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A TIMELY PHOTOGRAPH MIUVOJ BORANIC* I wish to describe a puzzling personal experience. Two fortuitous phenomena from everyday life which would appear on formal statistical and scientific analysis only as "probabilities" of occurrence, without particular meaning and aesthetic value, seem to become intelligible, related, and almost rational if for a moment we put aside our contemporary scientific methods ofthinking and resume, at least for the sake ofcuriosity or fun, the old-fashioned, medieval holistic outlook which in its time probably appeared to be as logical, sound, and valid as our present-day way ofthinking appears to us. I hope this unpretentious discourse might lead us towards recognizing holistic elements in our perpetual need for the "meaning" of phenomena in biology, medicine, and related fields of natural sciences and the humanities. When visiting the United States last summer, I accompanied a colleague to a social gathering attended by approximately 15 people of different ethnic origins, most of them born in the United States. My colleague and I as well as our hostess are natives of a European country with a population of approximately 22 million. Our hostess had just returned from a trip to Europe that included a visit to our homeland and to two other European countries. She was showing many photographs taken during thatjourney. To my astonishment, in one ofthese pictures I recognized my parents, walking in the shopping center of a new hotel. The picture was apparently taken late in the evening, because the place was illuminated but barren. "How did you know these were my parents ?" I asked. "Why, I didn't," replied the hostess. "I simply took the picture because I liked the architecture and the lights, and these people just happened to be there. How strange!" Being a scientist, I asked the hostess to put down this statement on the reverse side of the photograph , so as to have it as a scientific "proof" of this bizarre story. Later on, of course, I tried to analyze the "data" and put them into a»Department of Experimental Biology and Medicine, Rudjer Boskovic Institute, P.O. Box 1016, 41001 Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Autumn 1977 | 105 logical framework. It would be possible, I thought, to calculate statistical probability of this event, taking into account that our hostess, my colleague , and I were of the same nationality; that our ethnic group constitutes a very small fraction ofthe population ofthe United States, probably less than 0.5 percent; and that the hostess and I shared a common friend who had brought us in contact. Reason, however, accepted this hardcore scientific explanation only with reluctance, finding it difficult to give full credit to chance, atomization, and absurdity as the ultimate answers, and looked for causal relationship and "meaning" of the events. Such a holistic approach is likely to meet criticism and be refuted as unscientific, but I propose to venture it, at least for the sake of curiosity. We may hope, for instance, to find an answer to this question: Is it possible that rare occurrences and coincidences are endowed with "meaning" simply because we pay attention to them? If considered prospectively (i.e., before it actually happened), the coincidence described above fits into a rational framework only as a statistical probability; yet its chancelike, irrational occurrence remains uncovered. Reason gives us here only an objective assessment of the likelihood of the coincidence taking place, but the coincidence itself remains mysterious and intrinsically disconnected. It becomes intelligible and meaningful, however, if considered retrospectively . To do this, we should envision the chain of events—from the point oftaking the photograph (event 1) to the point ofits public display (event 2) as an entity in time and space, accessible to causal analysis starting from either of its ends. This would imply that the vector of time between the two events can be stopped or even reversed. In other words, the interval between event 1 and event 2 becomes "time" only when our attention is switched from one to the other, examining sequentially elements of the chain linking them. Such analysis seems to be acceptable now, when both events have submerged into the past and only exist in memory or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 105-108
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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