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Synchronicity, Cause and Effect

abracad, · Categories: coincidence and synchronicity, paranormal phenomena, science and spirituality

The term Synchronicity was introduced by psychologist Carl Gustav (C.G.) to describe meaningful coincidence in his classic 1950 essay Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Jung makes an eloquent attempt to define synchronicity as an alternative to cause and effect as a connecting principle. Jung's theory is paralleled by the paradigm-shifting discoveries in physics of relativity and quantum mechanics which shattered the then widely held belief in a deterministic, "clockwork" universe.

If reality is likened to an ocean, infinite in both expanse and depth, then the material universe is the surface of that ocean, and the non-physical its vast depths. Synchronicity is the observable effects of submerged activity upon the surface. This hidden activity is beyond human understanding, but we do, on occasion, glimpse its effects.

Causality vs Probability

In a causal/deterministic (model of) reality, cause precedes effect thus:

cause and effect

Is there a first cause, or is the back-chain infinite? And if there is such a thing as first cause (ie that which acts as a cause without itself being caused), is there one or many?

The above is an oversimplification; every event has multiple causes, and itself acts as a cause of multiple effects, ie:

multiple causes and effects

Because of the interconnectedness (ie oneness) of the universe, each event has an infinite number of causes and is itself a contributory cause of an infinite number of effects.

Modern physics has shown that at the smallest levels (of our awareness) of matter, determinism does not apply, and is instead replaced by probability:

single cause giving rise to probabilistic outcome

The apparent determinism we observe at (our) macro level is an approximation formed from the vast number of probabilistic micro events; eg there is no way of knowing what number a single roll of a die will produce, but it is certain that given a large enough number of rolls each number will occur approx 1/6 of the total.

In the (infinitely) long run of micro events, law-abiding 'normality' will prevail. But finite pockets of anomalies can and do occur; eg a tossed coin should land heads up 50% of the time, but given sufficient tosses it's certain that a sequence of 10 heads will arise. This corresponds to our experience of coincidence.

When is Coincidence Meaningful?

Coincidences are meaningful when they occur significantly more frequently than chance alone would suggest.

In any given time frame individuals experience numerous, independent "events" (drawn from an infinite pool of possibilities). These events may be experiences, thoughts, observations etc.

Events and relationships

By chance some of these events will be related, but occur independently, ie one doesn't cause the other and they don't share any common (material) cause. Such related but non-causal occurrences are coincidences.

Coincidences are meaningful (ie synchronicities) if they occur more frequently than reasonably likely by chance alone. This could be a single, extremely unlikely co-occurrence; or it could be multiple co-occurrences of unlikely events that are significant because of their number. Consideration should also be given to the impact of the event upon the experiencer; eg was the first event sufficiently notable to be recorded or remarked upon?

A Definition of Synchronicity

Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance.

Jung was intrigued from early in his career with coincidences, especially those surprising juxtapositions that scientific rationality could not adequately explain. He discussed these ideas with Albert Einstein before World War I, but first used the term "synchronicity" in a 1930 lecture, in reference to the unusual psychological insights generated from consulting the I Ching. Jung explored the concept further in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle which defines synchronicity as "the occurrence of a meaningful coincidence in time."

A long correspondence and friendship with the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli stimulated this final, mature statement of Jung's thinking on synchronicity. Jung viewed synchronicity as a challenge to the prevalent triad of classical physics consisting of space, time, and causality. Instead, the recognition of synchronicity implied a quaternio. In consultation with Pauli, Jung produced the following schema:

Synchronistic schema

Together with a wealth of historical and contemporary material, this essay describes an astrological experiment Jung conducted to test his theory. The experiment appears to confirm classic astrological beliefs, but this confirmation may arise from the "fortuitous" (ie synchronistic) selection of cases for study, ie we somehow prove what we set out to prove because we somehow select just the right evidence to do so.

Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle also describes in some depth the historic background to the concept of synchronicity, challenging the scientific paradigm of cause and effect as the sole model of the operation of reality.

Synchronicity does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead, it maintains that just as events may be grouped by cause, they may also be grouped by their meaning. Since meaning is a complex mental construction, subject to conscious and subconscious influence, not every correlation in the grouping of events by meaning needs to have an explanation in terms of cause and effect.

Examples of Synchronicity

Two classic examples of synchronicity, taken from Wikipedia:

The French writer Émile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that, in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room. [Emile Deschamps, Oeuvres completes : Tomes I — VI, Reimpr. de l'ed. de Paris 1872 - '74]

In his book Synchronicity (1952), Jung tells the following story as an example of a synchronistic event: "A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since." [The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, paragraph 843, Princeton University Press Edition.]

