by Roderick Main
(London: Routledge, 1997)
from TheCentreForPsychoanalyticStudies Website



From practically the beginning of his life right through to its end C. G. Jung was absorbed by the kinds of phenomena which can broadly be classified as paranormal - that is, phenomena which defy explanation in normal rational terms. The implications of his engagement with this area for his personal and professional development are pervasive.


Almost all of his major theoretical formulations were influenced by, and in some cases may even have taken their origin from, his attempts to come to terms with his experiences, observations, and studies of paranormal phenomena (see Charet 1993).

The culmination of Jung's lifelong involvement with the paranormal is his theory of synchronicity, the view that the structure of reality includes a principle of acausal connection which manifests itself most conspicuously in the form of meaningful coincidences. Difficult, flawed, prone to misrepresentation, this theory nonetheless remains one of the most suggestive attempts yet made to bring the paranormal within the bounds of intelligibility.


It has been found relevant by psychotherapists, parapsychologists, researchers of spiritual experience, and a growing number of non-specialists. Indeed, Jung's writings in this area form an excellent general introduction to the whole field of the paranormal.

The selections in the present volume - drawn from Jung's letters, seminars, and autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections, as well as from his Collected Works - provide a thematic and roughly chronological overview of his experiences and ideas.

  • Part I, 'Encountering the Paranormal', contains writings on mediumistic trance phenomena (Chapter 1), the reality of spirits and hauntings (Chapter 2), anomalous events involved in the development and practice of analytical psychology (Chapter 3), and the synchronistic basis of the divinatory techniques of astrology and the I Ching (Chapter 4).

  • Part II, 'The Theory of Synchronicity', contains Jung's most lucid presentation of his theory of synchronicity (Chapter 5), then illustrates more fully his ideas, both earlier and later, on some of the central subjects involved in its elaboration, specifically parapsychology (Chapter 6), his astrological experiment (Chapter 7), and physics (Chapter 8).

  • Part III, 'Outer Limits', illustrates those of Jung's experiences and speculations which touch most directly on questions of transcendence and spiritual reality: unitive and other bewildering visions (Chapter 9), intimations of life after death (Chapter 10), the UFO enigma (Chapter 11), and a variety of miscellaneous topics such as the subtle body, the underlying unity of reality, religious miracles, and the role of synchronicity in the evolution of consciousness (Chapter 12).

The remainder of this introduction follows the same pattern as the selections. First discussed are Jung's experiences and interpretations of the paranormal. Then the various other influences that contributed to his formulation of the theory of synchronicity are considered. Next the central ideas of the theory of synchronicity itself are examined in detail.


Finally, there is a review of some of the areas of paranormal experience which Jung addressed once he was equipped with the theory of synchronicity.



Jung's early life was spent in a milieu conducive to his developing an interest in paranormal phenomena. Living in the Swiss countryside, he continually heard stories of uncanny happenings (Jung 1963: 102) such as 'dreams which foresaw the death of a certain person, clocks which stopped at the moment of death, glasses which shattered at the critical moment' (Jung 1963: 104).


The reality of these events, he says, was 'taken for granted in the world of my childhood' (Jung 1963: 104). More specifically, paranormal experiences were virtually commonplace in Jung's family. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Preiswerk, had believed himself to be continually surrounded by ghosts and would devote one day every week to conversing with the spirit of his deceased first wife, for whom he kept a special chair in his study (Jaffé 1984: 40).


Jung's grandmother Augusta, Preiswerk's second wife, was believed to be clairvoyant (Jaffé 1984: 40). And the couple's daughter, Jung's mother, experienced 'strange occurrences' with sufficient regularity to write a diary exclusively dedicated to them (Jaffé 1971: 2).

Jung's own experiences of the paranormal began at the age of seven or eight. During a period when his parents were sleeping apart and there was considerable tension in the house, he would sometimes see nocturnal apparitions:

'One night I saw coming from [my mother's] door a faintly luminous, indefinite figure whose head detached itself from the neck and floated along in front of it, in the air, like a little moon'

(Jung 1963: 31).

When Jung was twenty-three and by that time a medical student, a couple of incidents happened which he says were 'destined to influence me profoundly' (Jung 1963: 108). On one occasion a round walnut table in his family home suddenly and inexplicably split with a loud bang.


Two weeks later another loud explosion was heard, and it was discovered that a steel knife which was in perfect condition and had been used to cut bread just an hour before had miraculously shattered into four in a closed drawer (Jung 1963: 107--9). These experiences contributed to his decision to enter the then widely despised field of psychiatry (Jung 1963: 107, 110--11; also Baumann-Jung 1975: 46).

Jung's own account presents these incidents as connected prefiguratively with séances which he claims he heard about and started attending a few weeks later (Jung 1963: 109; Jung 1973: 181) but which in fact he had already been attending for several years and had even initiated (Hillman 1976: 125; Charet 1993: 155--6).


His observations at these séances formed the basis for his doctoral dissertation, later published as 'On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena' (1902). The desire to present his findings in an optimally objective light is undoubtedly why this as well as his various subsequent accounts (Jung 1925: 3--6, 9--10; Jung 1973: 181--2; Jung 1963: 109--10) all conceal to various degrees the full extent of his personal involvement.


As F. X. Charet summarizes what is now known:

the séances were conducted in Jung's own home, the medium was his cousin, and the participants, members of his own family. In addition, a number of the spirits with which the medium was allegedly in communication were none other than Jung's ancestors.

(Charet 1993: 288)

This degree of engagement is consistent with other information about Jung's interests at the time. In particular, one of the lectures he delivered to his student fraternity, the Zofingia Society, consists largely of an impassioned and informed appeal for the serious scientific study of spiritualistic phenomena (Jung 1897; see also Oeri 1970: 187--8).

Jung describes his experiments with his medium cousin as 'the one great experience which wiped out all my earlier philosophy and made it possible for me to achieve a psychological point of view. I had discovered some objective facts about the human psyche' (Jung 1963: 110).


The primarily descriptive account given in his dissertation prefigures several of the themes of his mature psychology. The medium's ability when in the trance state to manifest a variety of seemingly autonomous personalities provided evidence for the dissociability and unconscious functioning of the psyche - observations which would eventually lead to the formulation first of complexes and later of archetypes.


While analyzing his cousin's trances psychiatrically, Jung did not dismiss the psychic dissociation as simply pathological; the secondary personalities she was manifesting could also be therapeutic, representing 'attempts of the future character to break through' (Jung 1902: 79). The emphasis here on the positive, prospective tendency of apparently pathological symptoms foreshadows Jung's later ideas of compensation, individuation, and active imagination.

Jung continued to attend séances for at least another thirty years (Charet 1993: 172--4, 197, 269). Already by 1905 he could report that he had investigated a total of eight mediums (Jung 1905: 301).


His publicly expressed view at this time was that the results were,

'of purely psychological interest .... Everything that may be considered a scientifically established fact belongs to the domain of the mental and cerebral processes and is fully explicable in terms of the laws already known to science'

(Jung 1905: 301--2).

Even after the beginning of his association with Freud in 1907, Jung's preoccupation with the paranormal continued. Initially, Freud was highly sceptical and dismissive about the entire field - an attitude expressed most vividly in his exhortation to Jung to make the sexual theory 'a dogma, an unshakeable bulwark' against 'the black tide of mud ... of occultism' (Jung 1963: 147--8).


It is true that this resistance eventually mellowed to the point where he was actually encouraging Jung's experiments and even attending séances himself (Charet 1993: 196--7).

'In matters of occultism', he wrote to Jung on 15 June 1911, 'I have grown humble ... my hubris has been shattered'

(in Jung 1963: 335).

However, he was still not willing to expose the full extent of his interest publicly, nor would he accede to Jung's demand that the theoretical basis of psychoanalysis be broadened to take account of spiritualistic phenomena that were inadequately explained in terms of sexuality.

On one occasion, this tension between Freud and Jung resulted in an argument that had both an interesting psychological context and an even more interesting parapsychological outcome. Earlier in the evening Freud had, as he afterwards wrote in a letter to Jung, 'formally adopted you as an eldest son, anointing you as my successor and crown prince' (in Jung 1963: 333).


Later in the evening, however, in the course of an argument about paranormal phenomena, a seemingly unaccountable detonation went off in Freud's bookcase. When Freud dismissed Jung's parapsychological interpretation of this event, Jung predicted that the same thing would happen again, and so, to Freud's consternation, it did (Jung 1963: 152).


Freud's letter to Jung continues by remarking of this phenomenon, by which he admitted to having been impressed, that it 'then and there [i.e., immediately after his 'anointing' of Jung] ... divested me of my paternal dignity' (in Jung 1963: 333). Whether or not consciously realized at the time, this incident symbolized the inevitable divergence between the two psychologists. One of the main causes of this divergence was the significance each attached to paranormal phenomena.

In spite of Freud's unaccommodating attitude, Jung's understanding of paranormal phenomena undoubtedly benefited from their association. He was led by Freud to appreciate the important role that sexuality can indeed play in spiritualistic phenomena. As he recognized only after he had written his dissertation, the medium had fallen in love with him (Jung 1925: 5) and her inadmissible passion for her cousin - which may in fact have been reciprocal - had contributed significantly to her experiences, many of which involved supposed romances of past members of their shared ancestry.

In effecting his break with Freud, Jung was greatly assisted by the influence of the psychologists Théodore Flournoy and William James (Shamdasani 1995: 126--7). Like Jung, both of them were deeply interested in psychical research and had made close observations of mediums; moreover, they were willing, as Freud was not, to consider the phenomena that emerged in these contexts in a nonpathological light.


While James's influence on Jung was mainly through his writings (Jung 1976: 452), Flournoy's was more personal. In an appendix contained in the Swiss but omitted in the English edition of Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung recounts that during the period of his disaffection with Freud he would regularly see Flournoy, who both helped him formulate his understanding of Freud's limitations and encouraged him in his own researches on somnambulism, parapsychology, and the psychology of religion (summarized in Charet 1993: 235).


It was also through Flournoy that Jung became interested in the creative imagination and specifically in the 'Miller Fantasies', which were to form the basis for his Symbols of Transformation (1911--12/1952) - the work in which Jung first expressed openly his divergence from Freud (Jung 1963: 158; Charet 1993: 235).

Validating the creative or, as he came to call it, the 'active' imagination was also important to Jung personally. He himself had a facility for imaginative thinking, and what he learned about this faculty from the Miller material enhanced his ability to cope with the deluge of dreams, visions, and paranormal experiences which were released in him in the years following his rupture with Freud (Jung 1963: 165--91).

Prominent among these experiences were Jung's inner encounters with a variety of seemingly autonomous fantasy figures with whom he conversed as though they were spirits (Jung 1963: 174--8). The most important such figure was 'Philemon', whom Jung described as his 'ghostly guru', his 'psychagogue', a representation of 'superior insight' who 'conveyed to me many an illuminating idea', above all 'the insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life' (Jung 1963: 176--7).


One of the earliest experiences Jung mentions specifically of a meaningful coincidence concerns this figure: Philemon had appeared in his dreams with kingfisher's wings, and Jung, in order to understand the image better, did a painting of it. While engaged on this, he happened to find in his garden, for the first and only time, a dead kingfisher (Jung 1963: 175--6).

