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Can Civilization Be Based On A Coincidence?
In the course of a lifetime, we are all confronted with 'coincidences'. Events occur at the same time and have, or seem to have, a complementary or similar meaning, although we can't imagine a plausible cause for their joint occurrence. Surveys show that a vast majority have experienced these intellectually challenging situations.
Most of us, however, will not spend much more time wondering about the 'How' and the 'Why' of these conjunctures of events. And it is not indeed profoundly important. But what if there was a large scale conjuncture of radically important events occurring, against all logical explanations, in different places in the world, in utterly different cultures?
Karl Jaspers, a German philosopher and psychiatrist from the early XXth century, is said to have been the first thinker to formally assert that founding events in the History of different and separated civilizations happened in an extraordinarily synchronistic way. He termed this period in History the Axial Age.
Jaspers wrote in amazement:
The spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently... And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today.
The phenomenon of ideas being discovered at about the same time by distant researchers, without any so-called 'rational' explanation for their co-occurence, is known in science. Naturalistic explanations will revolve around the hypothesis that scientific progress is roughly the same everywhere, and that the fact that two researchers can end up fighting for paternity over an idea is merely an unfortunate event. Not much to say about it: it's only a selective recollection of events. Others — often those who are actually doing the research — will rather say that some ideas are "in the air".
We should be aware that it is, however, forbidden to give credence to these insights. The 'scientific consensus' is that ideas don't have an existence of their own, but that biochemical beings simply happen to come up with the same relatively synchronous findings.
Granted that we venture into the dangerous unchartered waters of Idealism, how can we make sense of this hypothecized Axial Age, at least provisionally?