And just a few of many such insignificant but unlikely instances from the author's own experience, the first happened while my mother was waiting to go to hospital for tests on her heart, and the second after she had been admitted for urgent heart surgery, ie both occurred at a time of great stress:

I dreamed I was in the kitchen of my grandmother's apartment. Someone looks through the window. A few seconds later something comes through the front door letterbox. I hear him trying the doorbell but it doesn't work. I go outside but he is gone, there is someone else along the landing. The next day my daughter saw our next door neighbor through the window. She had something for him so we went outside to meet him, but he wasn't there. We looked along the road but saw someone else instead.

I was watching, but hardly concentrating on, a TV magician. He asked a lady from the audience to choose 3 numbers  from 1 to 39. She chose 1 first. For the second number, before she chose,  I thought it would be 24, and it was. And for the third number, before she chose, I thought it would be 13, she first chose 15 then changed it to 13. Of course the numbers were those the magician wanted! I didn't consciously try to guess the numbers, rather they just came.

More recently I was idly flicking through the TV channels and happened upon a horse race in progress. I have no interest in horse racing and never watch it on TV, but this time just had a feeling about the horse in 4th place of 5. It went on to win at odds of 7 to 1.

In Feb 2013 I attended my usual weekly Spiritualist church meeting. For the past year or so the church has had a volunteer organist who attends when able, on other weeks the organ is played by the minister. This evening the minister mentioned he usually chooses 3 hymns (today's being uv, wx, yz) in case the organist is absent, and that he had independently chosen the same 3 as the organist, in the same order. Even more remarkably the 6 digits of the chosen hymns were my mother's phone number (uvwxyz). NB: i) hymns are chosen from a book of 38, but some are rarely used, so say from a pool of ~15; ii) many local phone numbers begin uv; iii) there were 22 sitters at the church.

The Implications of Synchronicity

Einstein famously said God 'does not throw dice'. So perhaps the apparent (to the limits of our perception) probabilistic behavior of physical matter arises from some underlying, hidden 'order'. Because it is hidden we cannot know if this order is driven by some intelligence, or if it is mindless. But if it is intelligent then it would be what is commonly termed God, Spirit or source.

Science has been remarkably good at describing the directly/indirectly observable universe. However we cannot know what the totality of existence encompassing our perceptions and likely much more is like. We have an excellent grasp of the reality of our particular and highly-specific framework, but know nothing of what may lie beyond. Just imagine how different the world view of a human compared to a microbe, and realize these particular species lie next to one another on a vast, possibly infinite, scale.

A model of synchronicity
A causes B in a deterministically observable manner; eg I flick the switch, the light comes on. X and Y are related, and inexplicably occur together "by coincidence"; eg I come across an old photo of M, who I haven't heard from for years, next day we run into each other on the bus. Synchronicity is suggestive of a greater, hidden, realm of which we are unaware, but which impacts our perceived reality.

Jung cites the importance of emotion in synchronistic events; eg Rhine's boredom effect in which psi scores fell towards normal as subjects grew tired of the monotonous experiments. This is in accord with other sources, eg Napoleon Hill's wealth creation classic Think and Grow Rich describes the importance of mixing desires with emotional feeling in order to bring about their realization. It is also paralleled in the Spiritualist metaphor of 'raising one's vibrations' to enable Spirit communication (while those Spirits wishing to communicate correspondingly lower their vibrations).

Space and time form the foundations of our experience, and yet Einstein showed that these concepts are far from being as we perceive them (that is if they have any being at all beyond how they are perceived) and are in fact relative to each other and their percipient. This is in accord with the teachings of Spiritualistic mediums that time has no meaning in Spirit. It also shatters the role of determinism as an absolute description of the way reality operates.

The 'relativity' of time raises an interesting question concerning the now well-documented psi phenomena of precognition (knowledge of future events) and pk (psychokinesis – the ability to influence future events). Does knowledge of the event travel back through time to influence the mind of the percipient? Or does the percipient's prediction travel forwards to influence the event?

Admitting the possibility of a hidden, unobservable level beyond the physical realm - eg the hidden hand of Spirit - raises the possibility of the human will/mind as an influence (but not necessarily sole influence) upon unfolding reality.

See also Some Personal Psychic Experiences and their Implications


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One Response to “Synchronicity, Cause and Effect”

  1. [...] about your son at college and, while thinking about him, the phone rings and it’s him. But significant coincidence can be Spirit’s way of letting you know it’s there, eg if you haven’t seen or [...]

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