Later, in 1916, Jung relates that he felt 'compelled from within, as it were, to formulate and express what might have been said by Philemon' (Jung 1963: 182). The composition of the resulting Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, a series of texts addressed to the spirits of the dead, was immediately preceded by a remarkable haunting of Jung's house, involving an 'ominous atmosphere' and various apparitional and poltergeist phenomena experienced not just by himself but by his children and other members of the household (Jung 1963: 182--3).


As several writers have noted, the Septem Sermones - whose relation to spiritualistic communications is obvious, if also rather eccentric (see Segal 1992: 37--8) - express in germinal form almost all of Jung's developed ideas: the nature of the unconscious, individuation, the problem of opposites, the archetypes, and the self (see, e.g., Charet 1993: 265--7).

In 1919, while in England, Jung delivered to the Society for Psychical Research a lecture on 'The Psychological Foundations of Belief in Spirits' (1920/1948). In this lecture he explained experiences of one's own soul in terms of complexes of the personal unconscious, while seemingly autonomous spirits were explained in terms of complexes of the collective unconscious, that is, archetypes (Jung 1920/1948: 309--12).


Towards the end of the lecture he admitted to having 'repeatedly observed the telepathic effects of unconscious complexes, and also a number of parapsychic phenomena' (Jung 1920/1948: 318). But on the question of the objective existence of spirits he took a cautious position, in spite of his own experience of three years earlier.


While acknowledging that, from the point of view of feeling, it might well be legitimate to believe in spirits, he considered that, from the point of view of thinking, there are no grounds for holding that they can be known to exist other than as 'the exteriorized effects of unconscious complexes': 'I see no proof whatever', he remarked, 'of the existence of real spirits, and until such proof is forthcoming I must regard this whole territory as an appendix of psychology' (Jung 1920/1948: 318).

But Jung was in fact less skeptical than he says here. For example, in a footnote added at this point to the 1948 revision of the lecture, he admits:

After collecting psychological experiences from many people and many countries for over fifty years, I no longer feel as certain as I did in 1919, when I wrote this sentence. To put it bluntly, I doubt whether an exclusively psychological approach can do justice to the phenomena in question.

(Jung 1920/1948: 318)

In the year following his SPR lecture he was again in England and had some very disturbing experiences while staying over a series of weekends in a house which he learned afterwards was reputed to be haunted: he heard loud thumping and dripping noises, smelled foul odors, and on one occasion saw a figure with part of its face missing lying in the bed beside him - all of which phenomena simply disappeared at the first light of dawn (Jung 1950b: 320--4).


For at least one of these phenomena, the loud dripping noise, he could find no adequate physical or psychological explanation (Jung 1950b: 325).

Jung was also influenced by his continued witnessing of spiritualistic trance phenomena. We are told, for instance, of his attendance at séances with Rudi Schneider in 1925 at which 'telekinetic phenomena and the materialization of human limbs were observed' (Charet 1993: 282--3, n. 230).


At a séance with Oscar Schlag in 1931 'a sample of ectoplasm was secured', and on another occasion Jung 'embraced Schlag when suddenly Schlag's Jacket dematerialized' (Charet 1993: 283, nn. 230--1).


On the 'question of materialization' Jung wrote in 1945: 'I have seen enough of this phenomenon to convince me entirely of its existence' (Jung 1973: 390). Regarding the objective existence of spirits, he recalled in 1946 his discussions many years earlier with the American psychologist and psychical researcher James Hyslop:

He [Hyslop] admitted that, all things considered, all these metapsychic phenomena could be explained better by the hypothesis of spirits than by the qualities and peculiarities of the unconscious. And here, on the basis of my own experience, I am bound to concede he is right. In each individual case I must of necessity be sceptical, but in the long run I have to admit that the spirit hypothesis yields better results in practice than any other.

(Jung 1973: 431)

Of Jung's experiences in this period after 1919 one more deserves mention for the significant bearing it had on the development of his concept of the self as the centre of psychic totality (Jung 1963: 188). He relates that after he had worked this concept out in isolation, he experienced a powerful confirmatory coincidence in which a painting he had done, based on a dream, was paralleled by the core idea of a Taoist-alchemical treatise, The Secret of the Golden Flower, sent to him by Richard Wilhelm (Jung 1963: 188--9).


The timely receipt of this treatise was, he says, 'the first event which broke through my isolation. I became aware of an affinity; I could establish ties with something and someone' (Jung 1963: 189).

Finally, Jung's thinking was also furthered by the experiences accompanying his heart attack in 1944. A series of altered states of consciousness, including a near-death experience, attendant coincidence, and some profound states of mystical union, gave him the insight, and ultimately the courage, to express himself much more forthrightly on a number of controversial topics, including that of synchronicity itself (Jung 1963: 270--7).

Jung's paranormal experiences and the resulting need adequately to understand them were probably the greatest influence on the development of his theory of synchronicity. Such intimate personal engagement both gave him an inside view of the kind of psychological dynamics that can be involved in paranormal experiences and, even more importantly, impressed on him the extent to which the experiences can be meaningful.


Thus, Jung's own experiences seemed to occur at critical junctures in his life:

paranormal events accompanied his decision to make a career of psychiatry, his conflict and eventual breach with Freud, his relationship with his 'ghostly guru' Philemon, the writing of the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos in which he adumbrated much of his later psychology, his formulation of the concept of the self as the centre of psychic totality, and his heart attack and transformative near-death experience of 1944.



In addition to his personal experiences and observations of paranormal phenomena, a number of further influences also played a significant part in Jung's eventual formulation of the theory of synchronicity. On the level of spontaneous events, there were the meaningful coincidences which he noticed occurring to individual analyzed during therapeutic sessions as well as to others during seminars that were being held in analytical psychology.


Other sources of insight were Jung's practical engagement with the mantic procedures of astrology and the I Ching, and his cultural researches into alchemy and other esoteric traditions. No less important again was his awareness of recent developments in science, above all in the new discipline of parapsychology and the then radically transformed field of physics.


It is worth looking at each of these influences in turn, since their contributions to his developing theory are varied and at times complex.

The therapeutic context

Jung's specific interest in meaningful coincidence dates from the mid 1920s, when, as he says,

I was investigating the phenomena of the collective unconscious and kept coming across connections which I could not explain as chance groupings or 'runs.' What I found were 'coincidences' which were connected so meaningfully that their 'chance' concurrence would represent a degree of improbability that would have to be expressed by an astronomical figure.

(Jung 1952: 437)

In his analytic practice, Jung was impressed both by the frequency with which coincidence phenomena occurred and by their meaningfulness to those who experienced them:

As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist I have often come up against the phenomena in question and could convince myself how much these inner experiences meant to my patients. In most cases they were things which people do not talk about for fear of exposing themselves to thoughtless ridicule. I was amazed to see how many people have had experiences of this kind and how carefully the secret was guarded.

(Jung 1952: 420)

For example, a patient, whose problem lay in her excessive and seemingly intractable rationalism, was telling Jung an impressive dream in which she had been given a costly jewel in the form of a scarab beetle. Just at that moment an insect began tapping against the consulting room window. Jung let it in, caught it in his hands, and, realizing it was a form of scarabaeid beetle, presented it to his patient with the words, 'Here is your scarab'.


The irrationality yet obvious meaningfulness of this paralleling between real life and her dream was so striking that it broke through the patient's resistances and enabled her treatment to proceed (Jung 1951b: 525--6; 1952: 438--9).

The special value of events such as this for the development of the theory of synchronicity lay in the fact that they occurred in a psychotherapeutic context, so that their accompanying psychological dynamics could be observed particularly closely. Jung noted, for instance, that the meaning which coincidences have for their subject, including their attendant emotional charge or numinosity, seems to stem from the underlying presence of an archetype, activated usually in response to the person having reached some kind of psychological impasse. Thus, in the above case, Jung believed the archetype of rebirth had been activated by the patient's inability to see beyond her rationalism, by her need for 'psychic renewal' (1952: 439).


As Robert Aziz has shown (Aziz 1990: 66--90), implicit in Jung's analysis of this and other cases is his understanding of synchronicity as an expression of the process of individuation furthered through compensation. Thus only after the excessive rationalism of the patient's conscious attitude had been compensated from the unconscious by the powerful irrational event of the synchronicity, could her 'process of transformation [i.e., her individuation] ... at last begin to move' (Jung 1952: 439).


Cases such as this also enabled Jung to observe that coincidences can be symbolic in their meaning. His reason for supposing the archetype of rebirth to have been active in the woman's experience was his knowledge that 'The scarab is a classic example of a rebirth symbol' (Jung 1952: 439).

The seminar context

From 1925 to 1939 Jung held a series of English language seminars at the Psychological Club in Zurich, during which meaningful coincidences sometimes occurred. Indeed one can actually monitor Jung, during the course of the 1928--1930 seminars on dream analysis, moving towards a first formulation of the concept of synchronicity.

On 14 November 1928 the seminar group was discussing the meaning of certain forms of ritual sport, since one of the dreams being examined (the important 'initial dream' of the analysis) contained an image of a square amphitheatre which made the dreamer think of the game of jeu de paume, an early form of tennis.


Amplifying on the idea that this game could be viewed as a form of symbolic ceremonial, Jung associated the game with the sport of bull-fighting, which in turn he connected with the ancient cult of Mithras, the bull god (Jung 1928--30: 24--5). This turned out to be the first coincidence, for it happened that, unknown to Jung, one of the participants at the seminar had dreamed the night before that she had been present at a bull-fight in Spain (Jung 1928--30: 35).

When this dream was mentioned at the next meeting a week later on 21 November, it was followed by a discussion of its meaning and the meaning of the bull symbol generally, during which Jung reported that 'not long ago I had a letter from a patient [in Mexico], a lady who had just been to a bull-fight ...' (Jung 1928--30: 36).


Then, at the meeting following this, on 28 November, Jung began by announcing that the discussion of the bull dream and the meaning of the bull-fight had 'brought interesting coincidences to light' (Jung 1928--30: 43).


For he had just received another letter from the woman in Mexico in which she commented on the bull-fight she had been to in terms very similar to those used by Jung when he had initially spoken about the bull-fight symbol. Allowing time for postage, Jung calculated that the letter must have been written 'just about the day when we first spoke of the bull in the seminar' (Jung 1928--30: 44).


He remarks:

'My friend is a quite independent observer, but she got the gist of [the symbolic significance of the bull-fight] and in that moment found it necessary to convey it to me'

(Jung 1928--30: 44).

Equally strikingly, Jung reported that the person whose dreams were being analyzed in the seminar (a patient not a participant at the seminar) had spent from the 20th to the 24th November 'making a picture which he could not understand' (Jung 1928--30: 43). It was of a bull's head holding the disc of the sun between its horns, as in representations of sacred bull gods.


Thus he drew just what was being discussed by the seminar group and over the very period when they were discussing it.

'I told him', Jung reported, 'that we were talking of the bull in connection with his dream, and that his drawing synchronizes with that'

(Jung 1928--30: 43; emphasis added).

Coincidences such as these, Jung told the seminar group, have a sort of 'irrational regularity' (Jung 1928--30: 43), which is why we notice them. 'The East bases much of its science on this irregularity', he continued, 'and considers coincidences as the reliable basis of the world rather than causality. Synchronism is the prejudice of the East; causality is the modern prejudice of the West' (Jung 1928--30: 44--5; emphasis added).

