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Synchronicity – A concept that may become increasingly important in our emerging quantum worldview

Chambre de glace dans le pays

Chambre de glace dans le pays by Sýn En via Flickr

Synchronicity is a term coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung to represent the idea of meaningful coincidence. Implicit to Jung’s idea of synchronicity is the belief that all of creation is somehow interconnected, not only through space but also time.

Whether or not synchronicity is a truly scientific concept remains open to debate. If science is understood as something that must be predictive, then synchronicity can probably never be a scientific concept. If science, however, is understood as acquiring knowledge and wisdom though trial and error, then synchronicity might play into a new kind of scientific rubric, one that believes in an essential connection between consciousness and the world in which it resides.

Synchronicity takes three main forms:

  • The coincidence of a psychological state with a corresponding, simultaneously occurring external event with no evidence of causality
  • The coincidence of a psychological state with a corresponding, simultaneous external event that occurs at a distance, beyond the observer’s normal range of perception
  • The coincidence of a psychological state with a corresponding event that will occur in the future and which may be verified after its occurrence

Also a point of debate is whether or not synchronicity is a causal or acausal phenomenon. Jung says it is acausal but also suggests that the archetypes of the collective unconscious can lead us toward synchronicity, implying some kind of causality.

This uncertainty might result from different understandings about the nature of consciousness—particularly, what constitutes the locus of consciousness. From the perspective of the ego, synchronicity is acausal. But from the perspective of the unconscious, particularly the collective unconscious, synchronicity could have seemingly causal elements. Jung touches on this ambiguity but, as far as I can see, never fully resolves it. Some might see this as a weakness or, more favorably, as a reflection of our essentially mysterious world.

seaorange by shannon kringen

seaorange by shannon kringen via Flickr

Concerning ethics, synchronicity is ambiguous in the sense that nasty people, even murderers, experience synchronicity along with saints, seers and holy people. Because the concept of synchronicity bears some similarity to the notion of the religious sign, it is not surprising that various attempts have been made to link this aspect of Jungian thought to theology.

The following represents an attempt to synthesize Christian belief with the concept of synchronicity:

The natural universe, in the Jungian sense of the term natural, contains physical and spiritual dimensions. A person who acknowledges only the reality of the physical realm is incapable of recognizing how synchronicity operates in the New Testament and in our world and cannot see the power of the spiritual. By contrast, a person who goes to the other extreme, who sees reality only in the spiritual realm and denies reality in the physical world, will not spend much time bettering the world and will fall readily into superstition.¹

Some philosophers dismiss the entire notion of synchronicity with the idea of “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias is described in Wikipedia as

the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.²

However, we can turn the idea of confirmation bias right back on those who adhere to it as if it were some kind of sacrosanct universal principle. The idea of confirmation bias is certainly worthy of consideration; nevertheless, Jung stressed that one doesn’t look for synchronicity but simply witnesses it. So people who actively seek out “signs” in every bird that flies across the sky, for instance, are not really candidates for the legitimate experience of synchronicity, as defined by Jung.³

Synchronicity (album)

Synchronicity (pop music album) via Wikipedia

Moreover, some theologians consider the possibility that a biased mind, which we all most likely have, could be informed by supernatural influences transcending one’s psychological makeup.

So to reduce all synchronistic experience to a humanly constructed idea of “confirmation bias” is arguably limiting and not scientific in the fullest sense of the word. This is especially so since Jung says synchronicity often involves the inner experience of numinosity along with the observation of external data.4

The following graphic about synchronicity came up through the Zemanta blogging assistant plugin. I haven’t fully reflected on it so am hesitant to say it accurately depicts Jung’s vision. But it is thought-provoking and might help to illustrate some, if not all, of the issues that synchronicity could involve:5

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

¹  Morton T. Kelsey, Christo-psychology, New York: Crossroad, 1982, p. 131.

² Compare to the Wikipedia definition provided at the time of the last update for this entry: a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs (2009/04/15).

