Synchronicity refers to the underlying cosmic intelligence that synchronizes people, places and events into a meaningful order. We experience synchronicity when an outer event corresponds to our inner thoughts, perceptions or feelings. – Law of Time
Carl Jung is the Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist that founded “analytical psychology,” as well as the extravert and introvert psychological types.
Analytical psychology focuses on the whole of the human being, believing that the unconscious mind is the primary source for healing and is vital to the development of an individual’s soul. Unlike many psychologists and scientists, Jung believed the world of dreams, myth, and folklore, should be valued as forms of empirical evidence, and that they presented a promising road to a deeper understanding of the workings of our universe.
A fundamental concept in Jung’s thinking is the idea of the archetype. An archetype is an innate, universal prototype for ideas that can be used to interpret observations. Archetypes make up the psychological pattern of the human experience, making them common themes throughout human life (for example, being a child, being happy, being fearful, etc.). These archetypes sit in what Jung refers to as the “collective unconscious,” and tie our individual experiences to a larger whole of human experience.
According to Jung, the “Self” is the archetype of wholeness, and is the regulating center of the conscious mind. Essential to the development of the Self, is the individual’s conscious connection to their unconscious mind. The conscious mind may interact with its unconscious counterpart by observing and interpreting symbols encountered during one’s life. Such symbols can appear in dreams, art, religion, and the dramas we enact in our relationships and life pursuits. Accordingly, an individual’s ability to understand these symbols, and incorporate them into their life for personal development can result in an “awakening” of the mind and spirit.
One of the methods that Jung believes allows the communication between the conscious and unconscious mind is the observation of synchronous events. It is Jung’s work on Synchronicity that is the focus of Ira Progoff’s 1973 work, Jung, Synchronicity, And Human Destiny.
Synchronicity is defined as the occurrence of a meaningful coincidence. Progoff writes:
“Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance.” Perhaps a more indicative word than “coincidence” would be “concurrence,” since the central thought concerns the occurrence at the same moment of two separate events that are not causally connected to one another. They take place at the same time with neither one having an effect on the other, and yet they are related to one another in a meaningful way. […]
We find the synchronistic principle expressed in a very wide variety of events. A person, for example, has a dream or a series of dreams, and these turn out to coincide with an outer event. An individual prays for some special favor, or wishes, or hopes for it strongly, and in some inexplicable way it comes to pass. One person believes in another person, or in some special symbol, and while he is praying or meditating by the light of that faith, a physical healing or some other “miracle” comes to pass. Wherever there are human beings, synchronistic events occur, and it is indeed very likely that once we know what to look for, we shall find that their number is much greater than we had supposed. […]
The theoretical problems involved in Synchronicity can become quite complicated, but the situations involved are commonly experienced in everyday life. Jung’s writings contain many incidents and anecdotes illustrating aspects of Synchronicity, but we may best get a general feeling for the range of problems he was exploring by using a hypothetical example of a very simple kind.
Suppose that you had been concerned about some particular and specialized question and that you had told no one that you were thinking about it. Presently someone comes to see you for reasons that are quite independent and have no relation to your problem. The conversation proceeds according to the purpose of the visit until, quite inadvertently and unexpectedly while not discussing the subject at all, a remark is made that gives you the key you had been looking for.
If we turn to such a situation in retrospect and try to understand the meaning of what happened analytically, it is quite possible for us to follow a chain of causality that will trace each of the events through definite causal links. By cause and effect, we can trace the “reasons” for which you had come to be concerned with that particular problem. Then we can follow analytically how you came to know that particular individual who was visiting you that day, how the appointment for the visit came to be made, and how the lines of the discussion came to develop. All these things could be worked out, and when they were reduced to causal terms they would give the background of the situation as it could be reconstructed from the particular point of view of your life development.
Correspondingly, a similar line of causal analysis could be followed from the point of view of the other person; i.e., the chain of vents that caused him to come visit you; the way he gained the knowledge that turned out really to interest you; how he came to make the appointment with you for just that particular time; how he came “by chance” to make a remark on a subject in which he did not expect you to be interested. All this also could be described in causal terms.
When you and your visit come together, each of you has a background that stretches back into the past in cause-and-effect terms, and it all comes together at the particular point of your meeting. The arrival of each of you to the point where you are shaking hands and beginning to converse represents the culmination of a vertical line of development moving in a continuous stream out of the past, and operating separately in each of you, each in terms of the pressures and framework of your own experience.
At the moment when you come together, however, all this past causality becomes part of a constellation of the present moment, part of a pattern that goes horizontally across time, and to which the category of causality, which is essentially vertical – that is, continuous in time – cannot apply. Somehow out of this pattern there emerges the additional fact that, inadvertently, you found the answer you had been looking for. Plainly, no causal connection can be demonstrated between the two sets of events, but it is equally plain that some kind of meaningful relationship exists between them.
