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synchronicity

No evidence has "ever been found for Carl Jung's idea of 'synchronicity'." --Steven Strogatz

jung.jpg (5692 bytes)

Synchronicity is an explanatory principle, according to its creator, Carl Jung. Synchronicity explains "meaningful coincidences," such as a beetle flying into his room while a patient was describing a dream about a scarab. The scarab is an Egyptian symbol of rebirth, he noted. Therefore, the propitious moment of the flying beetle indicated that the transcendental meaning of both the scarab in the dream and the insect in the room was that the patient needed to be liberated from her excessive rationalism. His notion of synchronicity is that there is an acausal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and colleague of Freud's who broke away from Freudian psychoanalysis over the issue of the unconscious mind as a reservoir of repressed sexual trauma that causes all neuroses. Jung founded his own school of analytical psychology.

Jung believed in astrology, spiritualism, telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance and ESP.  In addition to believing in a number of occult  and paranormal notions, Jung contributed two new ones: synchronicity and the collective unconscious.

What reasons are there for accepting synchronicity as an explanation for anything in the real world? What it explains is more simply and elegantly explained by the ability of the human mind to find meaning and significance where there is none (apophenia).  Jung's defense of acausal connections is so inane I hesitate to repeat it. He argues that "acausal phenomena must exist...since statistics are only possible anyway if there are also exceptions" (1973, Letters, 2:426). He asserts that "...improbable facts exist--otherwise there would be no statistical mean..."  (ibid.: 2:374). Finally, he claims that "the premise of probability simultaneously postulates the existence of the improbable" (ibid. : 2:540). However, if you think of all the pairs of things that can happen in a person's lifetime, and add to that our very versatile ability of finding meaningful connections between things, it then seems likely that most of us will experience many meaningful coincidences. The coincidences are predictable but we are the ones who give them meaning.

Even if there were a synchronicity between the mind and the world such that certain coincidences resonate with transcendental truth, there would still be the problem of figuring out those truths. What guide could one possibly use to determine the correctness of an interpretation? There is none except intuition and insight, the same guides that led Jung's teacher, Sigmund Freud, in his interpretation of dreams. The concept of synchronicity is but an expression of apophenia.

According to psychiatrist and author, Anthony Storr, Jung went through a period of mental illness during which he thought he was a prophet with "special insight." Jung referred to his "creative illness" (between 1913-1917) as  a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious. His great "insight" was that he thought all his patients over 35 suffered from "loss of religion" and he had just the thing to fill up their empty, aimless, senseless lives: his own metaphysical system of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

Synchronicity provides access to the archetypes, which are located in the collective unconscious.

See also apophenialaw of truly large numbers, Littlewood's law of miraclespsychoanalysis, and pseudoscience.


further reading  

books and articles

Gallo, Ernest. "Synchronicity and the Archetypes," Skeptical Inquirer, vol.18, No. 4, Summer 1994.

Gallo, Ernest. "Jung and the Paranormal," The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996).

McGowan, Don. What is Wrong with Jung (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1994).

Noll, Richard. The Aryan Christ : The Secret Life of Carl Jung (Random House, 1997).

Noll, Richard. The Jung Cult : Origins of a Charismatic Movement (Free Press, 1997).

Storr, Anthony. Feet of Clay - saints, sinners, and madmen: a study of gurus (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

Strogatz, Steven H. (2004). SYNC: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life. Hyperion.

websites

Coincidences: Remarkable or Random? by Bruce Martin, Skeptical Inquirer, Sept/Oct 1998

Jung and the Mandala

A Biographical Sketch of Jung by Marc Fonda

Jung: Astrology and Synchronicity by Cynthia Isis Titania Anderson

Jung and Astrology

The C.G. Jung Page

CARL JUNG 1875 - 1961 by Dr. C. George Boeree

Last updated 12-Sep-2014

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