Having had my interest piqued by Bruce Charlton, I’ve been reading Rupert Sheldrake. I bought the Kindle edition of Morphic Resonance on September 27, and on October 4 I bought Kindle editions of two other Sheldrake books: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At. I had never read anything by Sheldrake before.
October 10, which is a national holiday in Taiwan, fell on a Monday this year, so we had a three-day weekend (two-day for me, since I work Saturdays). On the night of Sunday, October 9, my wife and I were shopping at Carrefour and found some old DVDs for sale. My wife found the 2000 film The Gift and suggested that we buy it. I wasn’t particularly interested, but we ended up buying it (along with a few other movies) and watching it that night.
The Gift stars Cate Blanchett as Annie, a psychic who reads cards — not tarot cards, but plain white cards with black line drawings of simple shapes on them: a circle, a square, a plus-sign, a five-pointed star, and a few parallel squiggles suggesting water. Several readings are shown in the movie, but only those five shapes ever show up. The deck apparently contains several copies of each of the five cards, and in one pivotal reading Annie draws four or five “water” cards in a row. After the movie, I mentioned the cards to my wife and said, “What kind of cards were those, anyway? They’re obviously not tarot cards or anything. They only had, I think, four or five symbols–” and then I proceeded to list the five symbols from memory.
On the morning of Wednesday, October 12, I read the following passage in The Sense of Being Stared At:
Rather than using ordinary playing cards, [Joseph B.] Rhine and his colleagues invented a special pack, called Zener cards, with five different kinds of card, each with a different symbol: square, circle, wavy lines, star, and cross. Each pack contained twenty-five cards, five of each kind.
I’m relatively well-informed about the history and varieties of playing cards, tarot, and cartomancy, but this was the first I’d ever heard of “Zener cards.” Obviously, though, the deck described in Sheldrake’s book is the one Annie uses in The Gift.
On the morning of Monday, October 10 (or possibly very late Sunday night; I didn’t note the time since it seemed significant only in retrospect), I read the following passage in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home:
Pigeon number 167 was identified by the number on its leg ring. The owner of the pigeon was a twelve-year-old eighth grader from Summersville, West Virginia, where his father was sheriff. This racing pigeon had stopping in his backyard; the boy had fed it, and it had stayed and become his pet. Some time later, the boy was taken for an operation to the Myers Memorial Hospital at Philippi, 105 miles away by road (70 by air) and the pigeon was left behind in Summersvile. “One dark, snowy night about a week later,” according to [Joseph B.] Rhine and [Sara] Feather, “the boy heard a fluttering at the window of his hospital room. Calling the nurse, he asked her to raise the window because there was a pigeon outside, and just to humor the lad, she did so. The pigeon came in. The boy recognized his pet bird and asked her to look for the number 167 on its leg, and when she did so she found the number as stated.”
That afternoon, a matter of hours after reading the above passage, I was going out to run some errands, and when I stepped out the front door, I saw something black and white dart under my wife’s car. Thinking it must be a stray cat, I looked under the car and found that it was a pigeon! Not a wild pigeon, either, but obviously some kind of domestic breed (slate-gray and white, with metallic green patches on its shoulders, bright red feet, and what seems like an unusually short neck for a pigeon; I haven’t been able to identify the breed so far). Except for the occasional Red Turtle Dove, I never see pigeons in Taiwan. I stepped back into the house to tell my wife. She was on the phone with a friend, but I interrupted her to say, “There’s a pigeon under your car!”
I went out, ran my errands, and came back, but the pigeon was still there under the car and wouldn’t come out. It seemed unwell, so we got it out from under the car using a broom and caught it. It had a leg ring with a number: 378. We tried to feed it some bread and sunflower seeds, but it refused to eat. It seemed to weak to fly and had bright green diarrhea. After trying several places (most were closed because of the holiday), we finally found a vet that was open and could treat pigeons. The vet said it was obviously a racing pigeon and belonged to someone, but he didn’t know any way of tracking down the owner. He prescribed some medicine and instructed us on how to nurse the bird back to health. As I write this, the pigeon, which we call Xiaoguai, is sleeping in a box in my living room, much improved but still not completely recovered. We hope he/she (even the vet couldn’t tell the gender) will be well enough to release within the next day or two.
It seems perverse to dismiss these astronomically improbable events as coincidences — and yet how could they possibly be anything but coincidences? Reading Sheldrake has made me more open to the possibilities of telepathy, precognition, and the like, but even assuming the reality of such “paranormal” phenomena, it’s hard to conceive of any way there could be actual causal connections involved in these cases. I really have nothing intelligent to say here except (to quote Spock, by way of Chrs), “I note it, Mr. Scott, without necessarily understanding it.”