It is perfectly correct to say that it was a coincidence. Then, however, you must add, in order to be clear, that it was a meaningful coincidence, inasmuch as the cross linking of events had a definite significance. Since causality in itself does not encompass the fact of coincidence, the most we can say is that cause-and-effect events provide the raw materials with which meaningful coincidences take place. The significance of these coincidences – that is, the special quality of meaning that makes them not simply unrelated events but actual coincidences – is not in any way derived from the background factors that can be traced in terms of causality. They belong to a pattern that is not continuous in time, but that somehow goes across time. For this reason, they involve a principle that, whatever its actual nature, must at least be noncausal.
Progoff writes that in order to grasp the idea of synchronicity, one must not let the mix of absolute and dogmatic faith in causality, produced by the 19th century, prevent one from considering the tenets of the concept. The occult and esoteric have long been at odds with rationalism and the scientific method, due to their inability to be proven scientifically. Progoff explains:
Jung’s interest in various types of esoteric teachings and methods has been based on his insight that, in some obscure way, they express the “underside” of human experiences. They are not to be taken literally, but like dreams, should be given an opportunity to speak for themselves within the context of their own indigenous symbolism. […]
They (esoteric and occult teachings) are indirect and symbolic perceptions of a dimension of reality that can be reached in no other way. People who do not understand this and take those teachings at face value miss the point altogether, and they think that these approaches are nothing but superstitions. They are not superstitions at all, unless they are taken literally by those who believe in them. Then they become dogmatic truths, and with that they become untrue to the larger truth they are reflecting. When they are hardened, externalized, and treated as the way, they do tend to degenerate into superstitions. As long as they remain fluid, however, they are like deep dreams and myths that provide a living connection to the elusive and transpersonal reality of the universe. Then the symbolism of each provides a way. While none is literally true in itself, all are true in some form and in some degree as paradoxical vehicles traveling toward a place of spirit that can only be reached indirectly.
One of the occult practices Jung studied was the I Ching. The I Ching represents the clearest expression of the Synchronicity principle in its most sophisticated form.
The I Ching, also called The Book of Changes, originated in China over 3000 years ago and is still being used as an intuitive tool for decision making, forward-thinking, creativity, and insight.
The I Ching contains a set of 64 symbols that can metaphorically describe any possible situation, suggest the best course of action, and indicate the most likely outcome. After a question is asked, three equal coins are tossed six times. Depending on the result of the coin tosses, either a straight line or two short lines are drawn. Together, they form a hexagram. The hexagrams derived from the coin toss refer to corresponding passages in the I Ching book. Through intuitive interpretations of those passages, the answer to the original question is discovered. (Source)
The reliability of the I Ching, amongst other findings, convinced Jung that forces beyond causality were at work in our daily lives. Jung and Progoff do not dismiss causality or the value of “cause-and-effect” thinking, but rather seek to establish an additional principle to complement it. Progoff writes:
Two centuries ago, David Hume shook the philosophic world by demonstrating logically that causality is not something we actually see, but that it is only an imputation that we read into events. According to the traditional illustration, one, indeed, that professors of philosophy have overworked on generations of college students, all we actually perceive is one billiard ball touching another with a certain force, and then we see the second ball move away. We do not actually “see” the causality; we only infer it. […]
Sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, studied Hume and added that the imputations of causality arise as “habits of thought” with historical roots extending deep into specific developments of the past in Western culture. Veblen thus implemented Hume’s basic point that causality is not a truth inherent in the things themselves but that it is an imputation that arises pragmatically through social usage.
Beyond that, Veblen went a step further to point out that, quite apart from the question of truth, the historical deep-rootedness of causality as a “social habit of thought” makes it that criterion that all thinking must meet in order to “pass muster” in modern times; and further, that this cultural condition makes it exceedingly difficult for the modern scientist to get outside of causality to examine it critically and to open himself to other points of view. […]
Even while they are so closely linked, body and soul function in terms of different laws. “Bodies act,” (Gottfried) Leibniz says, “in accordance with the laws of efficient causes” – and this means that we are to interpret the physical world as being determined by the principles of cause and effect. On the other hand, “Souls act in accordance with the laws of final causes through their desires, ends and means.” The soul, in other words, contains a purpose in its nature, and its life consists in the working out of this purpose. The soul is therefore teleological in its operation while the body follows causality.
Essentially, Jung believes there are three principles for interpreting our experiences: Causality, Teleology (the explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes), and Synchronicity:
“Since the latter (causality) is a merely statistical truth and not absolute, it is a sort of working hypothesis of how events evolve one out of another, whereas synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance; namely a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.” […]
In going beyond causality, Jung developed a teleological point of view for the interpretation of the unconscious; and out of the problems that teleology suggested but could not answer, he was led to Synchronicity. […] The teleological point of view retains the pivotal position in his thinking because it contains cause and effect within it and yet it leads directly into the issues of Synchronicity. Synchronicity, however, is an independent principle, balancing and complementing the others.
