. Einstein related the term synchronicity to the convention that clocks were synchronized at different places through light signal exchange. Furthermore, he investigated phenomena of the so called EPR-Paradoxon, in which he advanced the hypothesis of a long distance-effect. The other way around, Jung incorporated Einstein’s theory of relativity, as he concluded that the psyche (observer) cannot be spatially localized or that that space is relative to the observer. This corresponds in two points with Einstein’s theories, namely the problem of non-locality in quantum mechanics, as well as the problem of the relativity of space and time with regard to the reference system of an observer. The principle of non-locality assumes that the behaviour of a particle is independent of its respective location; distance does not affect the intensity and the non-linear effect and correlation of time frames (past, present, future).
Interestingly enough, until today it triggered heated debates about how or whether the effect of synchronicity works. I suspect that one of the main problems is that a non-causal phenomenon is attempted to be explained by using instruments implying causality – which, of course, is a paradox.
This an example of something that Stuart Kauffmann calls “adjacent possible”. It describes that it is often not enough to have interesting ideas, as they cannot be realized or proven due to non-existent conditions, which is why a lot goes unnoticed. He draws on the evolutionary theory that at any point in time, whether in life, in the systems of nature or culture, a number of possibilities exist – change happens when things are rearranged. However, there are limits to how much can be changed in a single step – first the conditions for the intermediate steps must be created.
Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From, Riverhead Books, 2010.
Kemp-Welch, Klara. Networking the Bloc, MIT Press, 2019.
Wilfried Kugel. ‚Albert Einstein Und Die Parapsychologie. Die Idee Der Synchronizität‘ Berlin, 2008. http://parapsychologie.ac.at/programm/ws200809/Kugel_Einstein.pdf.
Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson on Where Ideas Come From.‘ Wired. https://www.wired.com/2010/09/mf-kellyjohnson/.