³ (a) See

(b) Not unlike religious people and their signs, believers often feel that synchronicity confirms choices they’ve made, that they are still on the right path, even if they’ve been through a trying time. I must admit that I have felt this way in my life. But we should keep in mind the possibility that had we made different choices along the way, we still might have experienced synchronicity. A friend once suggested this possibility to me. And although I still do feel comforted by synchronicities from time to time, I think my friend’s suggestion is a good, healthy reality check to keep in mind.

4 I am fully aware that using the term “external ‘is problematic, especially in this context. But a discussion of this complex philosophical issue is beyond the scope of this entry.

5 Compare to Jung’s own diagram, reproduced on p. 197 here

On the Web:

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The Future of an Illusion – Freud and Beyond

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smoking cigar. Español: Sigmund Freud, fundador del psicoanálisis, fumando. Česky: Zakladatel psychoanalýzy Sigmund Freud kouří doutník. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Future of an Illusion is Sigmund Freud’s work of 1927 where he states his psychoanalytic view of religion. Freud is a staunch materialist who sees all religious ideas as illusory:

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tells one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.” Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.” Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment, “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.”¹

When I was a teenager I probably would have agreed with Freud on many points. But when I first realized that there’s more to life than sex, aggression, society and internalized norms, I came to disagree with Freud. I remember thinking how his reductive thinking could literally be dangerous to a spiritual seeker. I also recall talking with an employee in a spiritual bookstore who said, “Freud will drive you crazy, Jung won’t.” This was when I was beginning my PhD program and purchasing some core books by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who figured prominently in my doctoral thesis.

Today, my view of Freud is not entirely negative. After converting to Catholicism I realized, from direct observation and interaction with some Catholics, that religion and neurosis, perhaps even psychosis, can coexist. While I was converting to Catholicism, the elderly priest who guided our RCIA suggested that “some insane people hide out in religion.”

I thought he was being a bit harsh at the time. But recently a Catholic parishioner whom I’ve known on and off for over a decade has started cursing and swearing at others in the Mass. Just the other day I was the recipient of her verbal attack, which was unsettling, to put it mildly.

Funnily enough, this person seems to be convinced that she knows better than everyone else. It was okay for her to swear in Church—I just didn’t understand. And after I gently suggested that she need not swear at people in the Mass, she said I was a %$%$#@$#@!

Not too holy. More like angry and conflicted.

This just goes to show that Freud and the RCIA priest weren’t entirely wrong. Some religious people really are quite borderline. And they do seem to hide out in Church instead of getting the help or spiritual direction they need.

So these days I can see that Freud, indeed, had something to say. However, I still disagree with Freud’s ideas in the sense that spiritual influences, as I see it, qualitatively differ from biochemical and social influences.

For me, the main questions concerning religion and psychology are:

  • Is one’s approach to religion healthy or unhealthy?
  • Could excessive prayers and countless Rosaries be a way of avoiding unresolved complexes?

With regard to the second point, I think in some instances this might be so.

Like myself, Jung didn’t reject Freudian ideas outright but came to see Freud’s view of religion and, especially spirituality, as lacking. At one time a key player in the Freudian school, Jung eventually went his own way and expanded Freud’s reductive view of spirituality with concepts like archetype, synchronicity and numinosity.

¹ Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961, p. 38. See also

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Charles Hartshorne – Does God Grow With Experience?

Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) – Image via Wikipedia

Charles Hartshorne  (1897-2000) was an American theologian who developed Alfred North Whitehead‘s idea of an organic, interactive process into a version of Process Theology.

Wikipedia traces his views to the ancient Greek Heraclitus, who emphasized change with his famous line, “you cannot step into the same river twice.” Heraclitus also believed that religious signs could be received through the oracle at Delphi. But Hartshorne’s theological system arguably adds a bit more to the picture than mere change and signs (we don’t know what Heraclitus fully believed in because only fragments of his work survive).