In November 1928 Jung is recorded as having used the words 'synchronize' and 'synchronism'. A year later, on 4 December 1929, another incident occurred. The five-year-old child of one of the participants at the seminar made two drawings incorporating symbols (principally the cross and the crescent) that were being talked about, yet the child had not actually been exposed to any information about the seminars. Jung remarks:

Since I have seen many other examples of the same kind in which people not concerned were affected, I have invented the word synchronicity as a term to cover these phenomena, that is, things happening at the same time moment as an expression of the same time content. (Jung 1928--30: 417)

From this series of incidents two important points can be noted about the way Jung was initially conceiving of synchronicity. First, he was understanding it to be a phenomenon which could have its impact on the widest collective level.


Thus, the whole nexus of bull coincidences manifested via four different people:

  • Jung himself, who first mentioned the cult of the bull god Mithras

  • the seminar participant who dreamed of a bull-fight the night before Jung mentioned the bull god

  • the person whose dreams were being analyzed and who felt moved to draw a bull's head

  • the correspondent who wrote to Jung with her symbolic interpretation of the bull-fight she had recently attended

The last two of these people were not even present at the seminars, and one of them was many thousands of miles away in Mexico. Again, of the bull-fight dream Jung remarked that 'any one of us might have dreamt it' (Jung 1928--30: 36).

The second point is that Jung was stressing the idea of the quality of particular moments of time.

'In 1929', he remarked at the end of one seminar (27 November 1929), 'everything has the cast and brand of this year. And the children born in this year will be recognizable as part of a great process and marked by a particular condition'

(Jung 1928--30: 412).

This idea also played a central role in the way Jung generally articulated his understanding of astrology and the I Ching.


Jung's interest in astrology dates from around 1911. In a letter to Freud of 12 June of that year he reports:

My evenings are taken up very largely with astrology. I make horoscopic calculations in order to find a clue to the core of psychological truth. Some remarkable things have turned up .... I dare say that one day we shall find in astrology a good deal of knowledge that has been intuitively projected into the heavens. For instance, it appears that the signs of the zodiac are character pictures, in other words libido symbols which depict the typical qualities of the libido at a given moment.

(Jung 1973: 24)

This interest continued to the end of Jung's life. For example, in a letter to B. V. Raman dated 6 September 1947, he reaffirmed the practical importance of astrology for the psychologist:

In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand.

(Jung 1973: 475)

This practical involvement provided Jung with data which seemed to support the idea of moments of time having particular qualities. Thus, in a letter to B. Baur (29 January 1934), after discussing the precession of the equinoxes, he remarks:

The fact that astrology nevertheless yields valid results proves that it is not the apparent positions of the stars which work, but rather the times which are measured or determined by arbitrarily named stellar positions. Time thus proves to be a stream of energy filled with qualities and not, as our philosophy would have it, an abstract concept or precondition of knowledge.

(Jung 1973: 138--9)

Initially, Jung seems to have hoped that astrology might be able to demonstrate objectively a relationship of synchronicity between temporal determinants and individual character (Jung 1976: 476; Jung 1952: 454--5).


Later, however, his attitude became more complex and ambivalent. This change stemmed partly from his own astrological experiment, which revealed the extent of the astrologer's psychic participation in the handling of astrological material (Jung 1952: 459--84; see also Hyde 1992: 121--39), and partly from recent discoveries concerning the possible influence of planetary positions on solar proton radiation.


Those discoveries suggested that there might be some causal basis for the apparent efficacy of astrology (Jung 1951b: 527--8; Jung 1976: 23--4) - or even that astrology might be partly causal and partly synchronistic (Jung 1976: 177, 421, 428--30).


Finally, for all his early enthusiasm for the idea of qualitative time, which was articulated even more fulsomely in relation to the I Ching, Jung did eventually (in a letter of 1954) express dissatisfaction with this notion, rejecting it as tautological and, rather than using it as the basis for an explanation of synchronicity, claiming to have 'replaced it with the idea of synchronicity' (Jung 1976: 176).

The I Ching

Around 1920, Jung began experimenting with the ancient Chinese oracle system of the I Ching, or Book of Changes, and was deeply impressed by its effectiveness in yielding pertinent answers to his questions.


He relates how, one summer, he,

resolved to make an all out attack on the riddle of this book .... I would sit for hours on the ground beneath the hundred-year old pear tree, the I Ching beside me, practicing the technique by referring the resultant oracles to one another in an interplay of questions and answers. All sorts of undeniably remarkable results emerged - meaningful connections with my own thought processes which I could not explain to myself .... Time and again I encountered amazing coincidences which seemed to suggest the idea of an acausal parallelism (a synchronicity as I later called it).

(Jung 1963: 342)

Jung's appreciation of the I Ching deepened considerably a couple of years later when he met and befriended the German Sinologist Richard Wilhelm, who had just produced a new German translation of the book. Jung refers to his friendship with Wilhelm as 'one of the most significant events of my life' (Jung 1930: 53).


He appears to have been particularly impressed by Wilhelm's own mastery of the I Ching:

At his first lecture at the Psychological Club in Zurich [in 1923], Wilhelm, at my request, demonstrated the use of the I Ching and at the same time made a prognosis which, in less than two years, was fulfilled to the letter and with the utmost clarity.

(Jung 1930: 57)

It was with reference to the I Ching, at a memorial address for Wilhelm in 1930, that Jung made his second recorded use of his new concept:

'The science of the I Ching', he asserted, 'is based not on the causality principle but on one which - hitherto unnamed because not familiar to us - I have tentatively called the synchronistic principle'

(Jung 1930: 56).

He referred to 'psychic parallelisms which simply cannot be related to each other causally, but must be connected by another kind of principle altogether' (Jung 1930: 56).


The essence of this other principle he considered to consist 'in the relative simultaneity of the events', for time, as he still understood it,

far from being an abstraction, is a concrete continuum which possesses qualities or basic conditions capable of manifesting themselves simultaneously in different places by means of an acausal parallelism, such as we find, for instance, in the simultaneous occurrence of identical thoughts, symbols, or psychic states.

(Jung 1930: 56).

Referring also to the data and claims of astrology, he asserted that 'whatever is born or done at this particular moment of time has the quality of this moment of time', adding confidently that 'Here we have the basic formula for the use of the I Ching' (Jung 1930: 56--7).

A fuller exposition of the principle, again preceding the publication of his main essays on synchronicity, was also made with reference to the I Ching in Jung's 'Foreword' to the English rendering of Wilhelm's German translation (Jung 1950a: 590--3).


Here, as late as 1949, Jung was still emphasizing the factor of the quality of moments of time. He writes that 'synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers' (Jung 1950a: 592).


The specific style of thinking implied in this is then explicated as follows:

How does it happen that A', B', C', D', etc., appear all at the same moment and in the same place? It happens in the first place because the physical events A' and B' are of the same quality as the psychic events C' and D', and further because all are the exponents of one and the same momentary situation. The situation is assumed to represent a legible or understandable picture.

(Jung 1950a: 593)

Apart from consolidating his understanding of qualitative time, the I Ching provided Jung with a means of generating experiences of meaningful coincidence with some measure of regularity. At times he practically recommended it to others for such experimental purposes (Jung 1976: 491).


Again, largely because of this amenability to experimental investigation, the system offered a context for looking at some of the dynamics of synchronicity. The I Ching hexagrams, for example, seemed to Jung to be a kind of readable representation of archetypes (Jung 1963: 294; Jung 1976: 584).


This connection between hexagrams and archetypes, combined with the fact that the method of consulting the oracle is essentially based on number, led Jung to speculate on the archetypes of natural numbers and on the possibility of their having a special relationship to synchronicity (Jung 1952: 456--8).


Finally, the simple fact that the I Ching was such a prominent cultural force throughout Chinese history encouraged Jung's efforts to present his ideas on synchronicity by providing him with a major precedent for the recognition of an acausal principle of connection between events.

Alchemy and other esoteric research

No less significant for the development of the concept of synchronicity was Jung's extensive research into the esoteric traditions of the West. The ancient Greek conception of 'the sympathy of all things', the medieval and Renaissance theory of correspondences, and above all the alchemical understanding of the unus mundus (one world) and of the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm also provided acausal connections between events (see Jung 1952: 485--98).


At times Jung presents his theory of synchronicity as simply an up-dating of these esoteric views: 'Synchronicity', he writes at the end of his 1951 Eranos lecture, 'is a modern differentiation of the obsolete concept of correspondence, sympathy, and harmony' (Jung 1951b: 531).


At other times he recognizes that his theory differs from these earlier views - for example, in his rejection of the notion of 'magical causality', the view that coincidences and paranormal phenomena, rather than being acausal, are 'somehow due to magical influence' (Jung 1952: 501).


What the early theories suggest to him instead is that there may be a dimension of meaning that does not depend on human subjectivity or projection but is 'transcendental' or 'self-subsistent' - 'a meaning which is a priori in relation to human consciousness and apparently exists outside man' (Jung 1952: 501--2).

Not only did these esoteric worldviews themselves present a challenge to causality, but Jung believed that in the course of his researches into them he had actually uncovered some extraordinary objective synchronicities:

'my researches into the history of symbols,' he writes in the 'Foreword' to his 1952 essay, 'and of the fish symbol in particular, brought the problem [of synchronicity] ever closer to me'

(Jung 1952: 419).

The reference here is to the coincidence, mapped out in detail in Aion (Jung 1951a),

'between the life of Christ and the objective astronomical event, the entrance of the spring equinox into the sign of Pisces'; his discovery of this was another of the factors which 'led to the problem of synchronicity'

(Jung 1963: 210).


While Jung was actively interested in psychical research throughout his life, few bodies of work within this field made such a deep impression on him as the parapsychological experiments carried out by J. B. Rhine in the first parapsychology laboratory, established at Duke University in 1932. These experiments appeared to give statistical, that is to say, scientifically respectable, confirmation of the reality of both extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK).


More importantly the positive results of Rhine's experiments did not diminish if the subjects attempting the ESP or PK tasks were separated from the target objects by even great distances in space or time (Jung 1952: 435). Jung concluded that 'in relation to the psyche space and time are, so to speak, "elastic" and can apparently be reduced almost to vanishing point' (Jung 1952: 435).


Another of the ways in which Jung came to characterize synchronicity was therefore as 'a psychically conditioned relativity of time and space' (Jung 1952: 435). In fact, Jung suggests that spatio-temporal relativity of this kind is the basic condition within the unconscious psyche, as though space and time 'did not exist in themselves but were only "postulated" by the conscious mind' (Jung 1952: 435).


Knowledge of events at a distance or in the future is possible because, within the unconscious psyche, all events co-exist timelessly and spacelessly:

For the unconscious psyche space and time seem to be relative; that is to say, knowledge finds itself in a space-time continuum in which space is no longer space, nor time time. If, therefore, the unconscious should develop or maintain a potential in the direction of consciousness, it is then possible for parallel events to be perceived or 'known'.

(Jung 1952: 481)

This space-time relativity is different from the notion of qualitative time. In qualitative time the idea of a 'moment', and hence of relative simultaneity, is of paramount importance. In space-time relativity any natural understanding of 'moments', and certainly of simultaneity, becomes irrelevant, as the experience of foreknowledge clearly indicates.

