A chapter from :Monika Sachtleben Hrsg. A text only version of this essay is available to download. It is the condition of life in a modern, industrial world that we so often experience a sense of isolation and dislocation from the natural world and those around us. If we ask for meaning we are told that meaning has become a relative thing, an affliction of post-modernism.
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A chapter from :Monika Sachtleben Hrsg. A text only version of this essay is available to download. It is the condition of life in a modern, industrial world that we so often experience a sense of isolation and dislocation from the natural world and those around us.
If we ask for meaning we are told that meaning has become a relative thing, an affliction of post-modernism. And, should we turn to science for comfort, it is to be told that life is no more than an accident spawned on a planet orbiting a relatively unimportant star within a contingent and meaningless universe.
Yet there are also moments in the life of each one of us when we touch what the Irish writer, James Joyce, termed an epiphany, so that "the soul of the commonest object Epiphanies are occasions of benediction when meaning floods as a blessing into our lives and we have a profound experience of recognition, pattern, numiniousness, a deeply felt intuition of the rightness of a particular situation, and of a world that suddenly makes sense.
Within such a moment the habitual distinction we make between inner and outer, subjective and objective, dream and reality breaks down to reveal the cosmos and our own lives under the one light.
This experience of epiphany is the essential feature of what the psychologist Carl Jung termed a synchronicity. In turn, synchronicities reveal the larger patterns of the cosmos, including those movements of growth, realization and renewal we call evolution.
Jung originally defined synchronicity as "an acausal connecting principal" and "meaningful coincidence". Of particular significance is the associated sense of meaning and significance that distinguishes a true synchronicity from a mere coincidence. Synchronicities reveal, in particularly dramatic ways, links between inner mental patterns and events in the external world.
These involve quite different orders of connection than those associated with our familiar notions of causality. In this sense, synchronicities are closer to the medieval conception of sympathies.
A sense of numiniousness meaning is the key to recognizing the occurrence of a synchronicity. But here we must be on guard against reducing meaning to the merely personal or subjective, having no wider associated objective correlate.
It is by engaging in a balance between thinking and feeling - a combination of thought and logic along with an objective sense of value - that allows us to make the important and reasoned decisions that guide our life.
So, according to Jung, the sense of meaning or value is far from being loose and subjective for it can be as rigorous and objective as logical thought. It is this objective sense of value and meaning that enables us to recognize the occurrence of a synchronicity or meaningful linking between inner and outer, the self and the natural world.
But if meaning were no more than the purely subjective, or personal idiosyncrasy, then synchronicity become trivialized into nothing more than anecdotal and superficial coincidence.
When we recognize a true synchronicity we know it is informing us about the global patterns that stretch across the mental and physical worlds. Synchronicities provide us with into the inner structures of both nature and mind but with this proviso - synchronicities do not operate in linear, didactic ways but through metaphor, image and allusion. They are like those paintings from the later stages of cubism that framed, within their inward order, contrasting elements of the external world - for example, juxtaposing the painted images of parts of a violin, table, wine bottle, newspaper and chair with glued on fragments of a real chair caning, real newspaper print and pieces of table cloth.
So too synchronicities juxtapose and bring together elements from the external and internal worlds, hinting at significant correspondences and the ways that inner and outer patterns reflect each other. Synchronicities hint that beyond our habitual distinctions between matter and mind lies a higher synthesis - one that contains them both.
What is held deeply and internally within the body-mind must be first projected outward, and made manifest as physical patterns within the external world, before it can be ingested and internalized into awareness, in terms of symbol, patterns and linguistic codes.
Patterns beyond Space and Time Of their very nature synchronicities involve patterns that transcend the usual limits of space and time. In the introduction to this essay we suggested that science presents us with a picture of reality devoid of value and meaning. Carl Jung had introduced the notion of archetypes in psychology in terms of universal patterns and structures deep within the psyche of the human race.