Hartshorne upholds the idea that God has a separate existence but is also present in the world. To me this is explained by the already existing ideas of transcendence and immanence (not imminence). Wikipedia explains Hartshorne’s view:

One of the technical terms Hartshorne used is pan-en-theism, originally coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in 1828. Panentheism (all is in God) must be differentiated from Classical pantheism (all is God). In Hartshorne’s theology God is not identical with the world, but God is also not completely independent from the world. God has his self-identity that transcends the earth, but the world is also contained within God. A rough analogy is the relationship between a mother and a fetus. The mother has her own identity and is different from the unborn, yet is intimately connected to the unborn. The unborn is within the womb and attached to the mother via the umbilical cord.¹

However, Hartshorne took on classical theologians by taking a more Jungian approach to God. For both Jung and Hartshorne, God is not omniscient but learns as s/he goes along. Unlike classical definitions of God’s perfection, Hartshorne believes that being perfect does not entail knowing everything. Rather, it means knowing and feeling more through experience.

God is capable of surpassing himself by growing and changing in his knowledge and feeling for the world.²

Myself, I think this is a flawed view, one born of a lack of intellectual humility. It’s fine to try to understand God and the workings of God. But whenever a human being makes some kind of definitive statement about knowing God, that’s where I draw the line.

However, if someone says they believe that God has certain qualities and behaves in such a way, I can take them far more seriously. In my view, everything comes down to belief in one way or another. But not everyone appreciates this idea. The human mind is easily hoodwinked into confusing belief with knowledge.

The statue of Plato in front of the Academy of Athens

The distinction between belief and knowledge goes back to another ancient Greek, Plato. Plato, however, held a different view than mine. He believed that knowledge (as justified true belief – episteme)³ was superior to:

  • an opinion that seems to be or may be true but is accepted on the basis of a weak argument (dogma)
  • popular belief (doxa)

By way of contrast, I maintain that for a rational, reflective mind, everything comes down to belief—true, false or partly true belief. We may say we have reason to believe but, as human beings, we can never really know. We have to believe.4


² Ibid.

³ This type of knowledge is differentiated from knowledge of a craft (techne). And some scholars rightly ask, what does full “justification” for episteme require? See a good discussion here:

4 To defend this view I’d probably have to go into a lengthy philosophical argument, and this entry is not the place for that. However, if anyone wishes to further discuss in the comments area, I will try to outline my position (providing I felt that the discussion was positive enough to justify the time and energy spent on it). I say this because I tried to explain my position once at the David Bowie site with a bookish “intellectual” hooked on a particular philosopher and found that I was just wasting my time and energy. As with most unproductive internet debates, we don’t always carefully read or reply to things we don’t understand, perhaps cannot understand, or consciously or subconsciously do not wish or believe it necessary to understand. And some apparently just want to win an argument rather than learn and grow from it. I’m not saying I’m immune to this pretty common situation. But I don’t waste time and energy if I see myself falling into it.

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Rupert Sheldrake and Morphogenetic Fields

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciou...

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciousness, Tucson, Arizona via Wikipedia

Morphogenetic fields is a biological term adapted by the English biochemist Rupert Sheldrake to suggest that evolution is a transference of past habits to present ones.¹

Sheldrake says morphogenetic fields have “physical effects” but “are not made of matter.” In contrast to the idea of morphic resonance, which deals with chemical and species behavior over a distance, morphogenetic fields are localized and refer to the development of chemical and biological forms.

When I last wrote this entry, the morphic field was described as a larger family of morphogenetic fields. But today the line seems blurred. Sheldrake himself says that morphic fields are hierarchically nested. So it seems that the two terms are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable.  Most likely he is streamlining his terminology to make his ideas more accessible.

Sheldrake has gathered archival and previously ignored “anomalous” scientific data that he believes supports his theories. He says morphogenetic fields may explain Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious but does not consider the possible influence of the future on the present, as Jung would.² Also, his theory does not consider possible spiritual influences from heavenly and hellish realms.

In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home he adapts mathematician Rene Thom’s notion of the “attractor” and says habits “come only from the past, not from the future.”³

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and A...

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle would become highly revered in the medieval Islamic world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look at Aristotle‘s view of causality within the time frame pertaining to evolutionary theory, Aristotle’s thinking is not entirely unlike Sheldrake’s. Aristotle outlines four interrelated causes: material, formal, efficient and final. However, Aristotle includes a “prime mover” which exists outside of space and time. In Wim Kayzer‘s  A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle (1993), it’s clear that Sheldrake is not antagonistic to divine ideas. But he doesn’t seem to fully integrate all that theology has to offer within his scientific theories.

