A coincidence: forgetting Monaco

On May 20, my wife asked me out of the blue where Monte Carlo was. She knew but had somehow forgotten. When she asked me, I found that I had forgotten as well! All that came to mind was “somewhere near Morocco,” and so my brain, not getting that its nearness to Morocco was more phonetic than geographic in nature, started proposing other North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia, even though I knew perfectly well that Monte Carlo was in a tiny country in Europe. Finally, realizing that I was getting nowhere in my attempts to remember, I just had to look it up.

The very next morning I was reading Freud’s General Introduction to Psychoanalysis and came across this passage:

One day I noticed that I could not recall the name of the little country in the Riviera of which Monte Carlo is the capital. It is very annoying, but it is true. I steep myself in all my knowledge about this country . . . but to no avail. So I give up thinking, and in place of the lost name allow substitute names to suggest themselves. They come quickly: Monte Carlo itself, then Piedmont, Albania, Montevideo, Colico. Albania is the first to attract my attention; it is replaced by Montenegro, probably because of the contrast between black and white. Then I see that four of these substitutes contain the same syllable mon. I suddenly have the forgotten word, and cry aloud, “Monaco.”

Reading this just a day after my very similar experience of forgetfulness was quite a coincidence. Not only did Freud and I both forget the name of Monaco, but we both forgot it as the country of which Monte Carlo is the capital, and our brains both supplied us with phonetically similar names in the attempt to remember.


Filed under Anecdotes, Coincidence / Synchronicity

7 responses to “A coincidence: forgetting Monaco

  1. brucecharlton

    Remarkable set of coincidences (including that you were reading this passage the next day).

    It would seem that somehow Freud’s mistake had been copied or replicated by you.

    Three possible explanations:

    1. Pure coincidence – that it is statistically unlikely does not make it impossible – the brain will highlight meaningful coincidence and neglect the millions of examples of non-meaningful non-coincidence. so meaningful coincidences loom large.

    2. You have read this passage of Freud before (perhaps when looking ahead at or flicking through the very copy of Freud you read the next day), and forgotten that you had read it, then (for some reason?) you had replicated the error – subconsciously copying Freud.

    3. Morphic resonance. The fact that Freud made this particular error in the past (and perhaps had by his example planted the idea of this error in many thousands more people) makes it more likely than chance that the error will be replicated by others from that time onwards.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Bruce.

    Of course pure coincidence is a possibility. Unfortunately, coincidences of this kind are so sui generis that it’s impossible to get any clear idea of just how unlikely they are, or how often one should expect to experience “that kind of thing” by pure chance.

    I think the second possibility can be more-or-less ruled out due to the fact that I’m reading Freud on my Kindle, which makes it very difficult to just “flick through” a book. Even looking ahead must be done very slowly and deliberately — bookmarking the page you are on and then laboriously clicking through the pages one by one. I’m quite sure I didn’t do this. Nor have I ever read any of Freud’s books before, unless my memory deceives me.

    Also, it’s hard to see how reading about Freud’s error could cause me to replicate it. Certain kinds of mistakes can indeed be induced in this way (as Freud himself mentions vis-a-vis slips of the tongue), but I don’t see how reading this particular anecdote could do anything but fix the name “Monaco” more deeply in one’s mind.

    Morphic resonance is a very interesting possibility indeed, and one that had not crossed my mind in this case.

  3. According to my Screen Saver Hypothesis (that our reality is the screen saver of some entity one reality up, Xi.6), this sort of thing occurs because the reality generator (the Troll Queen) is very lazy and would prefer to duplicate situations and circumstances whenever possible.

    It is often suggested that when these things do occur, we only take note of them because they seem so odd or some such, But it may actually be that they are occurring much more often than we do take note of.

    Again, this is a very annoying problem in the search for ‘true strangeness’ — knowing how strange, strangeness is.

    How strange is normal strangeness?


    Are you back from your sabbatical?
    Did you accomplish what you intended to?

  4. Hi, Chrs. Hope you don’t mind my editing your comment for easier reading (mostly just toning down the random capitalization and punctuation).

    The Troll Queen’s laziness (?) might explain why Freud and I had similar experiences, but not the really surprising element of my story — that I read about Freud’s forgetting Monaco just one day after I’d forgotten it myself. (If I’d read Freud and thought, “Hey, I remember something just like that happened to me a few years ago,” I wouldn’t have found it a coincidence worth noting.) Come to think of it, the same is true of the morphic resonance hypothesis; it does nothing to explain the nearness in time.


    I’m not really back from my sabbatical yet but may post occasionally. I had originally planned to hold myself to the decision not to post at all this year, but you know how these things gang aft agley. And, yes, I did accomplish what I’d intended to, thanks.

  5. I recently went on a fast as penence for flooding my building, but i keep adding things to my diet that ‘aren’t really’ food !
    Yogurt would be OK during a fast, huh? A can of turkey added to a soup? Is that violating the premise!?

    and then: ( actually applicable to the thread ? )

    and also:
    What did you accomplish?
    Can I buy or download it?

  6. Yeah, Chrs, I get the point. It’s just that noting a coincidence/synchronicity is the sort of thing you have to do in a timely manner.

    And, yeah, you can buy some Chinese-English grammar textbooks if you really want to, but somehow I don’t think they’d really be up your alley.

  7. Pingback: Contagious forgetting | Bugs to fearen babes withall

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