Apart from experimental confirmation of this crucial insight concerning space-time relativity, Rhine's work also appeared to support Jung's observation that paranormal experiences are usually attended by heightened emotionality. For Rhine's work identified the so-called 'decline effect', the fact that the most significant results were generally obtained towards the beginning of the experimental session when the subject's interest (emotional engagement) can be supposed to have been at its greatest (Jung 1952: 434, 436--7).

On Rhine's initiative, a correspondence between him and Jung developed which continued intermittently from 1934 to 1954. Rhine repeatedly pressed Jung to write down accounts of his paranormal experiences and observations as well as his theoretical reflections concerning them (see Jung 1973: 180--2, 378--9).


Though somewhat reluctant, because fearing incomprehension on the part of the public (Jung 1973: 190), Jung did comply to a certain extent and in a letter of November 1945 gave in response to a series of direct questions submitted by Rhine a tentative preliminary formulation of the theory of synchronicity as he would eventually present it in terms of the psychic relativization of space and time (Jung 1973: 493--5).


Jung's language in discussing the implications of Rhine's experiments - his references to 'relativity' and a 'space-time continuum' - is clearly reminiscent of Einstein's theories of relativity in physics, and in fact the influence of Einstein on Jung is a real and substantial one. When the physicist was working in Zurich in 1909 and 1912, he was Jung's dinner guest on several occasions, and, as Jung recalls, 'tried to instill into us the elements of [his first theory of relativity], more or less successfully' (Jung 1976: 109; see also Jung 1935: 67--8).


Jung continues:

It was Einstein who first started me off thinking about a possible relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality. More than thirty years later this stimulus led to my relation with the physicist Professor W. Pauli and to my thesis of psychic synchronicity.

(Jung 1976: 109; see also Progoff 1989: 151--2)

Perhaps an even more significant influence on Jung were certain developments within the other great physics theory that arose in the early part of the twentieth century: quantum mechanics. Jung was impressed by both the principle of complementarity formulated by Niels Bohr and the ability to predict subatomic events only probabilistically. It was to the legitimacy of mere probabilistic prediction that Jung most often appealed in support of his concept of acausality.


With reference to one such subatomic event, radioactive decay, he quotes Sir James Jeans:

'Radioactive break-up appeared to be an effect without a cause, and suggested that the ultimate laws of nature were not even causal'

(in Jung 1952: 512).

The principle of complementarity was utilized by Jung in his presentation of the status of synchronicity. Bohr considered that one of the central paradoxes of quantum physics - the fact that subatomic entities behave in contradictory ways, either as particle or as wave, depending on the method by which they are observed - cannot be resolved by considering one of the forms of manifestation more essential than the other.


Both, in his view, are fundamental: the two forms of manifestation complement each other and together give as complete a picture of the actual subatomic entity as is possible given the intrinsic limitations of human cognition (see, e.g., Honner 1987).


Jung saw causality and acausality as standing in a similar relationship. As the title of his principal essay indicates, synchronicity is for him 'an acausal connecting principle'. As such, it is 'a hypothetical factor equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation' (Jung 1952: 435).


It is 'equal in rank' precisely in the sense of being complementary to the principle of causality: causality accounts for one kind of connection between events - 'constant connection through effect', as Jung epitomizes it (Jung 1952: 514) - and synchronicity accounts for the complementary kind of connection - 'inconstant connection through contingency, equivalence, or "meaning"' (Jung 1952: 514).


Together, the two principles give, in Jung's view, a complete account of the kinds of connections that can exist between events. Jung also draws attention to the complementarities between consciousness and the unconscious and between physics and psychology (Jung 1947/1954: 231--2).

The implications of these points from physics were explored by Jung largely through his friendship with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, which lasted from 1932 until Pauli's death in 1958. The full extent of Pauli's and Jung's influence on each other has only recently begun to be evaluated (see, e.g., Erkelens 1991; Meier 1992; Zabriskie 1995; Lindorff 1995a and 1995b).


One can note in particular that Jung's principal essay on synchronicity was originally published in the same volume as a companion essay by Pauli on 'The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler' (Jung and Pauli 1955).


In his own essay Jung credits Pauli with having helped him formulate the quaternion diagram in which the complementary relationships between causality and synchronicity and between indestructible energy and the space-time continuum were set out (Jung 1952: 514). Indeed, Pauli himself appears to have been particularly prone to experiencing synchronicities, especially of the psychokinetic variety, and discussed them in detail in his letters to Jung (Hinshaw 1995: 129--30).


Furthermore, in a letter to the physicist M. Fierz (22 June 1949) Jung actually refers to a draft of one of his essays on synchronicity as a 'manuscript which Pauli has prompted me to write' (Jung 1973: 530).



Jung's various thoughts on synchronicity converged from these diverse sources and were integrated in two essays:

  • 'On Synchronicity', originally delivered as a lecture at the 1951 Eranos Conference

  • 'Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle', a vastly expanded version of the 1951 paper, originally published in 1952 alongside an essay by Pauli in The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (English translation 1955)

The 1951 essay, contained in the present volume, is probably Jung's clearest piece of writing on this subject, but because of its brevity it inevitably skips over many difficulties and implications. The 1952 essay, by contrast, is replete with so many difficulties and nuances that it ends up seeming rather confused and so risks doing poor justice to the important ideas it contains.


Although this essay is not included in the present volume, almost all of its central ideas do figure in one form or another in the ensuing selections. It may therefore be useful, before addressing the key issues of the theory, to give a summary of the core argument of this essay.

'Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle'

In his 'Foreword' (Jung 1952: 419--20) Jung states that he is aiming 'to give a consistent account of everything I have to say on this subject'. In the first chapter, 'Exposition' (Jung 1952: 421--58), he notes that modern physics has shown natural laws to be statistical truths and the principle of causality to be only relatively valid, so that at the microphysical (i.e., subatomic) level there can occur events which are acausal.


He then addresses the question of whether acausal events can also be demonstrated at the macrophysical level of everyday experience. The most decisive evidence in support of this possibility he considers to have been provided by Rhine's experiments. These experiments have revealed statistically significant correlations between events in spite of the fact that the possibility of any known kind of energy transmission and hence of causal relationship between the events was completely ruled out.


Jung thereby concludes that under certain psychic conditions time and space can both become relative and can even appear to be transcended altogether. The fact that Rhine's positive results fell off once his subjects began to lose interest suggests to Jung that the necessary psychic condition has to do with affectivity.


Affectivity in turn suggests the presence of an activated archetype, and in fact this archetypal background is especially evident in the kind of spontaneous acausal events Jung encountered in his therapeutic work. In these spontaneous cases, however, a certain amount of symbolic interpretation is often needed in order to detect the operation of the archetype.


Jung is now in a position to define synchronicity, which he does in a variety of ways (see below, subsection on 'Time'). He also suggests a possible psychological dynamic to explain how an activated archetype might result in synchronicities: the presence of the active archetype is accompanied by numinous effects, and this numinosity or affectivity results in a lowering of the mental level, a relaxing of the focus of consciousness.


As the energy of consciousness is lowered, the energy of the unconscious is correspondingly heightened, so that a gradient from the unconscious to the conscious is established and unconscious contents flow into consciousness more readily than usual. Included among these unconscious contents are items of what Jung calls 'absolute knowledge', knowledge that transcends the space-time limitations of consciousness in the manner demonstrated by Rhine's experiments.


If there is then the recognition of a parallel between any of this 'absolute knowledge' and co-occurring outer physical events, the result will be the experience of synchronicity. Finally in this chapter, Jung discusses a number of mantic procedures and concludes that astrology is the one most suitable for his purposes, which are to yield measurable results demonstrating the existence of synchronicity and to provide insight into the psychic background of synchronicity.

The second chapter, 'An Astrological Experiment' (Jung 1952: 459--84), describes Jung's attempt to carry out these aims. He collected and analyzed 483 pairs of marriage horoscopes (obtained from friendly donors) in three batches of 180, 220, and 83, looking for conjunctions and oppositions of sun, moon, ascendant, descendant, Mars, and Venus.


He found that the maximal figure for each of the three batches was one of the traditional aspects for marriage (moon conjunct sun, moon conjunct moon, or moon conjunct ascendant). Although the figures do not exceed the kind of dispersions that might be expected due to chance, Jung considers it psychologically interesting that they appear to confirm astrological expectation; moreover, if the probabilities of the three individual sets of results are combined, the overall result does become statistically significant.


In Jung's view, his results fortuitously imitate astrological expectation and therefore constitute a synchronistic phenomenon. The archetypal background to this synchronicity he finds indicated by the lively interest taken in the experiment by himself and his co-worker. Rejecting as primitive and regressive the hypothesis of magical causality, he concludes that if the connecting principle between astrological expectation and the results obtained is not causal, it must consist in meaning.

This conclusion is supported in the third chapter, 'Forerunners of the Idea of Synchronicity' (Jung 1952: 485--504).


Jung surveys a range of traditional views - Oriental and Western; primitive, classical, medieval and Renaissance - which express the possibility of there being a realm of transcendental, objective, or 'self-subsistent' meaning. In particular, he looks at the notions of Tao, microcosm and macrocosm, sympathy, correspondence, and pre-established harmony.


He also notes that the idea of self-subsistent meaning is sometimes suggested in dreams.

In the fourth and final chapter, 'Conclusion' (Jung 1952: 505 -19), Jung acknowledges that his views concerning synchronicity have not been proved, but he nevertheless suggests tentatively, on the basis of observations of out-of-the-body and near-death experiences, that the relationship between mind and body may yet prove to be one of synchronicity. He then elaborates on the theoretical status of synchronicity as a fourth explanatory principle, one in addition to time, space, and causality (or in addition to indestructible energy, the space-time continuum, and causality).


According to Jung, synchronicity 'makes possible a whole judgment' (Jung 1952: 512) by introducing the 'psychoid factor' (Jung 1952: 513) of meaning into one's description of nature. It thereby also helps bring about a rapprochement between psychology and physics. More specifically, the psychoid factor at the basis of synchronicity is the archetype - a factor which Jung proceeds to characterize.


Archetypes provide the shared meaning by virtue of which two events are considered to be in a relationship of synchronicity. They cannot be determined with precision and are capable of expressing themselves in physical as well as psychic processes. They manifest their meaning through whatever psychic and physical content is available, but might equally well have manifested the same meaning through other content.


They represent psychic probability, making it likely that certain types of events will occur but not enabling one actually to predict the occurrence of any particular event. At this point Jung introduces the broader category of general acausal orderedness, of which meaningful coincidence experiences are considered to be one particular instance.


He states in conclusion that general acausal orderedness (which includes such phenomena as the properties of natural numbers and the discontinuities of modern physics) is a universal factor existing from all eternity, whereas meaningful coincidences are individual acts of creation in time. Both, however, are synchronistic phenomena occurring within the field of the contingent.

As can be seen from this summary, the essential concepts running through the argument of the 1952 essay are time, acausality, meaning, and probability, with the final chapter also highlighting the mind-body relationship, the notion of general acausal orderedness, and the question of the epistemological status of the principle of synchronicity.


Clarification of Jung's thinking on each of these key topics should make it possible to move through his various writings on synchronicity much more confidently and profitably.


Jung's definitions of synchronicity confront one with an immediate puzzle.


