I’d like to begin the final post of this series by briefly touching on a theme I introduced in the previous blog – because I think the sentiment is key if one is to go forward with any sort of theoretical investment in Carl Jung’s theory of Synchronicity. It is a plea for open-mindedness; and an appreciation that the universe is weird and wonderful, and that almost anything is potentially plausible. Almost anything. For those of you who are new to the idea, or need a refresher, Murray Stein explains Synchronicity in Map of the Soul as this ‘order’ beneath the apparent contingency and chaotic nature of existence.
Jung believed there might be a single unified system embracing both matter and spirit – a bridge between time and eternity – which he called Synchronicity. This “profound hidden order” ensures a unity among everything that exists. Jung, and thus Stein, describe these events as a “falling together in time – a kind of simultaneity”. It means there might actually be meaningful order behind the chance outcome of something as seemingly utterly random as tossing a coin; events which have no causal link, yet are still connected through meaning and image.
Stein tells us how Jung saw a blurring of the boundaries between the psyche and the real world (something his ideas on the transcendent Self demonstrate). Psychological compensation occurs, according to Stein – not just in dreams but non-psychologically controlled events. Stein gives the examples from Jung’s inquiries of patients dreaming about events or discussing things which then showed up shortly after in real life – the “appearance of archetypal images coinciding with other events”. It is with this ‘compensatory phenomena’ that we “cross over the commonly accepted boundaries between subject and object”. For Jung, archetypes (like the Self) are not limited to the psychic realm. Stein discuses the way archetypes can emerge into consciousness from within our own psychic matrix, from the outside world, or both at once. When the latter happens – we get Synchronicity.
Jung saw large areas of identification between the deepest patterns of our psyche (archetypal images) and processes and patterns which manifested in the physical world. This kind of extra-sensory, mystical-sounding, transcendent link between the mind/soul of human beings and their environment might seem a bit far-fetched at first but, as I mentioned in the last blog, so is the notion that time is an illusion. Is the notion that there might be meaningful coincidences between psychic and physical events so ridiculous? Is the idea of events which seemingly had no meaning now having some kind of archetypal root so absurd? Maybe so. Maybe no.
But is it absurd that such a thing as spacetime exists, and that it is curved? And that planets actually orbit on these curved trajectories based on gravitational pull? Is it absurd that time moves more quickly for someone at the top of a mountain compared to someone at the bottom? Is it absurd that time as we know it is an illusion – and is merely something we experience as a succession of nows in our localised schema here on Earth? Just because something seems odd or is difficult to comprehend, doesn’t mean it is impossible. It doesn’t mean it’s true either, but I’m not willing to write off Jung’s Synchronicity just yet.
Nietzsche and losing touch
I haven’t yet begun to delve into the apparent links between Jung’s Synchronicity and the Taoist Way (the natural order of the universe) but I’d like to briefly just touch on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy in regards to Jung’s Synchronicity. Because I believe there is telling synchronicity (eh – see what I did there?!) between Nietzsche’s ideas, Taoism and Synchronicity. The great Prussian wrote about how humanity had become detached from its primitive roots. As language becomes more developed, so too does knowledge, morality and ‘truth’. As we become more socialised and concerned with adaptation, expectation and such trivialities as Personas, we also become more and more detached from nature and the natural order.
Have our links, our ties, our bounds to nature become severed? Have we lost the sense of unity we once had with our home – this planet, which brought us into existence? Has our ceaseless pursuit of knowledge and answers actually caused us to detach ourselves from the natural order? Have morality, religion and truth just edged us further away from our primitive instincts – have we forgotten what our planet means to us? Have we forgotten about Being? I will go on to talk more about Taoism and the atomic bomb later, but these thoughts tie in with those topics. We created nuclear power – which had the potential to give electricity, warmth and light to millions. We could’ve harnessed it to explore the universe and, potentially, find new life. Instead, we used it to kill thousands. And the implications of that power – the fear, paranoia and neurotic feeling – now causes us to live in a never-ending panic that at any moment someone with the wrong intentions could use that power to cause even more devastation.