The role of the Self plays a fundamental role in Synchronicity and the experiences individuals have. In explaining the Self, Progoff states:
On one level, the Self is an evolutionary concept, emerging from nature and providing the ground of reality that underlies the development of the human individual as a member of the species. As such, the Self is empirical, insofar as it comprises the base for all the phenomena that the sciences of man undertake to study. In this sense, the reality of the Self is reality with a small r.
The second level of Jung’s conception of the Self, however, is more ontological than empirical. The nature of its reality here must be spelled with a capital R, just as the Self itself must be spelled with a capital S. It is here the ultimate reality of being. […] It is the encompassing unity in which and by means of which the macrocosm and the microcosm participate in each other, and specifically by which the ultimate realities of the universe are expressed and reflected in the life of the human individual. […]
The individual microcosmic life is an aspect of the larger general pattern of the macrocosm. Nonetheless, the individual who is engaged in expressing the macrocosmic pattern that encompasses him is doing so by actions in his life that are apparently decided rationally. He moves toward consciously determined goals, and proceeds toward his goals on the basis of cause-and-effect thinking.
The unfoldment of a human life is thus taking place on two distinct planes, simultaneously on two separate dimensions of reality. The one is the individual’s perceptions of his life, his motivations, and his actions. It takes place by means of thought and emotion, and it moves toward perceivable goals on the assumption of cause and effect, whether it conceives cause and effect in modern rationalistic terms or in the animistic terms of primitive magic.
The second dimension, on the other hand, is more than individual. It is the transpersonal macrocosmic field in which Synchronicity operates. Within this field, which encompasses the patterning of the universe across time at each specific moment of time, there are, as Jung says, “certain regularities and therefore constant factors.” It is these regularities that Jung is seeking to clarify when he analyzes the various characteristics of the archetypes, their luminosity, the ways in which they are activated, their effect in upsetting the equilibrium of the psyche, and their constellative quality in drawing other psychic contents into complexes around them.
One of the tools that facilitates the exchange between the macrocosm and the microcosm is the Self’s interaction with archetypes. Pertinent to Synchronicity, it is the archetype of hope/miracle/magical effect that is particularly influential. Progoff explains:
When Jung refers to “the archetype of the miracle” or of “magic effect,” he is giving a name to the particular quality of expectation that human beings intuitively feel with respect to the capacity that the life process possesses to bring about changes in its own functioning. Mankind has always sensed that experiences taking place on the archetypal level have the power to change things. They have called such change by various names, from the divine to the demonic. But primary has been the quality of expectation that is associated with such power. It is uncanny, and magical, and it becomes a source of strong belief because it fascinates man in the sense that it transfixes his consciousness. Thus it has an hypnoidal effect, and leads to faiths of great psychic intensity, which are then clothed in the various cultural symbolisms of religion and mythology. These faiths are based on, and operate in terms of, man’s intuitive belief in the power of the archetypal force to affect life in mysterious ways. The particular patterns of such beliefs Jung calls the archetype of magical effect. […]
In understanding what is involved in the individual’s experience of archetypes, we must realize that while the experience takes place as a psychological phenomenon, it is a phenomenon that is by its very nature more than psychological. Its primary force comes from the fact that it has a spiritual quality and that it validates itself existentially in a person’s life. The manifestation of the macrocosm in the microcosm means that something of the world’s divinity has been individualized. When a personality experiences this and participates in it, the experience serves as a link between the human being and God. […]
When the primitive believes that the presence of a certain animal, for example, will have an effect on the affairs of the tribe, it is not merely a matter of imputation, nor altogether of suggestion. The belief in the magical potency of the animal is derived from a larger symbol drawn from the myths of the culture, a symbol of an historical and archetypal nature that is projected upon the animal.
The animal, or other object or person, thus unwittingly participates in a large scheme of meaning whose basis lies in the unconscious of the primitive. The act of seeing the individual animal constellates the entire archetype and results in changes in the emotional intensity and psychic equilibrium; and this, in turn, both reflects and is reflected in a new pattern or orderedness of the events across time.
Central to the activation of the archetype of magical effect is an “exceedingly affirmative condition of the psyche, a condition in which the psyche is pervaded by an attitude of hopeful expectancy.” However, simply being hopeful will not result in success, and one must be cognizant of over-analyzing events surrounding them, as Progoff speculates that, “people classed in the category of psychics tend to be subject to periods of instability and mental confusion. They experience great difficulty in understanding the nature of the synchronistic phenomena that are being perceived. It is difficult for them to distinguish which are to be assimilated into their lives and which are not relevant for them.”
As science, technology, the exploration of theoretical physics, and the intermingling of multiple fields of study continue, it will be interesting to see what further developments surface regarding non-causal dimensions of human experience and what else we may learn about the pattern of the universe and human life.
Also worth considering: Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, And Unlocking Your Mind