Almost invariably, they highlight the factor of simultaneity, and yet one important category of events which Jung wants to call synchronistic - namely, precognitive experiences - by definition cannot be simultaneous. Jung himself was certainly aware of this apparent contradiction and made an interesting, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to resolve it.

In his 1951 Eranos lecture he offers a definition which recognizes three categories of events to which the term synchronicity can be applied. The first category includes happenings such as the scarab incident where a psychic event (the patient's recalling her dream of a scarab) and a physical event (the actual appearance of a scarabaeid beetle) occur at the same time and in the same place (during the analytic session in Jung's consulting room).


Here there is indeed simultaneity between the psychic and physical events (Jung 1951b: 526).

The second category includes happenings where a psychic event occurs and a corresponding physical event takes place more or less simultaneously but at a distance, so that the approximate simultaneity can only be established afterwards (Jung 1951b: 526). Jung cites as an illustration Emanuel Swedenborg's well-attested vision of the great fire in Stockholm in 1759. Swedenborg was at a party in Gottenburg about two hundred miles from Stockholm when the vision occurred.


He told his companions at six o'clock in the evening that the fire had started, then described its course over the next two hours, exclaiming in relief at eight o'clock that it had at last been extinguished, just three doors from his own house. All these details were confirmed when messengers arrived in Gottenburg from Stockholm over the next few days (Jung 1952: 481, 483).

The third category includes happenings where a psychic event occurs and a corresponding physical event takes place in the future. Here there is not even approximate simultaneity (Jung 1951b: 526). An example mentioned by Jung is of a student friend of his whose father had promised him a trip to Spain if he passed his final examinations satisfactorily.


The friend then had a dream of seeing various things in a Spanish city: a particular square, a Gothic Cathedral, and, around a certain corner, a carriage drawn by two cream-colored horses. Shortly afterwards, having successfully passed his examinations, he actually visited Spain for the first time and encountered all the details from his dream in reality (Jung 1951b: 522).

Jung's emphasis is generally on the first of these categories. He presents the scarab incident as a paradigm case (Jung 1951b: 526) and tries to assimilate the second and third categories to its basic pattern by writing that 'In groups 2 and 3 the coinciding events are not yet present in the observer's field of perception, but have been anticipated in time' (Jung 1951b: 526) - in other words, they are present to consciousness as though actually being perceived (see also Jaffé 1967: 270--1).

When Jung elaborates his thoughts in the 1952 essay, he introduces an important additional factor: a second psychic state (Jung 1952: 441--5). After first speaking, as in the 1951 essay, of the simultaneity of psychic and physical events (Jung 1952: 441), he later shifts to speaking of 'the simultaneous occurrence of two different psychic states' (Jung 1952: 444).


He explains that 'One of them is the normal, probable state (i.e., the one that is causally explicable), and the other, the critical experience, is the one that cannot be causally derived from the first' (Jung 1952: 444--5). If one wonders what has happened here to the physical event, it is understood as the 'objective existence' (Jung 1952: 445) of the 'critical' psychic event.


Jung is now claiming that the synchronicity actually consists of the coincidence not between the critical psychic event and its objective correlate but between the two psychic events:

'An unexpected content which is directly or indirectly connected with some objective external event coincides with the ordinary psychic state: this is what I call synchronicity'

(Jung 1952: 445).

For instance, in the apparently precognitive experience of Jung's student friend, the 'unexpected content' is the dream of the Spanish city with its square, its cathedral, and its carriage drawn by cream-colored horses, while the 'objective external event' with which the content is 'directly or indirectly connected' is the fact of seeing these things in reality.


The 'ordinary psychic state' - the new presence in the definition - we must suppose to be the ongoing state of mind of the student at the time of his dream. It is this ordinary state which is simultaneous with the unexpected content of the dream and which Jung, rather surprisingly, says 'coincides' with it.

This thinking receives unambiguous expression in the definition of synchronicity that occurs in the 'Résumé' added to the 1955 English translation of the principal essay.


With the specific aim of clearing up misunderstandings that had arisen, Jung writes:

By synchronicity I mean the occurrence of a meaningful coincidence in time. It can take three forms:

  1. The coincidence of a certain psychic content with a corresponding objective process which is perceived to take place simultaneously.

  2. The coincidence of a subjective psychic state with a phantasm (dream or vision) which later turns out to be a more or less faithful reflection of a 'synchronistic', objective event that took place more or less simultaneously, but at a distance.

  3. The same, except that the event perceived takes place in the future and is represented in the present only by a phantasm that corresponds to it.

Whereas in the first case an objective event coincides with a subjective content, the synchronicity in the other two cases can only be verified subsequently, though the synchronistic event as such is formed by the coincidence of a neutral psychic state with a phantasm (dream or vision).

(Jung 1955: 144--5)

This definition is clearly similar to the three-pronged 1951 definition summarized earlier. Now, however, instead of the coincidence in the second and third cases being between a psychic state and an objective external event which has been 'anticipated in time', it is between one psychic state and another psychic state (a 'phantasm') which is 'a more or less faithful reflection' of an objective external event.

For Jung's purposes, the advantage of introducing the normal psychic state is that it allows him to retain the notion of simultaneity in the case of each of his three categories of synchronicity, for in each case there is both a normal psychic state and an unexpected psychic content occurring simultaneously with it. The simultaneity of these two psychic states is not compromised no matter how great a separation there is either in space or in time between the unexpected psychic content and its corresponding objective external event.


Referring to the occurrence of the unexpected contents which mark the actual synchronicities - of whatever kind - Jung maintains that 'we are dealing with exactly the same category of events whether their objectivity appears separated from my consciousness in space or in time' (Jung 1952: 445).

However, for all its advantage in terms of preserving simultaneity, this definition is itself fraught with problems. First, it means that there are now actually two acausal relationships involved in the synchronicity: that between the two psychic events (Jung 1952: 444--5), and that between the second psychic event and the physical event with which it corresponds (Jung 1952: 447).


Though Jung says of the two critical events - the second psychic event and the physical event - that 'The one is as puzzling as the other' (Jung 1952: 447), he nowhere shows explicit awareness of the fact that he is claiming they are both, in different respects, acausal.

Second, any acausal relationship that may exist between the two psychic events will be virtually impossible to demonstrate. Since both events are intrapsychic, the possibility of there being some associative causal connection between them can scarcely be even improbable, let alone, as Jung requires, 'unthinkable' (Jung 1952: 518).


At any rate, it is not acausality of this kind, but of the kind between a psychic and a physical event, that Jung considered to have been so impressively demonstrated by Rhine's experiments.

A third problem is that of identifying the neutral psychic state at all. For example, we are able only to guess about the normal psychic state simultaneously with which the student's dream of the Spanish city took place. In the light of Aziz's work, one might identify this normal psychic state with the conscious orientation of the experiencer (Aziz 1990: 66) - in the student's case, a state of anxiety concerning his impending examinations.


The unexpected content which arises simultaneously with this conscious orientation would, according to Aziz, be an unconscious compensation serving the purposes of individuation (Aziz 1990: 66--7); the student's dream, for example, might have compensated his anxiety by impressing on him that he would indeed earn the trip to Spain by passing his examinations.


This compensatory relationship between the two psychic events is indeed acausal in that the conscious orientation does not cause the compensation but only provides the conditions in which it might occur. Again, inasmuch as the compensatory relationship is involved ultimately in the furthering of individuation, it is also meaningful.


However, even if this understanding proves workable up to a point, it also involves at least one notable discrepancy from Jung's explicit statements elsewhere: two psychic states in a compensatory relationship may be meaningfully related in terms of individuation, but they do not in any obvious sense have, as Jung specifies, 'the same or a similar meaning' (Jung 1952: 441). If they did, the one would hardly be compensated by the other.

As noted above, Jung's first theorizing about synchronicity was done with reference to astrology and the I Ching and focused on the fact that things arising in a particular moment of time all share the characteristics of that moment. It appears to have been this understanding of the role of time, an understanding in which simultaneity does indeed play an essential part, which led Jung to coin the term 'synchronicity', with its emphasis on the element of time (Gk. syn = together, chronos = time).


Later, Jung came to question the notion of qualitative time (Jung 1976: 176) and, under the influence of parapsychology and physics, began to emphasize instead the idea of the psychic relativization of space and time. That he nonetheless went to such lengths to uphold the component of simultaneity in the concept of synchronicity may have been because he wished to preserve enough of the original meaning of the concept to justify its continued use.

In any case, it is clear that Jung would have done better to drop the notion of simultaneity altogether in relation to synchronistic experiences, and instead to have operated consistently with the more flexible notion of space-time relativization.


He could in fact have done this and still highlighted the defining factor of time by giving more prominence to his characterization of synchronicities as 'acts of creation in time' (Jung 1952: 517), emphasizing their nature as spontaneous momentary states in contrast to constant or reproducible ones (see below on 'general acausal orderedness').


Jung's personal paranormal experiences confronted him with events which seemed inexplicable in terms of normal physical and psychological causes. There was, for example, no apparent cause of the walnut table splitting or the bread knife shattering in a closed drawer.


The impression Jung gained from events such as these, that normal causality was insufficient as a comprehensive principle of explanation, was later reinforced by the results of Rhine's experiments:

since experience [i.e., Rhine's experimental work] has shown that under certain conditions space and time can be reduced almost to zero, causality disappears along with them, because causality is bound up with the existence of space and time and physical changes, and consists essentially in the succession of cause and effect. For this reason synchronistic phenomena cannot in principle be associated with any conceptions of causality. Hence the interconnection of meaningfully coincident factors must necessarily be thought of as acausal.

(Jung 1952: 445--6)

Supporting these conclusions from another angle was Jung's cultural research into such pre-modern concepts as the 'sympathy of all things' and 'correspondences', and especially into the workings of the I Ching. This research made him aware of the fact that other kinds of connection than causality not only exist but have in fact received wide traditional recognition and been put to orderly cultural use.

Usually, however, when Jung attempts to explain what he means by calling synchronicity an 'acausal connecting principle', his first recourse is to the following argument based on quantum physics.

'The discoveries of modern physics', he informs us, '... have shattered the absolute validity of natural law and made it relative'

(Jung 1952: 421).

Since 'very small quantities [i.e., subatomic particles] no longer behave in accordance with natural laws', it follows that 'natural laws are statistical truths' (Jung 1952: 421).



The philosophical principle that underlies our conception of natural law is causality. But if the connection between cause and effect turns out to be only statistically valid and only relatively true, then the causal principle is only of relative use for explaining natural processes and therefore presupposes the existence of one or more other factors which would be necessary for an explanation.

(Jung 1952: 421)

This 'other factor' is Jung's 'acausal connecting principle'. He believes the above argument to have proved the existence of the principle in 'the realm of very small quantities' (Jung 1952: 421).


Regarding its existence in the realm normal sensory experience, he says:

We shall naturally look round in vain in the macrophysical world for acausal events, for the simple reason that we cannot imagine events that are connected non-causally and are capable of a non-causal explanation. But that does not mean that such events do not exist. Their existence - or at least their possibility - follows logically from the premise of statistical truth.

(Jung 1952: 421--2)

Presumably Jung emphasized this argument from physics because it promised to give his concept of acausality the greatest degree of scientific respectability and the most fundamental level of epistemological grounding. However, it brings with it several problems of its own. For instance, the fact that Jung's understanding of causality and acausality is so closely tied to physics threatens to make it too restrictive.


