Posted by: patenttranslator | March 21, 2014

The Old and the New Version of Synchronicity

I don’t know whether god exists. Some days it seems like a really absurd proposition. Most days, in fact. Although there are days when god’s existence seems almost …. provable.

But I do know that synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence of two seemingly unrelated events, as defined by Carl Jung, does exist.

When I woke up this morning I had in my head a few notes written by J. S. Bach about three centuries ago. I don’t even remember it now, it’s one of those compositions that I know but don’t remember the name of it. Oh, now I have it again, but I still don’t know the name, just that it must be by Bach.

And then, when I turned on the little HD radio and my computer as I do every morning, the notes that I could not get out of my head for about 10 minutes, or since the moment I opened my eyes, were playing on the radio in that very moment.

The radio continued playing the melody exactly from the note that I heard in my head before I turned it on.

The radio is generally tuned to a classical music station in  Norfolk, so one might say that this is not such an incredible coincidence. But I think it is. Out of millions of things that could have been on the radio in that moment, this melody by Bach was synchronized precisely in that moment both in my head and on the radio.


Although synchronicity is out there, most people are unaware of it, because it is an almost imperceptible and seemingly unimportant part of our existence, but mostly because it is impossible to capture and properly define. But still, it is everywhere, it penetrates through all of us and all of our lives, although we don’t even notice it, just like the thousands of neutrinos passing through our body every second which we don’t notice either.

But enough of this crazy talk about synchronicity and neutrinos, and let’s talk about something even crazier – the connection between synchronicity and translation.

I believe that there is a direct link between translation and synchronicity. If something existing in one language is important enough to be translated into another language, and this important something is not translated, one link that could have been synchronized with other events and occurrences is suddenly broken and although the earth keeps turning around its axis as if nothing happened, the course of human events may have just been altered in unpredictable ways.

A translator’s role, or at least one of them, is to make sure that these links interconnecting all the things seen and unseen by human eyes create a continuous web of knowledge, gently enveloping our world like a hammock that comfortably envelops a weary traveler on a ship making its way through the rain forest on the Amazon river.

What would have happened if Egyptian hyeroglyphics had never been deciphered by Jean François Champollion? Would the history of human civilization have been altered in ways we can’t even imagine?

Or perhaps it would not have mattered at all?

Did we really need to find out what was in the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law code written about three thousand and eight hundred years ago? And can we really translate something that was chiseled in stone or written on clay tablets when we can’t run it through Google Translate first?

Is this kind of travel through time even possible, or are we fools to believe that the translators who translated these ancient texts knew what they were doing?


Regardless of what is possible or impossible, the priorities of our civilization have clearly changed dramatically when it comes to our attitude to knowledge of foreign languages and what needs to be translated. A hundred years ago, every child studying foreign languages in the little town where I grew up was studying Latin and Old Greek.

Even 50 years ago, when I was a child going to the same school in that little town, I was still studying Latin, and later some Old Greek as well. But the percentage of children who are encouraged or forced by their teachers and parents to study “dead languages” in any country is much smaller now, probably miniscule.

The emphasis is on modern languages, especially languages important for technological development, such as English, Chinese, Japanese, and German, and now also Korean.

Machine translation is now routinely used on the websites of European Patent Office, Japanese Patent Office, and World Intellectual Property Organization for instantaneous machine translation between dozens of languages, while human patent translators, including this one, are kept busy as well.

And of course the NSA is hiring people who are fluent in Middle Eastern languages … and can’t find them because they need to be US citizens.

There was a point in history when the knowledge of a foreign language was a means that people were using to learn from Suetonius and Thukidides and other Roman and Greek historians what went wrong in these highly developed ancient civilizations, and why is it that in the end an advanced civilization always seems to be defeated by a seemingly inferior culture, as Greece was conquered by Rome and Rome was conquered by Vandals.

But this kind of learning is not really a part of our highly synchronized or highly asynchronous world, depending on how we look at it. We are now mostly interested in information about technology, and about the latest designated enemies, real or imaginary ones.

That, and how to make more money from all that information, of course.

So that is what translators translate these days in the modern world, a world that is very well synchronized in just about every language and just about every country when it comes to technical information, and information about you and me.

There is a lot of money in synchronizing of information in order to create a new type of synchronicity so that it can be monetized. Two killer apps of our age, Google and Facebook, are based on the concept of monetization of synchronicity.

In our world, the old concept of synchronicity can be acknowledged, if it is acknowledged at all, only as a wild theory of some crazy Swiss psychiatrist who practiced analytical psychology a hundred years ago.


  1. Great thinking Steve! I’m behind with projects or I’d get back to you with a fuller comment 🙂 All the Best! Michal


  2. “…this melody by Bach was synchronized precisely in that moment both in my head and on the radio.”

    When I read this, I thought that your mind could be a radio receiver – kind of parapsychological ability.

    As to “What would have happened if Egyptian hyeroglyphics had never been deciphered by Jean François Champollion? Would the history of human civilization have been altered in ways we can’t even imagine?”, you have your possible answer immediately: “Or perhaps it would not have mattered at all?”

    I tend to affirm the answer: it doesn’t matter at all.

    When I was young, I did not understand “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” as I did not understand what was told in the Heart Sutra:

    “When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practing profoundly into the Perfection of Wisdom (prajna paramita), he illuminated the five Aggregates of Mind (skhanda) and saw that they are all empty (shunya). Through this knowledge, he relieved all sufferings. Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness (shunyata), emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself is form. So are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness, too…”

    I did not understand all these in translations or later in their originals. Maybe I understand them now because of Synchronicity or the age. It doesn’t matter what the translators did, do and will do, all information as well as the history of human civilization lead to Shunyata.

    So, live and translate happily whatever you believe to be worthy of synchronizing, translators and semi-retired translators.

    By the way, Steve, you must recognise the following piece immediately. Then, we are definitively synchronized.


  3. The coincidence/synchronicity of the Bach composition is indeed astounding – but Friday (March 21) was Bach’s birthday, so if that’s when this happened, at least the chances of hearing Bach on the radio were much higher than usual (WETA here played all Bach, all day). Still, that you and the radio were entirely in synch is amazing.


  4. @Michal, Wenjer and Jan

    Thanks so much for commenting.

    I am still hoping that somebody will comment about a personal experience with synchronicity that will blow my mind.


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