Many years ago I awoke in the dead of night in a cold sweat, with the certain knowledge that a close relative had suddenly died. […] In fact, the relative is alive and well […]. However, suppose the relative had in fact died that night. You would have had a difficult time convincing me that it was merely coincidence. But it is easy to calculate that if each American has such a premonitory experience a few times in his lifetime, the actuarial statistics alone will produce a few apparent precognitive events somewhere in America each year. We can calculate that this must occur fairly frequently, but to the rare person who dreams of disaster, followed rapidly by its realization, it is uncanny and awesome. Such a coincidence must happen to someone every few months, but those who experience a correct precognition understandably resist its explanation by coincidence.
After my experience I did not write a letter to an institute of parapsychology relating a compelling predictive dream which was not borne out by reality. That is not a memorable letter. But had the death I dreamt actually occurred, such a letter would have been marked down as evidence for precognition. The hits are recorded, the misses are not.
Thus Carl Sagan in his 1979 book Broca’s Brain.
On Sunday evening while puttering around the kitchen I experienced a strong urge to listen to Space Oddity, which I did. I had no idea that David Bowie was even ill, much less had just died. It was a profoundly weird feeling when I saw the headline the next morning.
I realized though two things. First, Carl Sagan’s words above came back to me. Thousands of people around the world must be listening to old David Bowie albums on any particular night; one of those nights is going to be the night he died. I should not resist the explanation of coincidence. Particularly when David Bowie was on my mind already, having seen ads the day before for his new album.
Second, I realized that my brain was already creating revisionist history. The actual sequence of events was that I had “Riders on the Storm” stuck in my head for no good reason. I was looking through my music collection to see if I had any old Doors albums, I did not, and I thought hey, what else have I got in my collection from the late 1960s or early 1970’s that I haven’t listened to in a while? Ah, how about Space Oddity?
All of which is to say first, RIP David Bowie. Second, for the late Carl Sagan I am hereby recording this as a miss. Third, brains are weird. And I think I’ll put on the Philip Glass version of Low. A good one to program by, that one.