Dark Clouds, By Chance

Bob and the late Phran Ginsberg

Bob Ginsberg is the author of The Medium Explosion: A Guide to Navigating the World of Those Who Claim to Communicate with the Dead (2020). He is also the co-founder, along with his late wife, Phran, of the Forever Family Foundation (foreverfamilyfoundation.org), a global, non-profit organization that seeks to investigate empirical evidence for the survival of consciousness after death, including the claims of mediums to communicate with the dead, as well as both provide grief counseling services to the bereaved, and education to the general public about the evidence it discovers. To this end, one of its primary vehicles is the Signs of Life radio broadcast, which is also available as a podcast.

(In the interests of full disclosure, back in 2017, I was interviewed on one of their radio programs by Dr. Betty Kovacs and Kim Saavedra. Here is the link to that archived show:


All of which is prologue to my main discussion.

Recently I heard Bob Ginsberg being interviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove on one of his New Thinking Allowed podcasts, and, as a result, I began following his excellent blog, “Beyond the Five Senses.”

Just today, I came across a recent post of his (https://www.beyondthefivesenses.com/post/born-under-a-dark-cloud) that caught my attention for several reasons, not the least of which is because I had been recently reflecting on the very subject he raises: bad luck.

I will quote in full two paragraphs of his comments

“We have all heard the expression, and on a personal level I often contemplate the notion that this certainly applies to me. Some people, despite their demeanor, outlook on life, or capacity for love and compassion, appear to simply be unlucky in life. There are many spiritual explanations for the tragedies that befall us, and I do not subscribe to most of them. Despite losing my fifteen-year-old daughter, my wife of forty-six years, and most recently my home being devastated by a hurricane, I tend to believe that all these things are random and not the result of divine providence or karma.”


“It appears that some people are just unlucky, and, of course, the opposite is also true. I have published my theory before that life is random by design, and the randomness is part of a greater plan. How we react to all the obstacles and tragedies that occur affect our self-judgment and existence in the realms to come. Nothing has swayed me from this opinion, and I continue to live my life the best I can because there is no choice. I doubt that my luck will change, but there is always hope.”

I have been thinking a great deal lately about this question of chance—luck, or fortune, as it was called in the Middle Ages, or whatever one wishes to call it. What initially prompted my own reflections were some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, in which several prominent consciousness researchers recounted how it was, exactly, that they became, professionally, who they are: how they broke into their respective fields and became so successful.

What was so striking in each instance was the sheer number of improbable coincidences and extraordinary experiences that had to occur in order for these outcomes to obtain. It was truly astonishing, if not absolutely incredible. It was as if the universe, like a top-notch Hollywood dramatist, had written a superlative romantic comedy script in which the would-be lovers inadvertently engender, but ultimately overcome, countless obstacles in order to find each other in the end. Kind of like one of my old favorites, “Sleepless In Seattle” (1993), with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

So, which is it: accidental or scripted?

If it’s scripted—whether by God, Fate, or the agents themselves in a pre-existent, disembodied condition (thus saving free will in the bargain)—then “chance” occurrences only appear that way, and underneath it’s all part of the Plan. In which case, there is no real drama, either. You’re only on the edge of your seat, so to speak, because you are viewing it scene by scene, and you haven’t seen the ending yet. But it’s already all there! It’s already written, the lines already scripted, the directions set, the film produced and in the can. It’s only your own lack of omniscience—your relative ignorance, in other words—that makes it a cliffhanger. For you.

From the alternate standpoint, God does play dice with the universe, as it were—contrary to Einstein’s passionate assertion that he doesn’t. There is real chance, and those outcomes weren’t chosen or predetermined “beforehand.”

Now emotionally, when the outcomes are happy, this choice lands very differently than if the outcomes are unhappy. What I mean is something like the following. Looking in hindsight at my own life, in relation to the successful individuals whose stories of beneficial “magical” coincidences aided their trajectories, I see many misfortunes, in the sense of numerous opportunities that almost, very nearly came to fruition; but—agonizingly, excruciatingly—in the final analysis, simply didn’t. I wasn’t quite in the right place at the right time; didn’t quite say the right thing to the right person; didn’t quite make the right move; etc., etc. If only . . .