Perhaps we need to think about Jung’s Synchronicity as an opportunity to reconnect with the natural order. Maybe we really do have this spiritual, transcendent link to the universe – maybe the psyche really does have no bounds? At the very least, such an inquiry might help us to realise that we have neglected our planet, our home and our existence. Perhaps the Nietzschean Superman, this maker of one’s own values, is a being that can realise its Synchronicity with the natural order; a respectful union with the environment. Maybe it’s time to say enough is enough – and give our planet the respect it deserves. Maybe that will bring us closer to Wholeness? Forget all the knowledge, morality and truths we don’t need and focus on what matters – love, compassion, kindness and a synergy with nature.
Kant, numbers and a priori knowledge
Jung saw the unconscious as this great possessor of a priori knowledge. When it came to Synchronicity, he wondered why we sometimes know things will happen, even though there’s no rational basis for doing so. This ‘absolute knowledge’ is deep within the psyche somewhere; we are unknown knowers. Or as Stein says: “We know many things we don’t know that we know.” And we have intuitions about each other, too. Stein gives an example of how a patient knew he was ill before he did – in a manner that suggests we might indeed have this transcendent connection; with the psyche again pushing through the boundaries of time and space. “In the unconscious there are no secrets,” writes Stein.
Anyway, back to the notion of a priori knowledge – Kant was one of the first great philosophers to think about the way we use numbers, in such pursuits as mathematics, as an example of a priori reason. 2+2 = 4. Always. We don’t need experience to give us such a truth. This truth comes from the inherent structure of our minds. It is always so. And this affinity that we have with numbers ties in with our yearning for order, unity and Wholeness. It is a part of our make-up. As Stein points out, if we can’t think it, where does it come from? Jung saw the unconscious as something which defied the Kantian categories of knowledge. The psyche supports this sense of a priori ‘knowledge that we have’; this Synchronicity with the workings of the universe.
Numbers, Stein tells us, are an archetype of order – they “symbolise the structure of individuation in the psyche”. We have a clear knowledge of ‘cosmic structures’. Thanks to our cognitive abilities and thus our intelligence, we also have an a priori knowledge of the cosmos and the workings of the natural order. Numbers are part of the most primitive, primordial building blocks of what we are – they always add up. Perhaps you’ve never taken a moment to appreciate them – here’s your chance!
Synchronicity and Heidegger
Anyone who read any of my previous series of blogs (Accessible Inquiries into the Nature of Being) will know that I am a fan of Heidegger’s ideas. And so I thought it would be appropriate to reference him briefly in this discussion on Synchronicity. If we accept that we have this connection to the universe and the natural order, then perhaps we can activate that Heidegerrian yearning to inquire about the nature of Being again. Perhaps by considering the possibility of a Synchronicity between the psyche and the physical world, we can ensure Being is no longer ‘forgotten’ as an area of inquiry. Like Heidegger, Jung saw human consciousness as tied to the meaning of life.
Stein writes of an “awareness” that Jung identified. “God needs us in order to become held in awareness,” he says. This awareness that humankind possesses is part of Jung’s new paradigm/cosmology. By raising into consciousness these patterns and images from the depths of our collective psychoid unconscious, we realise that the cosmos has an ordering principle. I have written previously that we must be wary of the exalted status that both Jung and Heidegger give humankind, but it is clear to me that parallels in their line of thought are worth investigating. Heidegger saw care as the meaning of Dasein (human being). Perhaps this Jungian Synchronicity is just another way of describing the Heideggerian notion of sorge (care)? Maybe this awareness, this transcendent connection, is us caring about (acknowledging/realising our inextricable links to) our environment? Just a thought.
The Grand Archetypal Determinism of Western History
Phew, what a subhead! This nugget of thought could be a whole book in itself, so I’ll attempt to keep this as concise as I can. Jung essentially believed that an underlying archetype has influenced the pattern of the unfolding of history over the last 2,000 years. Could this actually be true? Is the fate of humanity akin to some kind of pre-written script? Is that what the order of the universe is all about – is Synchronicity merely existence playing out this grand internal script that human beings carry deep within their psyches? Could it be the same for each individual personality? Is there such a thing as destiny? According to Jung, we are shaped by moments of meaningful coincidence – does Jung’s Synchronicity mean we have to change the way we think about history? Is there in fact an underlying archetypal order arranging life as we know it?
