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Synchronicity: Meaningful Coincidence or Chance?

Venus & Eros

What is Cause and Effect?

In our current mechanistic world view, the principle of cause and effect informs reality. Things that happen cause what happens as a result (effect). Enmeshed in this way of thinking, cause and effect is a cultural norm, our way of organizing our ideas and structuring our lives. To understand synchronicity, the notion of cause and effect must be left behind.'

What do we replace it with? C. G. Jung reflected deeply on this question and towards the end of his life he proposed another kind of 'event'. (Roth, 2002) He called it synchronicity, an acausal connecting principle. Here one event does not cause another but coincides or participates in a way that is meaningful. An example can be taken from his own files. A patient was telling him about a dream she had. In it she was given a golden scarab. When she mentioned this, Jung, with his back to the window, heard a tapping noise. A flying insect was knocking against the window from the outside. He opened the window and caught it in his hand as it flew into the room. It was a scarabaeid beetle, the closest thing to a scarab found in that region. (Jung, 1964)

What does this mean? The dream of the scarab, and the telling of the dream to Jung in his office, did not cause the scarabaeid beetle to tap at the window and fly into Jung's hand yet the two events are connected. They share meaning. According to Jung, the patient was extremely rational and rejected any emotions or phenomena that could not be validated through logic including the reality of her own unconscious. Jung said, "The meaningful connection is obvious enough ... in view of the approximate identity of the chief objects (the scarab and the beetle)." The Scarab, he knew, in Egyptian mythology is associated with rebirth and it was just such a rebirth of consciousness that his patient not only needed but was handed in her dream, and in the coinciding scarabaeid beetle who flew uncharacteristically away from light and into the darkened room. (Roth, 2002)

Couldn't this just be chance? Many synchronicities might be dismissed as random chance though this can only be the case if we experience the events as existing outside ourselves--external phenomena with no internal meaning. If there is no connection to our inner world, then we do not experience it as a synchronicity. Jung felt that the psyche (soul) and soma (the body) were linked and that an inner event could manifest as an outer event and visa versa. He said,

"Meaningful coincidences are unthinkable as pure chance--the more they multiply and the greater and more exact the correspondence is...they can no longer be regarded as pure chance, but, for the lack of a causal explanation, have to be thought of as meaningful arrangements." The question is, what is being arranged, and between whom?

Enter the Unus Mundas. This is a term taken from alchemists of the middle ages that means 'one world'. It depicts the union between inner events, such as dreams, ideas, thoughts and imagination and the outer world of tangible existence. Synchronicity --the experience of unrelated coincidences --is a moment of Unus Mundas where the inner world (such as thinking of a person who we haven't seen in a long time) meets the outer world ( when that person calls on the phone just as we think of them).

Types of Synchronicities: (McBride, 1990)

1) The coincidence of an inner psychic state in the observer with a simultaneous objective, external state that corresponds in some way, (e.g. the scarab), where there is no evidence of a causal connection between the psychic state and the external event, and where, considering the psychic relativity of space and time, such a connection is not conceivable.

2) The coincidence of an inner psychic state with a corresponding external event which takes place at a distance and is only later validated. (e.g. the Stockholm fires)

3) The coincidence of an inner psychic state with a corresponding future event that is distant in time and can is only later be validated. (e.g. Jung's example)

When are synchronicities likely to occur? Jung found that synchronicities tend to occur when we are in states of openness or heightened awareness. Key times include births, deaths and the experience of falling in (or out) of love, crisis, rescues (other people's crisis) and travel. ( Belitz & Lundstrom, n.d.) Meditation can also heighten our awareness and make us more attuned to synchronicities.

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