Although Sheldrake’s concepts have caught on within some New Age circles, to some paranormal investigators they seem limiting. Conversely, not a few scientists and skeptics, alike, say his theories are too general or paranormal (connoting “unfounded” or perhaps “speculative”).

To his credit, Sheldrake does advocate a scientific approach to parapsychology. But just what type of science is most appropriate to the study of parapsychology remains debatable. After all, science is variously defined. And those who favor and, perhaps, benefit from a given scientific approach usually champion that approach as if it were the gospel truth. And their own human limits probably prohibit them from seeing things differently.4

¹ Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, New York: Crown, 1999, p. 305.

² See this » Click Here

³ Sheldrake, Dogs That Know, pp. 304, 306.

4 When I was even more of an unknown than now, I wrote Dr. Sheldrake via snailmail with images of some Indian dogs (taken during my M.A. in India). These dogs  seemed to know when challenger dogs were going to invade their turf, well beyond the range of sight, scent and sound. Dr. Sheldrake replied cordially, which was surprising given his stature. So I can see why he has a considerable youth following. He seems like a decent person who cares about the advancement of knowledge—and not just a paycheck, like some professors I’ve known.

On the Web

Related » St. Augustine, Synchronicity

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The Philosopher’s Stone

Kristaps Bergfelds – Philosopher’s stone via Flickr

The Philosopher’s Stone is an idea described in medieval and ancient alchemical texts. The concept is variously linked to the quest for heaven, immortality, vitality, and also to turning base metals into silver or gold.

According to C. G. Jung’s analytical psychology, the Philosopher’s Stone is a symbol of the inner self, said to exist within the entire self.

As the above photo demonstrates, the idea of the Philosopher’s Stone has a wide range of applications. Here, we see a young woman apparently reflecting on something deep or of special significance.

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Psychoid – Not another Norman Bates movie!

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The word psychoid sounds a bit like a sequel to the famous Norman Bates film, or maybe another video game about killing for points. But it’s neither of those things.

According to Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, the psychoid  is the transcendental aspect of an archetype. In contrast to the archetypal images, which we can perceive and talk about, the psychoid can never reach consciousness. We can, however, form a concept about it, as Jung did.

Jung introduced the idea of the psychoid to try to account for the duality of matter and energyHe also wanted to distinguish between the symbol and the true essence of the thing symbolized.

This kind of thinking is nothing new. For centuries philosophers and theologians have differentiated between God, the unknowable, and God with perceptible qualities. Like Jung, some philosophers and theologians say we can never fully know the absolute; however, most would agree that we can discuss it using abstract concepts.

Other thinkers tend to link experience with ultimate reality, perhaps overlooking the idea of psychological and cultural filters that might color our perception of the apparently absolute.¹

Jung, himself, had studied Kant who also makes a distinction between that which is unknowable via the senses (noumenon) and that which can be apprehended through the senses (phenomenon).

¹ A detailed yet accessible discussion of the personal in relation to the absolute can be found in John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, 2nd ed. 1966, pp. 48-94. To say that different thinkers make this distinction in no way implies that all of their distinctions are identical. Usually we find subtle or obvious differences, which some New Age and pop psychology pundits tend to overlook.

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Robin – archetypal apprentice or unspoken lover?

Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Al...

Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Alex Ross, based on the cover of Batman #9 by Jack Burnley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also known as “The Boy Wonder,” Robin is Batman‘s sidekick. He arguably represents the younger half of an archetypal master-apprentice or teacher-disciple relationship.

At least, that’s a Jungian interpretation. It has also been suggested that the relationship between Batman and Robin has homosexual overtones, especially in the TV show. Carl Jung tended to see homosexuality as a developmental problem, so I’m not sure how he’d depict this particular relationship within his archetypal theory.¹

¹ Jung’s ideas can be too vague and conjectural at times for my liking. To his credit, Jung, himself, admits that he is simply making a modern myth. He doesn’t claim to have the final word. Those interested in his views about homosexuality might find some ideas here.

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