Stein reveals how Jung saw this as humankind’s way to produce an advance in consciousness and our understanding of reality. Jung wrote in Aion about the way Western religious and cultural history has been a pattern of unfolding consciousness about an underlying archetypal structure. “There are no accidents in the meanderings and vicissitudes of historical progress,” says Jung. History is “going somewhere”, according to Stein – “producing a specific image mirrored and reflected in human consciousness”. He explains how Jung believed that each of us is a carrier of these ‘bits of consciousness’ that are needed to advance the consciousness of underlying motifs unfolding in history.
Now, I don’t mind a discussion of fate in relation to psychoanalytic determinism, but Jung seems to be dangerously close to taking a very anti-existential path here. If we are led to believe that everything about reality, including ourselves, is a matter of coincidences and pre-ordained patterns playing out, then we are at risk of surrendering our free will and responsibility to make choices to Synchronicity and this sort of ‘chess-playing archetype’ governing our every move. From the collaborate whole right down to each individual, Jung appears to be proposing that everything we do, and everything about who we are, is simply based on patterns playing out.
He seems to be in danger of removing sheer spontaneity from the history of existence and suggesting that even our personalities are a product of meaningful coincidence with Synchronicity. I have to say, I have ambivalent feelings here. I can’t deny the power of the archetypal image and determinism. And I’ve written previously about how I see elements of ourselves that would always have unfolded as something innate in our character. But Jung seems to be taking this a stage further. It’s as if he’s suggesting the course of human history is already coded within us, and is simply unfolding as pre-planned. Is this view of ‘destiny’ a good thing – or is its anti-existential nature troubling? I’m not sure. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And maybe read my Bandersnatch blog after this if you get a chance.
Synchronicity and The Tao
Stein shows us the way Jung saw Synchronicity as an “acausal orderedness in the world. A principle underlying cosmic law.” And so, while I find it difficult to completely reconcile with Jung’s almost inevitable ‘destiny determinism’, his cosmic law does resonate with the Taoist sentiment, and this notion of a ‘natural order’ is something I very much subscribe to. So I must remain open-minded. Stein describes how an archetypal field is constellated within us and a pattern thus emerges Synchronistically within the psyche and the non-objective world – this is akin to the experience of being in Tao. And Jung believed it was as much of an “ultimate reality” as human beings are capable of realising. “Falling into the archetypal world of Synchronistic events feels like living in the will of God,” writes Stein.
Jung’s cosmology resonates with me as an appreciator of Taoism – not so much the meaningful coincidence between a psychic event (thought or dream) and an event in the non-psychic world, but certainly in terms of order and natural law. There are countless wonderful lessons to be learned from the philosophy behind Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, but I believe that the Tao (or The Way) as something ‘operating behind everything in heaven and Earth’ most closely resembles the Jungian idea of Synchronicity. With Taoism, one is encouraged to appreciate life for what it is and go with the flow – work in harmony with the planet and the natural order of things, not against them. Taoism champions love, caring, kindness and compassion; it celebrates the feminine and the joy of childhood and childish wonder.
To bring one’s self closer to the Tao, we are encouraged to stop rushing around worrying about stuff that doesn’t really matter – and that knowledge for the sake of it is actually unhelpful. We fill our heads with so much information, when we’d be better advised working towards goals which bring true contentment – like love, family and friendship. And while we’re at it, we should try to enjoy the process of achieving those goals, rather than simply hurtling along from one unfulfilling task to the next. We can’t save time – we can only spend it; so spend it wisely, Benjamin Hoff tells us in his book The Tao of Pooh. And be like water – malleable and flexible, yet so strong that it cannot be pulled apart nor fail to overcome any obstacle.
Living in Tao is all about achieving a state of Wu Wei; minimal effort – we need to work with the natural order of things and learn our own inner nature. One must not go against the true nature of things – there is no need for egotistical effort. Instead, we must attune our inner sensitivity to the natural rhythm – like water flowing over rocks; no stress, no struggle. “A mind that thinks too much and tries too hard is likely to fail,” writes Hoff. Things work out – if you let them. There’s no need to try desperately hard to make things happen – if you accept things as they are, they will always work out in the end. Maybe this is the true nature of Jung’s Synchronicity – to go with the flow; the flow of energy from psyche to physical world and vice versa.
