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Astro*Dictionary by Michael Erlewine





1 article for "Synchronicity"

Synchronicity [Astro*Index]

Also called Acausal Synchronicity.

A principle introduced by Carl Jung to explain the connection that obtains between simultaneous or nearly simultaneous events whose correlation is neither causal nor ascribable to chance, but which have nevertheless a compelling sameness of meaning.

In Jung's view, it is the coincidence and sameness of meaning of an inner, psychic state with an outer, objective event – "psychophysical parallelism" – that offers the best example of synchronistic occurrence. In these circumstances it is often easy to rule out causality as the connecting principle. Such coincidences are often so unlikely as to lie totally outside the realm of chance – they almost demand a new explanatory principle. "Runs" or coincidences of events in the outer world (examples of seriality in the sense of Paul Kammerer) should continue to be explained in terms of individual causes coming together according to the rules of ordinary probability.

Accordingly, Jung surmises that synchronicity is the principle behind the operation of the I Ching, mantic procedures, the ESP experiments of Rhine, etc., insofar as these have to do with the connection of an expectation, apprehension, dream state, etc., with a simultaneous or immediately forthcoming objective event.

It is sometimes stated that Jung also proposed his synchronicity principle as a basis of astrology. This is only partly true. Jung thought it likely that there was a connection between psychological traits and planetary positions, but that this connection had a causal basis in the planetary regulation of solar activity (p.44, p.111). In the case of events like marriages, however, he believed that synchronistic principles could enter in, not in the objective relationship of the marriage event itself to planetary positions, but in the astrologer's interpretation of a chart, and – what is even more surprising – into the astrologer's analysis of a statistical experiment.

Jung himself performed such an experiment. [Quote Jung's own summary.] Jung's conclusion is that the air of expectation and hopefulness surrounding an astrological experiment such as he performed serve to provide the proper circumstances for archetypal contents to flow into the conscious mind of the experimenter. And presumably, the circumstances surrounding a chart reading do the same.

Jung's most thorough discussion of this principle is found in his book Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle. The work is especially interesting because in its concluding part it seeks to find a common ground between synchronicity and the new physics. On this matter Jung had extensive discussions with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Jung's monograph was published together with a monograph by Pauli having to do with the influence of archetypes on the scientific thinking of Kepler – a work by a psychologist that verges into the realm of physics, joined to a work by a physicist that verges into the realm of psychology. Many events that seem to be connected by a compelling sameness of meaning do not happen at exactly the same time, but nearly so. For example, in premonitions the psychic state precedes the outer event. In order to take such approximately simultaneous events into account, Jung carefully distinguishes between synchronous and synchronistic events. The unconscious content expressed by a premonition is not synchronous with the occurrence it foretells, but it can be called synchronistic, since the psychic state in which the future event is foretold is in the present and simultaneous with the psychic state in which the unconscious content is experienced. Thus synchronistic events rest on the "simultaneous occurrence of two different psychic states".

It is often assumed that in his discussion of synchronicity Jung is talking about meaning in the sense of personal significance, or perhaps meaning in a more cosmic sense – meaning with a capital "M". In fact, he primarily has in mind meaning derived from our ordinary sense of intentionality. Under certain circumstances, such as in dreams or when under the influence of emotionally charged states, unconscious images come into our consciousness either directly or symbolized in the form of dreams, premonitions, etc. The unconscious or archetypal image is what is meant or intended by the conscious image or symbol. Conversely, we could say that the archetypal content of the unconscious was arranged or "constellated" in such a way as to have for us the meaning expressed in the conscious symbol. Now it may happen that at the very moment we are experiencing such a psychic state, outer events happen to be arranged in such a way as to have the same content or meaning for us, as though the psychic symbol was at the same time an expression of this outer event, even though it could not possibly be causally related to it. It is then that we have synchronicity, for the only connection between the two events is a sameness of meaning.

Jung allows that there is necessarily a strong anthropomorphic element in the assessment of a sameness of meaning.

However, this need not subjectivize the principle of synchronicity to the point where it is merely of personal value. Earlier ages and Eastern cultures did not have as much trouble as we do in postulating an a priori and self- subsistent meaning (meaning with a capital "M") which was responsible for the sameness of meaning that we see in synchronistic events. In fact, Jung speculates that it may be a dual manifestation of this selfsame "Meaning" which results in synchronistic occurrence, obtruding into our consciousness on the one hand, and "transgressing" into the realm of nature on the other.

If synchronistic phenomena really exist, they "prove...that a content perceived by an observer can, at the same time, be represented by an outside event, without any causal connection." It is an important consequence of this that "either the psyche cannot be localized in space, or that space is relative to the psyche. The same applies to the temporal determination of the psyche and the psychic relativity of time." (p.115) Jung's treatment of synchronicity initially takes its bearings from the psychological realm of the archetypes, where the concept of meaning has its locus. But he also believes that the archetypes are active or "transgress" into nature. So at the end of his book, Jung broadens his discussion to include the natural realm as well. The archetypes are indefinite and can only be known approximately. In some sense, they can be understood to be a kind of "psychic probability", since they represent the tendencies that ordinary unconscious events have for falling together into types.

However, the psychophysical parallelisms that we find in synchronistic events are not subject to causal determinations either; thus they too seem to represent contingency or randomness. And to the extent that these parallelisms express archetypal equivalences, then they should be intelligible in terms of the same kind of probability.

This analysis of the archetypes is deliberately parallel to the interpretation of the discontinuities in physics as grasped in the quantum theory, where a certain kind of randomness may underlie the phenomena, which may accordingly only be interpreted in probabilistic terms. Thus the statistical lawfulness of phenomena such as radioactive decay is also a manifestation of a randomness or contingency in nature, which has nevertheless a certain orderedness about it.

Jung then makes the hypothesis that synchronistic events and quantum phenomena are both manifestations of the same a priori orderdness. Synchronistic events occur when this a priori realm dips down into the contingent world of space and time, producing a "coincidence." Presumably this happens all the time, but we are only occasionally in a position to notice it through a sameness of meaning. Jung speculates that the a priori realm itself may be accessible through a study of the esoteric properties of number.


Astro*Index Copyright © 1997 Michael Erlewine


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