In his writings Jung suggests that archetypes transcend the realm of the purely mental, for they exist at what he terms the psychoid level, which partakes of both matter and mind yet lies beyond their distinction.
Synchronicities themselves are the expression of the way an archetype underlies both mental and physical patterns. As a physicist, Pauli was sympathetic to this point of view and argued that just as Jung had identified the objective element within the psyche the collective unconscious , so too physics would eventually have to come to terms with the subjective aspects of matter which he termed "the irrational".
It is worth spending a little time to explain the nature of this connection for it demonstrates very firmly that synchronicity is grounded as much in the material as it is in the psychic.
All quantum systems are described by what is termed a wave function. Mathematically this is a function existing in an abstract space termed Hilbert Space. And the notion of symmetry is deeply connected to music, poetry, art and the architecture of the human body and brain.
In fact Pauli had discovered that all quantum entities must have one of two possible forms which he called - Symmetry or Antisymmetry. One could consider these symmetries as the most fundamental archetypes of the cosmos and, indeed, in his private writings Pauli referred to them as "God and the Devil".
It turns out that electrons, protons, and the other material particles that make up an atom are all governed by a principle of anti-symmetry, while photons of light, gravity and force-carrying mesons have symmetric wave functions. While the principles of symmetry or antisymmetry may appear rather abstract, it turns out to have enormously practical implications.
It is because of antisymmetry that electrons are prevented from all occupying the same energy states and forced to take up characteristic energy patterns around an atom. Thanks to the Pauli principle atoms corresponding to each element are chemically different, matter is thus distinct and the cosmos exhibits all its wealth and diversity.
This is a truly staggering result for, up to this point, physicists would have assumed that the reason electrons, or any other particles, are kept apart, or patterned in particular ways, is because of forces operating between them. It involves no physical force but is the direct consequence of the overall forms of nature. Pauli had discovered that "an acausal connecting principle" that governs the fundamental patterns of quantum matter. Electrons behave as they do because they conform to overarching forms - a new conception that echoes that of medieval notions of correspondence, sympathy and harmony within the earthly and celestial worlds.
And, according to Carl Jung, such archetypal patterns also operate deep within the collective consciousness of the human race. Synchronicities therefore indicate the possibility of deep cooperative engagements with the cosmos. Perhaps we could call the Pauli Exclusion Principle "an archetype of matter". At its deepest level, synchronicity is therefore the experiential and symbolic representation, in terms of objective patterns, of mental and physical archetypes.
It opens the door to the suggestion that one may be able to participate, in a direct way, with the inner workings of matter. Or suggests the possibility for the individual, and society as a whole, to enter into a cooperative relationship with the movements of nature and the cosmos. Yet, throughout history most cultures have had profoundly different visions of space, time and causality than those of 19th century science.
These more traditional approaches embrace rather than reject synchronicity. In ancient Indian and central America, and indeed, in Europe until the late middle ages, time was experienced not as an arrow moving along a line but in terms of cycles of birth, death and renewal. Furthermore time was unified with space, as can still be found in the verbal tense structures of certain Native American languages.
Events far away, but occurring contemporaneously with those nearby, must nevertheless be spoken of using a different tense. The universe was perceived not so much in terms of separately distinct objects connected by forces but through sympathies, influences, humors, resonances and patterns that belong together. It was not that movements of the planets causally influenced events on earth, but that an essential harmony was maintained between the patterns of heaven and earth.
Within such a world-view, synchronicity is perfectly natural. It was only with the rise of banking and commerce - lending money against time and accumulating interest - in the late middle ages that time became fragmented from space into a linear, secular form. Finally, with the Renaissance and the rise of science, time became the servant of prediction, control, accumulation, wealth, progress and a faith in the power of technology to solve all problems within a material universe pictured exclusively in terms of force and mechanical causality.
According to such a worldview biological evolution, a long march towards perfection, replaces life as part of an organic universe imbued with spirit.