He himself clearly intended the notion of acausality to apply to psychological as well as to physical causes: synchronistic events are not caused by psychological states. Yet it is at least questionable whether physical terms alone are adequate to account for the dynamics of psychological causes. As John Beloff points out,

'the concept of cause was not invented by physicists, physics is merely one of the domains for its application, the concept as such is a very basic logical notion of wide generality'

(Beloff 1977: 577)

In response to Jung's claim that Rhine's parapsychological data have furnished 'decisive evidence for the existence of acausal combinations of events' (Jung 1952: 432), Beloff writes that it is,

'nonsensical to say ... that there are events that are related experimentally that are not related causally. For the crux of the experimental method is precisely carrying out certain procedures that we may call A so as to find out whether or not they are necessary in order to obtain a result B'

(Beloff 1977: 577).

If Rhine's experiments are indeed statistically significant and there is no way to account for them in normal causal terms, what they demonstrate, according to Beloff, is the existence not of absolute acausality but of some form of paranormal causality.

Even if one finds reasons to differ from Beloff's understanding of causality, it remains the case that many broader conceptions than Jung's are both possible and have in fact been regularly invoked not only in the ancient world (e.g., Aristotle's material, efficient, formal, and final causes [Ross 1928]) but also in the modern period (e.g., Sheldrake's hypothesis of formative causation [1981]), and not only in the West but also in the East (e.g., in Buddhist philosophy [see Kalupahana 1975]).


Whether one evaluates Jung's concept of acausality favorably or critically, it is important to bear in mind the restricted understanding of causality on which it is based.

Jung's actual argument for acausality involves two stages.

  • First, he argues that the inability of modern science to predict the behavior of subatomic particles proves that the relationship between the particles is not simply causal but must also involve some element of acausality.

  • Second, he argues that because this acausality exists in the microphysical world of subatomic particles, it ought also to exist in the macrophysical world of normal sensory experience. Both stages of the argument can be challenged.

It is certainly the case that, in Jung's day and still at present, the behavior of individual subatomic particles cannot be predicted other than probabilistically. But from this fact it does not necessarily follow that such behavior involves an element of irreducible acausality. It is true that subatomic randomness may stem from acausality, but then again it may not. And even if it does, this is not because such randomness itself implies acausality.


The acausal cannot simply be inferred from the merely probabilistic: if event A is followed by event B only seventy-five per cent of the time, this does not entail that B is not caused by A. In fact, since B, when it does occur, would not have done so but for A, it is reasonable to think that it has been caused by A.

It is even possible that the behavior of subatomic particles may turn out not to be irreducibly probabilistic but the result of deterministic factors which just happen to be too complex and subtle for scientists to discern at present. Since the emergence of chaos theory in the 1980s, it has become increasingly clear that apparently random or chaotic behavior can be just as much the product of regular causal factors as is conspicuously ordered behavior.


As the mathematician Ian Stewart has remarked, some scientists now appreciate,

'the ability of even simple equations to generate motion so complex, so sensitive to measurement, that it appears random' (Stewart 1990: 16), so that they 'are beginning to view order and chaos as two distinct manifestations of an underlying determinism'

(Stewart 1990: 22).

These considerations alone should make one wary of automatically discounting the operation of causality no matter how random and unpredictable certain behavior appears.

However, even without invoking chaos theory as such, a number of eminent physicists have been dissatisfied with the view which sees certain subatomic events as inescapably random and unpredictable. Einstein, for example, famously resisted the view of a universe in which 'God plays dice', that is, allows things to happen by pure chance. He initiated a search for 'hidden variables' - as yet unknown factors which could account causally for the seemingly random behavior of subatomic particles.


More recently this approach was also pursued by David Bohm who stressed that his was a 'causal interpretation' of quantum phenomena (Bohm 1990: 276--81).


Even a contemporary physicist who personally considers that there are indeed quantum phenomena for which,

'both theory and experiment converge in making the prospect of a causal explanation ... exceedingly unlikely' (Mansfield 1995: 32) nonetheless cautions that 'the key issues [in the acausality debate] are not yet fully resolved'

(Mansfield 1995: 80).

Let us suppose, however, that certain events at the subatomic level are genuinely acausal. Even so, the next stage of Jung's argument - that there must also be acausal events in the macrophysical world - does not follow, as he puts it, 'logically from the premise of statistical truth' (Jung 1952: 422). There is no reason to expect that a property existing on the subatomic level will also exist in the realm of normal sensory experience.


Perhaps what Jung had in mind was that the subatomic indeterminacy which he thought implied acausality could in some way be expected to be scaled up to the level of normal experience. If so, the very way in which probability operates in fact suggests the contrary: the indeterminacy attaching to an individual event on one scale will progressively diminish as one views ever larger aggregates of such events on a higher scale. Acausality on the subatomic level cannot prove or even make probable its existence on other levels.


What it can do, however, is to make its possible existence on those higher levels less intellectually outrageous (cf. Mansfield 1995: 50).

Problematic though the concept of acausality is, it is certainly not an incoherent or absurd notion. There is strong, if not conclusive, evidence that acausality does indeed exist on the subatomic level, and there are no a priori reasons that it should not also exist on the level of normal sensory experience. On the normal sensory level it may not be possible actually to prove either its existence as understood by Jung or the inappropriateness of explaining it in terms of broader conceptions of causality than Jung's.


Granted this limitation, a case remains for speaking of acausality in a relative and provisional sense, as applying to the relationship between events within a certain domain of consideration or level of current understanding (see Main 1996: 40--3, 154--5). As the paranormal events experienced and observed by Jung indicate, acausality appears to be an accurate enough term phenomenologically.


As his definitions of synchronicity also emphasize, it is an extremely useful concept psychologically inasmuch as it shifts attention away from the causes of events and onto their possible meaning.


Rather surprisingly, Jung nowhere sets out systematically his thoughts concerning what actually makes synchronicities meaningful. He does, however, provide a substantial clue to his implicit understanding when he states that 'by far the greatest number of synchronistic phenomena that I have had occasion to observe and analyze can easily be shown to have a direct connection with the archetype' (Jung 1952: 481).


Though he appears to recognize not one but several kinds of meaning that can adhere to synchronicities, all of these can ultimately be related back to the single factor of the archetype. Aziz, for example, has identified four levels of meaning referred to by Jung at different times.


These are:

  1. simply the fact of two or more events paralleling one another (the paralleling is by virtue of a shared content or meaning)

  2. the emotional charge or 'numinosity' attending the synchronicity (a source of non-rational meaning)

  3. the significance of the synchronicity interpreted subjectively, from the point of view of the experiencer's personal needs and goals

  4. the significance of the synchronicity objectively, as the expression of archetypal meaning which is transcendental to human consciousness

    (Aziz 1990: 64--6, 75--84; see also Main 1996: 155--79)

Aziz calls this fourth level of meaning the 'archetypal level' (Aziz 1990: 66). It is based on the fact that the archetype represents in itself a form of meaning which is 'a priori in relation to human consciousness and apparently exists outside man' (Jung 1952: 501--2).


Thus in synchronicities 'one and the same (transcendental) meaning might manifest itself simultaneously in the human psyche and in the arrangement of an external and independent event' (Jung 1952: 482).


In fact, each of the other three levels of meaning also depends on the presence of the archetype. The shared meaning by virtue of which two or more events are taken to be in a synchronistic relationship derives from an archetype (e.g., underlying the scarab symbol in both its psychic and its physical appearances is the archetype of rebirth).


Again, the numinous charge of synchronicities derives from the presence of an activated archetype - the association with such numinosity being precisely one of the characteristics of archetypes as presented by Jung (Jung 1952: 436). Third, the subjective level of meaning, insofar as this is evaluated with reference to the process of individuation, will also be based on archetypes, since it is the archetypes - shadow, animus/anima, self, etc. - which essentially govern individuation for Jung.

The appreciation of this archetypal foundation of synchronicities helps resolve a pervasive ambiguity in Jung's use of the phrase 'meaningful coincidence'. On the one hand, the 'meaning' referred to in this phrase is clearly the significance the coincidence has for the experiencer - ultimately, its bearing on the experiencer's individuation.


On the other hand, Jung also often uses the word 'meaning' to refer to the content that the coinciding events have in common: they have 'the same or similar meaning' or 'appear as meaningful parallels' (Jung 1952: 441).


Here what the coincidence might signify for an experiencer is not germane; one can, in fact, replace 'meaning' with 'content'. It is true that the two senses of 'meaning' do not exclude each other - the meaning/content can be meaningful/significant to an experiencer or observer - but it is equally true that they do not entail each other.


That Jung nonetheless moves ambiguously between the two different senses probably stems from the fact that for him the content of synchronicities is generally understood to be archetypal and therefore is bound also to be meaningful in the sense of significant.

The tension between the two understandings of 'meaning' is clearest in the case of parapsychological experiments such as those of Rhine. In these experiments what is important is primarily the paralleling of content between the image constituting the subject's guess and the target object.


It is this paralleling of content which leads Jung to assert that,

'Rhine's results confront us with the fact that there are events which are related to one another experimentally, and in this case meaningfully, without there being any possibility of proving that this relation is a causal one ...'

(Jung 1952: 435).

Whether the coincidence represented by the improbable number of successful guesses is also meaningful in the sense of being significant for the individuation or other personal needs or goals of the experimental subject is a question about which Jung appears to have remained uncertain. On the one hand, he acknowledges that Rhine's experiments 'contain no direct evidence of any constellation of the archetype' (Jung 1952: 440; see also Jung 1976: 399).


On the other hand, he suggests that such a constellation may nonetheless be present inasmuch as 'the experimental set-up is influenced by the expectation of a miracle' and 'A miracle is an archetypal situation' (Jung 1976: 537; see also Progoff 1987: 105--6).


Furthermore, the important emotional factor in the experiments, indicated by the decline effect, may also suggest the presence of an archetypal situation inasmuch as archetypal situations are typically 'accompanied by a corresponding emotion' (Jung 1976: 537).

Jung's astrological experiment

The section of Jung's 1952 essay on synchronicity which was most widely misunderstood when it first appeared was his astrological experiment. Indeed, many writers on synchronicity still tend to side-step this aspect of his work, dismissing it as, for example, 'peripheral' (Aziz 1990: 2) or 'fruitless' (Mansfield 1995: 33).


Others, however, have found Jung's experiment to constitute one of the most interesting and original features of his work and to have suggestive implications for the understanding both of statistics (Fordham 1957) and of astrology (Hyde 1992).

It may be that Jung himself was unclear initially as to what his experiment could be expected to demonstrate. Michael Fordham writes that 'At one time [Jung] really thought that if his [astrological] material proved statistically significant it would prove his [synchronicity] thesis' (Fordham 1993: 105) - a suggestion reinforced by Jung's remark in a letter to B. V. Raman (6 September 1947) that 'What I miss in astrological literature is chiefly the statistical method by which fundamental facts could be scientifically established' (Jung 1973: 476; see also Hyde 1992: 129--30).


Later, however, Jung was adamant that his experiment, as carried out, was never intended to prove anything about astrology or, through astrology, about synchronicity (Jung 1958a: 494, 497, 498). He had come to appreciate, Fordham suggests, that if the astrological material did prove statistically significant, 'it would make a cause for the data more likely' (Fordham 1993: 105), thereby undermining the synchronicity thesis.


