Another minor synchronicity

I was in one of my weekly sessions of English conversation practice with a student of mine who is a surgeon, and he was telling me about another expat English teacher who had just been in the ER with a broken kneecap after a motorcycle accident. Trying to describe the seriousness of the fracture, he said he was not sure of the correct English word, but he believed it was something close to comminuted. Not being familiar with that word, I looked it up in the dictionary on my Kindle and found that, yes, it was the correct word (meaning “pulverized, broken into many small fragments”).

Just minutes later I had a short break between classes and decided to do a little reading. I picked up that same Kindle and opened up the book I am currently reading (William James’s Essays in Radical Empiricism) — and in perhaps the third or fourth paragraph I read, I found this:

In these respects the pure experiences of our philosophy are, in themselves considered, so many little absolutes, the philosophy of pure experience being only a more comminuted Identitätsphilosophie.

I was not aware that I had ever encountered that particular word before — though I have, it turns out, at least twice; a search of my Kindle reveals that it occurs once each in Bacon’s Novum Organum and H. S. Maine’s Popular Government, and of course I have no way of knowing how often I may have run across it in my on-paper reading without noticing it. However, I think I can reasonably assume that comminuted crosses my path certainly no more than once or twice a year, so meeting it twice in a matter of minutes was quite a coincidence.

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4 Comments

Filed under Anecdotes, Coincidence / Synchronicity

4 responses to “Another minor synchronicity

  1. Wanda Louise ( Tiny Wanda )

    something like that happened to me a year or two ago; I had heard about a drug on ‘Boston Legal’ that allows a patient to selectively forget things, but it didn’t mention the name of the drug, then ( not minutes but a day or two later ) I was just noodling around on the computer and came across a reference to this drug. i’m sure I was not looking for it, but came across it by some other mechanism ?

  2. The phenomenon of suddenly encountering a word many times that you never knew before is not uncommon, and has not been adequately explained by the usual statistical and psychological explanations.

    I have gone my whole, voraciously-read life without ever running across coup-de-main and coup-de-foudre. In the last 18 months, I’ve bit both more than half a dozen times apiece.

    • Adam, I suppose some of these phenomena are examples of the “horseshoe crab effect” described by my brother here — where, having finally noticed something for the first time (though you had seen it often enough before), it becomes easier to apperceive other instances of it, resulting in the impression that the thing in question has suddenly turned up in great numbers.

      In the case in question, for example, had I not been able to digitally search some of my recent reading, I would have felt quite sure that I had never encountered comminuted before — but I had. I just hadn’t properly noticed it until my conversation with the surgeon highlighted it for me. Had I read the James passage before talking with the surgeon, it seems quite likely that I wouldn’t really have noticed comminuted, since the meaning in this passage is tolerably clear from context.

      Not everything can be explained that way, though. I remember once reading two articles within an hour that quoted Frost’s “Fire and Ice” — once with reference to the power of passion, and once with reference to the heat death of the universe (not the first time I had read that poem, but perhaps only the sixth or seventh in my entire life). Obviously it’s not reasonable to suppose that I had read the poem many other times previously without noticing it.

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