Synchronicity and The One
If Jung’s theory is correct, we are always designed to meet The One (or, perhaps, Ones) in our lifetimes. That might be me taking Jung too literally, but it seems to me, from reading Map of the Soul, that if we are influenced so readily by archetypal patterns at the core of our being, then we are always destined to be drawn to particular people emotionally/romantically/sexually. Is this sad or beautiful? Maybe both? Certainly poetic. And definitely plausible. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of us all having a soul mate has always seemed a bit silly to me. The notion that The One is out there waiting for each of us goes against all of my existential tendencies; the random contingency of existence in the Sartrean landscape certainly has no time for destiny as an explanation for chance encounters.
But I can certainly appreciate the notion that sexuality can be activated by causal events (genes, psychological fixations, childhood experiences). Stein illustrates they way Jung believed the archetypal field could be constellated at a particular moment – so that a chance encounter turns into a lifelong relationship. Something of the psychoid world becomes visible and conscious, says Stein; the syzygy – or soul mate pair. It is not the constellated image of the archetype which creates the event, Stein shows us, but the “correspondence between inner psychological preparedness and the outer appearance of the person” is Synchronistic. In our seemingly random, contingent universe this “falling together of desire and satisfaction” is highly unlikely.
So perhaps there is more meaning to those chance encounters we’ve all experienced – chance encounters which have led to us meeting people of great significance in our lives. A delayed train or a cancelled flight – detention with a boy or girl from your school who you thought was weird until you got to know them (yep, Breakfast Club!) I met my wife Pru at my sister’s wedding; we bonded over the fact we’d both been doing PGCEs and weren’t quite right for teaching. Maybe we were always destined to meet. Or maybe we were just always destined to get on well. Either way, it happened – and I’m very happy it did.
Synchronicity and the atomic bomb
And so we come to the final nugget in this series – I always think it’s fun to go out with a bang! I just wanted to say a little bit about a possible example of Synchronicity at work which is referenced by Stein in Map of the Soul. It’s also a topic which continually pops up in my blogs – mainly because it’s one of the most important moments in the recent history of civilisation. Jung’s idea is that the detonation of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in the August of 1945 was an event in the physical world that would’ve been the subject of dreams (nightmares) and thoughts in a rather intense and widespread manner in the build-up to the actual occurrence. This could be an example of Synchronicity at work – all those neurotic, paranoid and fearful dreams finally being realised as something psychic which became a terrifying and horrific reality.
I was watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day again recently. I realised that it’s one of my favourite films, but also the source of so much paranoia and fear which affects the way I operate. Or, perhaps I should say that, rather than the source of those sentiments, it is responsible for constellating a complex within me that I cannot shake. This fear-inducing archetype continues to have a profound influence on my life – both positively and negatively. The intense paranoia of potential nuclear war (and its associations) is a driving force behind a lot of what I write, but that intense neuroses is also what keeps me awake at night. It comes from the same place as my anxiety. That fireball – the one that sweeps through the swings behind the metal chain-link fencing in the children’s playground, still haunts my nightmares to this day.
Was there a great archetypal shift that led to the great disaster in Hiroshima? How did humanity get to such a point? And how does such a cataclysmic event link to our desire for Wholeness? Why do we often seem intent on wiping out our own species? Is this self-preservation instincts at work – or is there some kind of Thanos-style (Avengers bad guy) cleansing at work? Do we actually dream about insidious threats because we have some kind of primal desire to thin out the species? Is this some kind of misguided/ethically dubious/instinctive attempt at actually helping the planet by reducing the population of our overcrowded home? Who knows? I guess the pertinent question is – if a great number of people dream about (or use their psychic energy to imagine) something happening, might that be enough to lead to its realisation in the physical world?
Again, the existentialist in me wouldn’t wish to shift the responsibility for detonating an atomic bomb onto the scores of people who feared the devastation it would cause. That seems like an unfair blame game to say the least. But perhaps that powerful collective psychic energy might have had a telling impact – if enough people believe that something is going to happen, surely it’s only a matter of time before that energy manifests itself into something concrete?
Thanks for reading this post. And any other blogs in this series. Stay tuned for more blogs on psychology – specifically psychoanalysis. And maybe try to think some happy thoughts. Perhaps if enough of us dream about a four-day working week we can make this Synchronicity thing work in our favour!