Now, if I maintain that the “successful” people were aided by pure chance, or good luck, then I’m logically committed to arguing that my own “failures” are likewise, at least in part, due to pure chance, or bad luck. They were just bad breaks. Yet this option doesn’t quite satisfy me, for the simple reason that there at least seems to be a suspiciously determined pattern in both cases. A controlling, if hidden, intention, in other words.

If someone keeps consistently winning at cards in Vegas, there grows the suspicion that a “system” is covertly being used to rig the results. Something is jiggering the odds. Similarly, parapsychologists have long noted the so-called “sheep-goat effect” in experiments; one aspect of which, is that those subjects who disbelieve in the existence of psi will consistently score significantly lower than chance, which is as mysterious a result as those who score higher. Kind of like the negative, so-called “nocebo effect” in pharmacology, which is the mirror image of the positive, placebo effect, in which one’s belief in the treatment can have a healing effect equal to that provided by the actual pharmaceutical agent. In other words, what looks like pure chance, isn’t; there is, one suspects, a “hidden hand” rigging the results, either for better or for worse.

On the other hand, just like Bob Ginsberg, I just find it hard to swallow the idea that my apparent bad luck was designed, or “meant to be,” either as divine-ordained punishment for past sins (in this life or a “previous” one); as impersonal karmic debts to be paid; or as self-designed, i.e., as something my “soul” freely chose to experience in this present life before “incarnating” for reasons of “growth.” And my ‘misfortunes” are as nothing compared to his. Don’t get me wrong; apart from my professional disappointments referenced above, I’ve experienced the usual gamut of sorrows, losses, griefs, and illnesses that life throws at us humans. But I would not label any of them “tragic” in quite the same way that I would readily call Bob Ginsberg’s losses tragic.

But I have personally known those whose losses I would readily acknowledge as tragic. My mother lost her mother when she was only seven years old. A decade later, her best childhood friend, Jeannie, was killed instantly in a senseless automobile accident. My grandmother had gone into the hospital for some routine elective gallbladder surgery. She developed the sniffles, and her physician operated anyway. She died on the table. No one routinely sued for malpractice in those days. The doctor was a family friend. It was just a stupid, careless—and fatal—error. Then, much later on, there were the several miscarriages she suffered after she and my father married.

Punishment? Karma? Choice?

Sorry, but none of these are plausible explanations to me. There’s no question in my own mind that these devastating losses deeply affected my mother and the development of her character and personality, including helping to shape her value systems. Above all, she valued truth and compassion. I think these losses contributed both to her greatest strengths, and to her greatest vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, she lived her life with tremendous spirit and zest; and she faced dying and death with a kind of raw courage that was astonishing. One of her favorite sayings was, “You just have to be lucky.” The irony, of course, is that she never was.

Perhaps, then, we have the wrong perspective and are asking the wrong questions.

Punishment, karma, and (pre-existent soul) choice are all about the individual. Why did this happen to them? It’s like when you tell someone that so-and-so died of cancer, and they ask, well, what kind? Followed by all sorts of questions about their personal habits (did they smoke? did they eat fresh food? etc.). One suspects that they want to find a way to relieve their own anxiety and reassure themselves that they have control over the situation–over life. Well, I don’t smoke. I won’t get lung cancer!

Remember that, in the Biblical story, Job got this treatment from his own friends, after all. “Well, what did you do to the Old Man to deserve this disaster that your life has become?” they asked. But the true answer was: nothing. Job didn’t deserve it; it all just happened. Yes, the writer of the story dutifully inserts a diabolicum ex machina involving a supposed wager between God and Satan. But that’s such an obviously transparent “MacGuffin,” as film director Alfred Hitchcock would have called it—a contrivance that gets the plot ball rolling—that it’s almost laughable. Except, look at poor Job. He wasn’t laughing.

It just happened. That’s the real answer. Nature always rolls the dice, plants many seeds of many different kinds with different possible outcomes, because she never knows just what she will need. Each of us, writes Hermann Hesse in his great novel, Demian, “represents a gamble on the part of nature in the creation of the human . . . [we are] experiments of the depths . . .”

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

I agree with Bob Ginsberg: It’s what we do with the accidents of our existence that makes us interesting and valuable to Nature.

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