Rather, what Jung hoped was that his experiment would 'on the one hand demonstrate the existence of synchronicity [i.e., allow for its occurrence and make it visible in the form of measurable results] and, on the other hand, disclose psychic contents which would at least give us a clue to the nature of the psychic factor involved' (Jung 1952: 450).


Arguably, he succeeded in both aims.

The key to an appreciation of the experiment is an understanding of Jung's use of statistics - a use which, as Fordham has remarked, is 'highly original and peculiarly his own' (Fordham 1957: 36).


As they are usually employed, Fordham explains,

Statistics distinguish between two sets of phenomena: those which are sufficiently ordered to indicate causal connections and to which the notion of prediction can be applied with considerable success, and those whose action is random and which as such obey the laws of chance where the notion of prediction is of little use.

(Fordham 1957: 36)

With synchronicities, however, Jung introduces a third set of phenomena, since,

'Considered statistically they will appear as chance, but they will not be due to chance; i.e. he cuts right across the duality chance-cause axiom on which statistics are based'

(Fordham 1957: 36).

Statistically, events are considered to be 'significant' (i.e., not chance) if their improbability rises above a certain level (technically, the 'Null hypothesis').


When they rise above this level of improbability, events are usually expected and found to have a cause. Since none of Jung's astrological results rose to such a level, they were unlikely to have been caused but were indeed chance happenings - which is what, as acausal events, he needed them to be. Thus, Jung's use of statistics 'had an aim exactly the reverse to the usual one. He used them to define the region in which synchronistic phenomena are most likely' (Fordham 1957: 37).

Rather than dismiss his results altogether because they did not rise to the level of statistical significance, Jung took the novel step of using the statistical distribution they presented as a monitor through which to investigate their possible psychological significance.


As he remarks:

'it is just as important to consider the exceptions to the rule as the averages.... Inasmuch as chance maxima and minima occur, they are facts whose nature I set out to explore'

(Jung 1952: 463).

Thus analysis of the three batches of 180, 220, and 83 pairs of marriage horoscopes showed the maximum frequencies to fall on the aspects respectively of moon conjunct sun, moon conjunct moon, and moon conjunct Ascendant. These are precisely the three aspects that astrological tradition would expect to turn up most frequently in marriage horoscopes, as Jung and his co-worker well knew (Jung 1952: 454--5).


Here, however, they have turned up in a way which is entirely random.


The horoscopes 'were piled up in chronological order just as the post brought them in' (Jung 1952: 459), and Jung decided when to begin analyzing the first batch for no better reason than that he was unable to restrain his curiosity any longer (Jung 1958a: 495).


As his subsequent analyses demonstrated, if the horoscopes had arrived in a different order or if he had waited until they had all come in and had analyzed them together, the three traditional marriage aspects would not have shown up with the same remarkable salience (Jung 1952: 479--80, 471--2).


He concludes that, since the resulting figures,

actually fall within the limits of chance expectation, they do not support the astrological claim, they merely imitate accidentally the ideal answer to astrological expectation. It is nothing but a chance result from the statistical point of view, yet it is meaningful on account of the fact that it looks as if it validated this expectation. It is just what I call a synchronistic phenomenon.

(Jung 1952: 477)

The fact that the result corresponded to the expectations of his co-worker and himself suggested to Jung that their psychic state might in some way have been involved in 'arranging' it, that there may have existed, in their case as with practitioners in the past, 'a secret, mutual connivance ... between the material and the psychic state of the astrologer' (Jung 1952: 478).


This conclusion was further suggested by his realization that in working on the statistics 'use had been made of unconscious deception', that he had been 'put off the trail by a number of errors' (Jung 1952: 478).


The curious thing about these errors was that they,

'all tend[ed] to exaggerate the results in a way favorable to astrology, and add[ed] most suspiciously to the impression of an artificial or fraudulent arrangement of the facts'

(Jung 1952: 479).

Jung remarks:

I know, however, from long experience of these things that spontaneous synchronistic phenomena draw the observer, by hook or by crook, into what is happening and occasionally make him an accessory to the deed. That is the danger inherent in all parapsychological experiments.

(Jung 1952: 479)

Fortunately, the errors in the astrological experiment were discovered in time and corrected (Jung 1952: 478). However, in the light both of these errors and of the remarkable correspondence between his expectation and the results he obtained, Jung conducted a further experiment to test for indications of possible psychic participation.


He got three people 'whose psychological status was accurately known' (Jung 1952: 473) to draw by lot twenty pairs of marriage horoscopes from a random assortment of 200. In each case, he found that the person's random selection of twenty horoscopes produced maximal figures which, while not statistically significant, corresponded surprisingly well with the known psychic state of the subject (Jung 1952: 473--5).


For example, one woman 'who, at the time of the experiment, found herself in a state of intense emotional excitement' drew horoscopes in which there was 'a predominance of the Mars aspects' (Jung 1952: 474). Inasmuch as 'The classical significance of Mars lies in his emotionality', this result 'fully agrees with the psychic state of the subject' (Jung 1952: 474).


This informal experiment appeared to confirm what had happened under more rigorously controlled circumstances in the main experiment. Without exceeding the levels of dispersion that would be expected due to chance, the data nonetheless patterned themselves in ways which corresponded to a known psychic disposition. If, however, the astrologer's psychic condition can indeed participate in the arrangement of the material being considered, this means that astrology may be more a form of divination and less a form of science than many of its practitioners would like to believe.


This conclusion has in fact been drawn by some astrologers and has led to a serious reassessment of their practice (see Hyde 1992).

The mind-body relationship

The relationship between mind and body is a source of unending perplexity for physicians, psychologists, and philosophers alike. Jung states a version of the problem as follows:

The assumption of a causal relation between psyche and physis leads ... to conclusions which it is difficult to square with experience: either there are physical processes which cause psychic happenings, or there is a pre-existent psyche which organizes matter. In the first case it is hard to see how chemical processes can ever produce psychic processes, and in the second case one wonders how an immaterial psyche could ever set matter in motion.

(Jung 1952: 505--6)

He then suggests, ambitiously, that,

'The synchronicity principle possesses properties that may help to clear up the body-soul problem'

(Jung 1952: 506).

The properties in question are the fact that the psyche can be meaningfully correlated with physical processes without any causal interaction - suggesting that the psyche may not need to be connected with the brain (Jung 1952: 505); and the hypothesis of 'absolute knowledge ... a knowledge not mediated by the sense organs' which provides the means by which this acausal co-ordination of mental and bodily processes can be possible (Jung 1952: 506).

In the light of this suggestion Jung examines a number of cases of out-of-the-body and near-death experiences (Jung 1952: 506--9) which, he concludes, 'seem to show that in swoon states, where by all human standards there is every guarantee that conscious activity and sense perception are suspended, consciousness, reproducible ideas, acts of judgment, and perceptions can still continue to exist' (Jung 1952: 509).


He considers this to 'indicate a shift in the localization of consciousness, a sort of separation from the body, or from the cerebral cortex or cerebrum which is conjectured to be the seat of conscious phenomena' (Jung 1952: 509).


There now seem to be two possibilities: either 'there is some other nervous substrate in us, apart from the cerebrum, that can think and perceive' or else 'the psychic processes that go on in us during loss of consciousness are synchronistic phenomena, i.e., events which have no causal connection with organic processes' (Jung 1952: 509).


Since there is evidence to support both possibilities (Jung 1952: 510--11), Jung remains uncommitted, concluding that 'psychophysical parallelism', by which he here seems to mean the mind-body relationship, is something 'which we cannot at present pretend to understand' (Jung 1952: 511; cf. Jung 1973: 76--7).

In the same period in which Jung was articulating his theory of synchronicity he was also giving serious thought to the possibility of there being a 'subtle body' that somehow mediates between the psyche and the physical body as we normally experience them (see, e.g., Jung 1973: 522--3; Jung 1976: 43--5).


Quite what the implications of this are for the theory of synchronicity is unclear. Jung's colleague C. A. Meier, for instance, considered psychosomatic phenomena to be synchronistic and as such actually to presuppose the existence of the subtle body (Meier 1963: 116).


Another colleague, however, Marie-Louise von Franz, argued that psychosomatic phenomena and other suggestions of the existence of a subtle body indicate rather a causal relationship between mind and body (Franz 1992: 249--51).


In support of her view she refers to Jung's intriguing suggestion - which he admitted was 'highly speculative, in fact unwarrantably adventurous' (Jung 1976: 45) - that the psyche and the body should be viewed as different manifestations of a single energy and their relationship be understood in terms of the transformation of this energy into greater or lesser states of 'intensification' (Jung 1976: 45).

General acausal orderedness

Synchronicities such as Jung's scarab case - presented by him as paradigmatic - typically manifest themselves as random one-off events. However, certain kinds of acausal phenomena display a greater regularity than this. The results of Rhine's parapsychological experiments were sufficiently reproducible to achieve a high level of statistical significance (see Jung 1952: 516).


Also, with mantic methods such as astrology and the I Ching Jung writes that 'Synchronistic phenomena are found to occur - experimentally - with some degree of regularity and frequency' (Jung 1952: 511). Again, if the mind-body relationship were found to be synchronistic - and Jung is at least open to this possibility - then this too would imply that acausality is not just 'a relatively rare phenomenon' (Jung 1952: 500, n. 70).


Above all, however, the conception of synchronicity as having to do solely with irregular one-off events was called into question for Jung by such factors as the properties of natural numbers and certain quantum phenomena such as 'the orderedness of energy quanta, of radium decay, etc.' (Jung 1952: 517). These are properties of the world which appear to have no deeper cause but are 'Just-So', i.e., acausal (Jung 1952: 516).


In the light especially of this last factor, Jung was forced to consider 'whether our definition of synchronicity with reference to the equivalence of psychic and physical processes is capable of expansion, or rather, requires expansion' (Jung 1952: 516).


He concluded that the definition was indeed too narrow and needed to be supplemented with the broader category of 'general acausal orderedness':

I incline in fact to the view that synchronicity in the narrow sense is only a particular instance of general acausal orderedness - that, namely, of the equivalence of psychic and physical processes where the observer is in the fortunate position of being able to recognize the tertium comparationis [i.e., the meaning by which the psychic and physical processes are related].

(Jung 1952: 516)

More specifically, synchronicity in the narrow sense is distinguished from general acausal orderedness in that phenomena belonging to the latter category 'have existed from eternity and occur regularly, whereas the forms of psychic orderedness [i.e., synchronicities] are acts of creation in time' (Jung 1952: 517).


He then adds:

'That, incidentally, is precisely why I have stressed the element of time as being characteristic of these phenomena and called them synchronistic'

(Jung 1952: 517).

This represents a significant shift of emphasis - if not a different view altogether, and possibly a more coherent view - from his earlier explanation in terms of simultaneity (Jung 1952: 441).

Jung's statements about general acausal orderedness are few but have attracted interest. For example, Jung several times expresses the view that natural numbers may prove particularly important for an understanding of synchronicity:

'I feel that the root of the enigma', he writes, 'is to be found in the properties of whole numbers'

(Jung 1976: 289; see also Jung 1976: 352, 400).

This hint has been taken up by von Franz in a number of publications (Franz 1974, 1980, 1992).

