‘When beggars die there are no comets seen’

Solar Eclipse

The USA is about to be plunged into the darkness of a total solar eclipse. Might this physical darkness be an outward and visible sign of a political darkness descending on that nation?

Ironically – weirdly – the last time a total eclipse occurred exclusively in the USA was in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence.

Is the belief in signs and portents only superstition, the stuff of astrologers, necromancers and soothsayers – something which we have discarded since the scientific Enlightenment?

Jesus said, “There shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” (Luke 21: 25-26)

But he also said, “This is an evil generation; they seek a sign.” (Luke 11:29)

In other words, there will be signs but we’re not to look for them.

Jesus’ own birth was accompanied by the Bethlehem Star  (Matthew 2:2)

Shakespeare gives voice to the belief that events in the heavens prefigure or correspond in some way with events on earth and he says on Julius Caesar, “When beggars die, there are no comets seen: the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

In 1952 the analytical psychologist C.G. Jung and the Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli published a paper Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle in which they argued that there is another – “force” is the wrong word – another something expressing the interconnectedness of events. They gave examples and attempted an explanation:

The French writer Émile Deschamps claimed in his memoirs that, in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete – and in the same instant, the now-senile de Fontgibu entered the room.

Jung wrote, after describing such examples, “When coincidences pile up in this way, one cannot help being impressed by them – for the greater the number of terms in such a series, or the more unusual its character, the more improbable it becomes.”]

In his book Thirty Years That Shook Physics – The Story of Quantum Theory (1966), George Gamow writes about Wolfgang Pauli, who was apparently considered a person particularly associated with synchronicity events. Gamow whimsically refers to the “Pauli effect”, a mysterious phenomenon which is not understood on a purely materialistic basis, and probably never will be. The following anecdote is told:

“It is well known that theoretical physicists cannot handle experimental equipment; it breaks whenever they touch it. Pauli was such a good theoretical physicist that something usually broke in the lab whenever he merely stepped across the threshold. A mysterious event that did not seem at first to be connected with Pauli’s presence once occurred in Professor J. Franck’s laboratory in Göttingen. Early one afternoon, without apparent cause, a complicated apparatus for the study of atomic phenomena collapsed. Franck wrote humorously about this to Pauli at his Zürich address and, after some delay, received an answer in an envelope with a Danish stamp. Pauli wrote that he had gone to visit Bohr and at the time of the mishap in Franck’s laboratory his train was stopped for a few minutes at the Göttingen railroad station. You may believe this anecdote or not, but there are many other observations concerning the reality of the Pauli Effect!”

Bunkum or what? Or are there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy?

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