Monday, October 15, 2012

Richard "Doc" Baily and the Lattice of Causality

This essay is on the general topic of how we perceive coincidence, and read patterns into them.  Do those patterns actually exist?   I doubt it, but who knows.

For those of you interested in the history of computer animation, this story involves my good friend, now deceased, Richard "Doc" Baily.

This story takes a while to get going, unfortunately.  If you make it through to the end, though, I think you will agree with me that its pretty weird.

I do not believe in such things as Synchronicity, or the apparent coincidences that underly the material world that indicate a formal structure of cause and effect that is not apparent to our normal senses, limited as they are by mere matter and energy. I really wish I did believe in such things, because if I did, then maybe I would believe in telepathy, and if I believed in telepathy, maybe I would believe in life-after-death and if I believed in life-after-death maybe I would believe in happy endings and then maybe I would have some hope.

But I dont.

I wish I did, but I dont.

I suspect that when I experience something that seemingly indicates that cosmic consciousness is guiding our actions, or some other similar mechanism, that what is actually going on is a series of coincidences that are assembled by a hyperactive pattern-seeking device known as the human brain. And that this fabulous pattern seeking and making device is, particularly when under stress, finding patterns when none exists. In a more extreme form, this is one proposed explanation for paranoia, that the brain is putting patterns together and is being a little too energetic in doing so.

But I have a few stories, and this is one of them. What I particularly like about this story is the extremely infinitesimal odds of it occurring, as you will see.

It involves one of my best friends, now deceased, Richard "Doc" Baily, or Dr. Baily as we called him. He was a graduate of Cal Arts, a technical director at Abel's who worked on Tron among other projects, a poet, and a talented early computer animator and abstract filmmaker. Richard was very eccentric and not everyone enjoyed working with him in part because of his flamboyant lifestyle choices. Eventually both he and I were no longer at Abel's but he remained a good friend until he passed away tragically several years ago.  My friend Richard led a troubled life due to some of these lifestyle choices that I referred to. He was in and out of various substance abuse programs and in and out of work. He did not have a good relationship with his family. I tried to be supportive and I genuinely liked him, most of the time. We kept in touch.

About a decade later, in the early 1990s, I am taking a break from my very depressing life and so-called career in Los Angeles and going out west to visit some of the national parks and chill out. My production company is out of business, computer animation is becoming very corporate, and the future is uncertain at best. I run into a friend, Harvie Branscomb, and I accept an invitation to stay in his guest room for a few weeks, about 10 miles downvalley from Aspen, Co. In Aspen, I meet a pleasant local named Jennifer (not sure I have her name right) and as I am preparing to drive slowly back to Los Angeles, she suggests that I stop by Sedona and visit a friend of hers who runs a New Age bookstore and tchotchke shop. I am not planning to go to Sedona, but I tell her I will visit her friend if I get there.

About a week later, I am driving in Arizona and I reach a crossroads where I either turn directly for LA or go the other direction to Sedona. I was not planning to go to Sedona, but at the last minute I take the turn and go there.

Just wait, this will all make sense.

I go to the New Age bookstore and meet Jennifer's friend. She has never met me before, did not know I was coming, but of course she does remember her friend Jennifer who has referred me. She says without much preamble: You must go to the river.  You must go right now.

Why not, I thought. This has been a fun trip acting on impulse, lets go to the river, lets go right now.

The river refers to a creek near some hills that are supposed to be particularly filled with karmic good energy fields. Sortof an epicenter of Sedona, which is itself a center of cosmic energy, I am told. What I find there is more of a pond, a bit muddy, with some kids playing in it, a few 20-something women, a few picnic tables, an old guy fishing. So, why not, I start talking to the young women who are playing in the water and we start chatting.

And where are you from, they ask? I am from LA. And what do you do? Well, its not clear, thinking to myself, right now I am not doing anything, but I guess I do computer animation, I say. Oh, they say, do you know our cousin Richard Baily? Doctor Baily?, I ask. Oh no, they say, he's not a doctor, he's a computer animator!  He's our cousin and we are just coming from a family reunion with his father and he did not show up!

Oh, I thought, thinking about what little I knew about my friend's "relationship" with his family and his parents.

Ok, I said, I am Richard's best friend in LA or one of them. Why don't I buy you all dinner tonight in Sedona and you can tell me all about it. So I did. Oddly enough, I don't remember much about the dinner, but we discussed my friend Richard and his relationship with his family, and I told them some things about Richard in LA, not bad things, mostly good things I think. But I don't remember too much about dinner.

As the years passed, I wondered if this event had actually happened, it seemed too improbable. But when Richard passed away, I ran into the two cousins at the memorial service and they said yes, we had met by the river in Sedona and I had taken them to dinner, just as I had remembered.

So consider the odds here. They are not planning to be in Sedona more than a day. I am not planning to be there at all. I am not planning to go to Aspen. I do not know Jennifer. I do not know the woman who owns the bookstore. But I do show up unexpectedly that afternoon, and she tells me to go to the river, and I do, and I meet the cousins of my best friend who have just come from a family reunion where their famous cousin who is estranged from his family has not shown up.

The odds of this happening are quite tiny, I think. I don't really know what to make of it.   It does seem oddly ordained by fate.   I have other stories of this type, but this one is exemplerary because how I came to be there was so involved and unlikely.

I still don't have any hope, though.


  1. If it (the "Synchronicity" stuff that you were chatting about) exists; then it does not make if you believe or not. If it does not; then you lose nothing by not believing. You might want to read a section of Robert A. Wilson's book, Prometheus Rising. The chapter where it discusses the internal "Thinker" (who comes up with ideas) and the "Prover", who makes them happen.

  2. For those not in on the cast of characters, Jolly Roger is almost certainly my friend Roger Wilson who is/was also a very close friend of Doctor Baily. I do not entirely understand what he is getting at here, but I am sure that Robert Wilson (no relationship so far as I know) is always worth reading.