Sunday, January 22, 2012

On spotting a pattern

Readers may — should — be aware of PostSecret, a kind of anonymous clearinghouse for secrets that people write on postcards and send to Frank, who posts (a selection of) them on the web. (To be clear: people post their own secrets, it's not for outing your friends or even enemies.) I read the site every Sunday (it updates once a week), and am always moved by at least one of the secrets.

For a marvellous time, there was a PostSecret iPhone app too, which did much the same thing — but without Frank's intervention, so people could and did post secrets at any time of the day or night. Since I liked the website so much, I bought and regularly read the app too.

The app had several effects, the one relevant to this story was that it increased by several orders of magnitude the number of secrets being published. This sudden superabundance made it really easy to spot patterns and commonalities. One pattern which I noticed early on, and which fascinated me, was this:

My dead [person I was very close to] spoke to me and saved my life.

Some examples (quoting from memory, obviously; the sense is correct even if the words may be misremembered):
I heard my dead father whistling in the kitchen like he used to do, so I went down to see. The stove was on fire.

The light was green but my daddy told me to stop the car, so I did. As I stepped on the brakes, a car ran through the red light in front of me. My secret: my daddy died three years ago.

My best friend died in a car accident n* years ago. I was driving across a highway bridge with my kids, when I heard her voice from the back seat telling me to change lanes. I did, and a truck blew out a tire and veered across the highway to crash into the barrier right where we had been. It would have killed us all.

Had this just been one secret of a single person, I'd have written it off as a hallucination or the babbling of an idiot. But there were hundreds of these! There was at least one every week!

I was and remain fascinated by these stories. I'd love to know what happened to these people: what exactly did they experience?

Am I saying that the dead remain on earth and communicate with us? No.

Am I saying that something inexplicable and very interesting happened to these people, which we would do well to study? Hell yes.

The app was taken down recently in an unfortunate victory of arseholism over decency. A minority of users were posting porn and/or abusive and insulting pictorial comments, taking advantage of the fact that the posting process was automated and instantaneous. A self-organizing committee of volunteers emerged who tried to dam the flood, but they were overwhelmed by the quantity of garbage that had to be found and deleted. Ah well.

* Can't remember how many years, it doesn't matter to the story.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Zhoen said...

I tend to think that some part of our brain is aware of danger, and tells us in a way we want to pay attention to and want to hear. The lost loved ones familiar sounds, or warnings, would be rather ideal for a lot of folks.

January 22, 2012 at 9:55:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Lioness said...

We don't know do we, that's the beauty of it. I like to think they might.

January 22, 2012 at 11:21:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Aggers said...

Actually, groups such as the ASSAP in the UK have been investigating strange phenomena such as this for many years. The major problem is that such organisations tend by nature to be staffed by devoted amateurs with day jobs doing their investigations in their own time. Sadly, academics rarely involve themselves in such things because a) It doesn't look good on their CV and b) It's virtually impossible to get funding for 'fringe' studies, hence they get marginalised and never leave the 'fringe'. People then say 'well there can't be anything in it because academics don't afford it any credibility.' Sigh.

My own take on the phenomenon is that something in the actual perceiver themself in some way reacts to an upcoming event and the brain translates that in the best way it knows how, i.e. an aural communication from a loved one. Instances of people receiving such warnings from* living* relatives at a remote distance (often over thousands of miles) are also documented. Back to the 'precognition' and 'is time an illusion?' debate I guess? Maybe Piet could be persuaded to host a theme session on it sometime? :P

January 23, 2012 at 3:58:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger JoeinVegas said...

I find most of the PostSecrets to be so sad, that people wished they had done things differently, or made decisions based on what they felt others wanted.

January 24, 2012 at 11:47:00 PM GMT+1  

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