Epistemological status of the principle of synchronicity

'Synchronicity', Jung insists, 'is not a philosophical view but an empirical concept which postulates an intellectually necessary principle'

(Jung 1952: 512);


'It is based not on philosophical assumptions but on empirical experience and experimentation'

(Jung 1951b: 531)


From the material before him he claims that he 'can derive no other hypothesis that would adequately explain the facts (including the ESP experiments)'

(Jung 1952: 505).


Notwithstanding this last statement, it is 'only a makeshift model' and 'does not rule out the possibility of other hypotheses'

(Jung 1976: 437).

Other writers, however, have found aspects of the theory of synchronicity to be less free from metaphysical presupposition than these statements imply. Explicitly or implicitly, Jung's claims to an empirical status for his work are invariably based on an appeal to Kant's epistemological distinction between phenomena (things as they appear to human consciousness) and noumena (things as they are in themselves) - Jung's professed concern being solely with phenomena (see, e.g., Voogd 1984).


However, Wolfgang Giegerich has argued that many of the core concepts of Jung's psychology, including the concept of synchronicity, overstep the limits prescribed by Kantian epistemology:

'As long as Jung clings to his label "empiricist first and last," Kant would show him that he has no right to posit, for example, a psychoid archetypal level in which the subject-object dichotomy would be overcome'

(Giegerich 1987: 111).

This issue, as Giegerich implies, goes to the heart of Jung's psychology as a whole. Jung himself does appear to have been aware that his thinking on at least synchronicity sometimes shifts into metaphysics.


In a letter to Fordham (3 January 1957) he congratulates Fordham on his essay 'Reflections on the Archetypes and Synchronicity' (Fordham 1957) and remarks:

I well understand that you prefer to emphasize the archetypal implication in synchronicity. This aspect is certainly most important from the psychological angle, but I must say that I am equally interested, at times even more so, in the metaphysical aspect of the phenomena, and in the question: how does it come that even inanimate objects are capable of behaving as if they were acquainted with my thoughts?

(Jung 1976: 344)

Again, in a letter to K. Schmid (11 June 1958) Jung first asserts his empiricist position by stating that synchronicity 'is not a name that characterizes an "organizing principle"' but 'characterizes a modality' and therefore 'is not meant as anything substantive' (Jung 1976: 448).


However, he then admits that it can sometimes be legitimate to conceptualize beyond the bounds of what is empirically knowable so long as this conceptualization does not come,

'from my biased speculation but rather from the unfathomable law of nature herself ... from the total man, i.e., from the co-participation of the unconscious [in the form of dreams etc.]'

(Jung 1976: 448).


'This far-reaching speculation', he believes, 'is a psychic need which is part of our mental hygiene', adding, however, that 'in the realm of scientific verification it must be counted sheer mythology'

(Jung 1976: 449).

Thus, he is able to excuse some of his own more incautious statements regarding synchronicity: 'if', he concedes, 'I occasionally speak of an "organizer," this is sheer mythology since at present I have no means of going beyond the bare fact that synchronistic phenomena are "just so"' (Jung 1976: 449).


Again, after quoting a paragraph from his 1952 essay affirming the transcendental nature of the '"absolute knowledge" which is characteristic of synchronistic phenomena' (Jung 1952: 506), he admits that 'This statement, too, is mythology, like all transcendental postulates' (Jung 1976: 449).



Once formulated, the theory of synchronicity provided Jung with insights into a variety of subjects and areas of experience - some of them, not surprisingly, the very ones which had challenged him to develop the theory in the first place.

At the most fundamental level, synchronicity led Jung to speculate about the nature of reality. The fact, for instance, that in synchronistic events the same archetypal pattern of meaning seems capable of expressing itself independently in both psychic and physical contexts suggested to him that 'all reality [may be] grounded on an as yet unknown substrate possessing material and at the same time psychic qualities' (Jung 1958b: 411).


The synchronistic principle 'suggests that there is an inter-connection or unity of causally unrelated events, and thus postulates a unitary aspect of being which can very well be described as the unus mundus' (Jung 1954--55: 464--5).


This postulated unitary background to existence, in which the concepts of psyche and matter and space and time merge into a psychophysical space-time continuum, was where Jung considered the archetypes themselves, as opposed to their phenomenal manifestations, ultimately to be located. To express this ambivalent nature - at once psychic and physical yet neither because beyond both - he was led to coin the term 'psychoid'. The ability of the archetype to manifest synchronistically in independent psychic and physical contexts is itself an indicator of its fundamentally psychoid nature.

Regarding the phenomenal world rather than its hypothetical substrate, synchronicity, as a connecting principle complementary to causality, directs attention to a whole dimension of experienceable relationships between events which would be disregarded or marginalized by any exclusively causalistic view. On a general level, this helps create conceptual space for the acknowledgment of radically anomalous or paranormal events which might otherwise be denied.

More specifically, in the field of psychical research, the concept of acausal connection offers a fresh way of looking at the kind of phenomena usually designated as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, precognition, and so on. Each of these terms, Jung felt, perpetuates the expectation of finding some kind of energic and hence causal relationship between the events involved, whereas the concept of synchronicity focuses attention on the main relationship actually present in experience, namely, the meaningful coincidence of the events (Jung 1955--56: 464; Jung 1976: 538).


This implies a shift of emphasis away from seeking to discover some mechanism or means of transmission at work in the events and towards a potentially more illuminating exploration of their psychological background and meaning.

Even easier to overlook from the causal perspective are the kinds of meaningful acausal connections which constitute the correspondences upon which divinatory and similar forms of esoteric thinking are based. As Jung's astrological experiment demonstrated, these connections, unlike the more radical anomalies, often do not even achieve the salience of statistical significance, and so would in many cases not be noticed at all if one were not sensitized to their possibility by one's awareness of the principle of synchronicity.

There are also many important implications for the practice of psychotherapy. For example, Jung recognized that states of mind, such as bad conscience, can sometimes express themselves synchronistically in the thoughts and feelings of another person (Jung 1963: 60--1; Jung 1958d: 450--1) or even through the arrangement of events in the environment (Jung 1963: 123--4).


In this light, it is not surprising that the occurrence of synchronicities can play various kinds of role in the transference/counter-transference relationship - sometimes providing crucial insight to either the analyst or the patient (Gordon 1983: 138--44), at other times marking a critical or even fatal moment within the relationship (Jung 1963: 136--7).


Again, Jung points out the possibility, on the part of certain patients, of interpreting genuine synchronistic events as delusions (i.e., the delusion of believing that quite ordinary events have special reference to them).


Therapists capable of understanding synchronicity,

'not as a psychotic but as a normal phenomenon' will be able to avoid the therapeutically negative consequences of the patients' - and, if they are not sensitive to synchronicity, their own - 'morbidly narrow' interpretation

(Jung 1976: 409--10).

Spiritual experience is another area to which Jung's theory of synchronicity has been applied, both by himself directly and by others elaborating on implications of the theory. Thus, the crucial role of synchronicity within Jung's overall psychology of religion has been clearly demonstrated by Aziz (1990).


In particular, Aziz argues that synchronistic experiences enable one to view Jung's core religious process - individuation - not just intrapsychically but as involving the world beyond the psyche. Synchronicity therefore provides the key to freeing Jung from the criticism of psychological reductionism often leveled at him by theologians (Aziz 1990: 179--84).

On the personal level, Jung's own visionary experiences of union, which attended his near-fatal illness in 1944, can also be understood in the light of synchronicity. Although he does not himself directly apply the concept of synchronicity to these experiences, his characterization of them in terms of 'a quality of absolute objectivity' and of 'a non-temporal state in which present, past, and future are one' (Jung 1963: 275) clearly reflects the 'absolute knowledge' and 'space-time relativity' involved in synchronicities.


In fact, his sense of his visions as representing a kind of mystic marriage between self and world (the hierosgamos or mysterium coniunctionis: Jung 1963: 274--5) suggests that they may actually constitute an experiential realization of the unitary dimension of existence (the unus mundus) towards which he considered the more familiar forms of synchronicity to be pointing.

Jung is more explicit concerning the implications of synchronicity for the question of possible life after death. For epistemological reasons, he does not think one can actually prove that there is survival of death, but he considers it significant that the unconscious psyches of people approaching death generally present dreams and other spontaneous imagery which imply an expected continuity (Jung 1934: 410--11; Jung 1963: 278--80).


The hint provided by this is supported by two different aspects of synchronicity. On a general level, he argues that the space-time relativization involved in synchronicity implies that the psyche 'exists in a continuum outside time and space' (Jung 1976: 561; see also Jung 1934: 412--15; Jung 1963: 282--3).


Although we do not know in detail what 'existence outside time' is like, we can at least infer that it is 'outside change' and 'possesses relative eternity' (Jung 1976: 561) - grounds for supposing that it may not end with the death of the body. More concretely, he considers that certain synchronistic phenomena that occur in relation to death - veridical dreams and apparitions, for instance - can express the idea of survival also in terms of their content (Jung 1963: 289--92).

Jung sometimes refers to synchronistic events as miracles, though it is clear that he does so only in a loose way and certainly without any expectation of having to provide theological backing for his usage (e.g., Jung 1976: 537, 540).


Occasionally, however, he does address the issue of traditionally designated religious miracles and on these occasions sometimes refers to synchronicity. Thus, speaking of the identity of Christ the 'empirical man' with 'the traditional Son of Man type', he says:

'Wherever such identities occur, characteristic archetypal effects appear, that is numinosity and synchronistic phenomena, hence tales of miracles are inseparable from the Christ figure'

(Jung 1976: 21).

At other times he suggests that explanations for apparent miracles, such as the case of Brother Klaus living twenty years without material sustenance, should be sought more specifically in the realm of parapsychology and mediumistic phenomena (Jung 1950/1951: 660). Even here, however, the implication is that the sustained paranormal phenomena constituting the miracle are synchronistic archetypal 'effects' rendered possible by the maintaining of a numinous religious attitude (cf. Jung 1976: 576).

Finally, Jung also had recourse to the concept of synchronicity when attempting to account for the baffling reports of UFOs. He had kept a close eye on this phenomenon since its emergence in the mid 1940s and recognized that it seemed to have both a physical aspect (the fact that UFOs are not only seen but are sometimes simultaneously picked up on radar) and a psychic aspect (the fact that they 'provoked, like nothing else, conscious and unconscious fantasies' [Jung 1958b: 313]).


He was unable to decide, however, which was primary - whether there were indeed physical events followed by the fantasies, or whether the fantasies and visions were arising independently from an activated archetype (Jung 1958b: 313).


In this perplexity he invokes synchronicity as a third possibility, suggesting that there may indeed be an anomalous physical phenomenon involved but that this meaningfully coincides with, rather than causes, the accompanying fantasizing or myth-making, which does indeed have its own independent reasons for surfacing at this time (Jung 1958b: 313, 416--17).

These examples should suffice to indicate how Jung's theory of synchronicity can provide, if not conclusive explanations, at least some stimulating new perspectives on a wide range of anomalous phenomena.


The theory of synchronicity brings more fully into awareness the experiential reality, the complexity, and above all the potential meaningfulness of paranormal events.


In doing so, it perhaps furthers what Jung once described as the 'uncomprehended purpose' of 'any nocturnal, numinous experience':

'to make us feel the overpowering presence of a mystery ... shaking our certitudes and lending wings to the imagination'

(Jung 1958c: 328--9).


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