Creativity lies outside time. It embraces both the emergence of new, the unconditioned, and the renewal of the familiar - as when an outstanding pianist plays a well-known sonata or an intelligent reader returns to a familiar poem. True evolution is of a similar order. It is an expression of the basic creativity of the cosmos, that same creativity capable of throwing up the arresting patterns we term synchronicities. Evolution lies outside the restraints and measures of linear time.
Is Brahms superior to Bach, Grass to Goethe, Beuys to Grundwald, or for that matter Freud superior to Shakespeare in understanding the dark nature of the human soul? Or have the spiritual and ecological sensibilities of contemporary Europe advanced compared to the gentle agricultural culture of the Iroquois nation of North America. And, in terms of life on earth, are not the ancient bacteria that regulate the composition of our atmosphere amongst the most significant entities to have evolved?
But in an image of evolution based upon the values of industrial progress and economic competition, the meaning of an individual life and the creative moment is lost within supposed grand struggle for survival between species. But twentieth century science has challenged the very ground upon which this 19th century ideal was founded.
No longer does science boast of its ability to predict and control, nor technology to create eternal progress. First quantum theory and then the theories of chaos and complexity have transformed our notions of being and becoming. Modern science pictures life in terms of stable eco-systems, and eco-systems interacting through patterns of cooperation and self-organization. In this sense it is the responsibility of each individual to engage and renew their subtle, yet vital connections with the whole.
At these times old forms and stabilities dissolve into creative chaos and new patterns and forms emerge out of the tiny individual fluctuations within the flux that rapidly amplify and lead to new forms of stability. Such moments could well be compared to synchronicities, for they are moments that transcend traditional boundaries, opportunities for creative change and seeds for the future. As we have already said this contemporary vision of the cosmos resonates with that of an earlier time.
Each one of us can now feel a part of a much great whole. The space in which we live becomes richly criss-crossed with webs of interconnection so that rather than being lost in some vast, impersonal and contingent cosmos, each of our actions echoes and resonates in unpredictable ways. In this new world we are both free to create, yet at the same time aware of our obligations to the whole. Synchronicities and the personal unconscious.
Earlier I suggested that true synchronicities are relatively rare events and should not be confused with the trivial coincidences of daily life. However, there are special occasions when, for a time at least, an inexplicable series of synchronicities appear to cluster around a person. This can happen when someone is in a time of crisis, close to a mental breakdown, pushing creativity to a limit - or when they have fallen head and heels in love!
In a larger context they can transcend the individual and embrace an entire society, a nation and a species. Here an image from chaos theory may serve to press the analogy. In chaos theory terms they are said to be under the influence of what are termed "strange attractors".
This means preserve their inner stability, by means of constant renewal, while at the same time remaining open and responsive to their environments.
Here it should be emphasized that stability does not necessarily mean always maintaining the same form in time. It can also mean regularity in growth and development. Strange attractors are analogous to archetypes; they are underlying patterns in an abstract space that manifest themselves as recognizable types of behavior within a system.
Under the influence of a strange attractor a system is be open and responsive without compromising its inner authenticity. In terms of synchronicity, the internal patterns of the strange attractor connect, through a semi-permeable barrier, to the external environment in constant acts of renewal. In terms of the stability of human society, and its healthy growth and development, these strange attractors arise out of the constant small acts of connection through, respect, love and compassion, which keep people together.
It is at this point those synchronicities and epiphanies remind us of our connection, and obligations, to the whole.
F. David Peat
Synchronicities sometimes occur when people are in times of crisis or change, in love, engaged in highly creative work or on the verge of a breakdown. They suggest the existence of patterns that embrace both mental and physical worlds. Indeed Jung invented another word, the psychoid, to describe that level which lies beyond matter and mind and contains them both. Another useful metaphor is that of the speculum, as a mirror that reflects one world into another, yet belongs to neither.
Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind