(A post I wrote a few days ago, but for some reason didn't publish)
Today, as I was walking from one meeting to another, my iPod on shuffle started playing "Homesick" by Kings of Convenience. It's a song I really like, and it seemed to mesh with the particular part of the city I was walking through, so I was really having a nice listening experience.
The funny thing is, that just at the emotional climax of the song, I passed a Generic Bulgarian Harmonica Player, and he played a sort of loose, sad melody, in the exact same key as "Homesick." It fit so seamlessly into the melody that it took me several seconds to realize that the harmonica part wasn't usually there. It really sounded like it was an intentional inclusion.
On the surface, I guess such an event is so unlikely as to border on the miraculous (but then, mathematically speaking, the miraculous happens to us once or twice every month). Maybe it's just that the brain automatically seeks to find patterns in reality, to relate one thing to another. In this case, it goes beyond pattern recognition. I think I could have physically proven that what he was playing fit into the key of "Homesick" (C major, I think? I forget) and its basic rhythm. This makes it pretty much a unique experience in my time with the iPod, which usually generates patterns which I suspect originate in myself somehow.
The thing is that the iPod has become a source of everyday synchronicity. I keep noticing strange coincidences in the shuffle function. Like two songs in entirely different genres seeming to slide perfectly into each other, like one song is a natural extension of the other. Or like hearing "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines" from the Album "Mingus", and then immediately after hearing the same track in the live version from an entirely different album. Or hearing two consecutive tracks in the same order as they appear on the album.
Even more: songs that seem to mirror the situation I'm in, like hearing David Bowie singin "walking through the snowy streets..." when I am. Or Joni Mitchell going "the bed's too big, the frying pan's too wide" when I'm cooking dinner while Ragnfrid is out of town. Or even just playing instrumental music that is exactly right for the situation. It seems that the iPod, somehow, knows what I'm doing, what I'm feeling. It chooses songs surprisingly well.
The rational explanation is this: We have a tendency to see patterns in everything. It is natural for us to look for patterns in our experience of the world. When a pattern is detected, we notice. When no pattern is discernible, we do not. Therefore, the times a pattern is detected are more memorable than not. If I see a similarity with the contents of a song, or the emotional tone of it, it is because I look for some similarity. I want to find meaning, and when I do, I am rewarded by a memorable experience. This is enhanced by the fact that I skip the songs that do not match my situation in some way. I don't listen to the songs that clash or have dissonance with my situation. I don't listen to James Brown when I'm depressed (unless I want to shock myself out of that state), and I don't listen to Ligeti when I want to relax after a hard day at the office. There's a time for everything.
(Except Scooter. There can be no excuse for Scooter.)
My point is this, I guess: when my attention is constantly focused on a portable generator of random events, it's not strange that I seem to find meaning in it, and I think it representents a fruitful illustration and vehicle for looking into how we generate meaning and patterns in the world.
What about you? I'd like, in the comments, to hear people's opinions and experiences with randomness, and I don't mean just the iPod kind. What was the latest weird coincidence to happen to you at all? Do you have opinions about randomness? Do you have random opinions?