Synchronicity and the Collective Unconscious

Synchronicity is a term coined by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung which he defined as the “temporally coincident occurrence of acausal events.”  In other words, synchronicities are meaningful coincidences – highly improbable, highly significant, serendipitous happenings.  When it is clear that there is no cause-and-effect connection between two events, yet a meaningful relationship nevertheless exists, this is synchronicity.  Jung believed synchronicity is an acausal connecting principle of our collective unconscious through which we are shown mystical glimpses of meaningful connections between our subjective and objective worlds, divine bridges between our inner and outer experiences.

“Synchronicities are revelations of the absence of any division between the physical world and inner, psychological reality. Synchronistic events are ‘lucidity stimulators,’ neon-signs from the dreamlike nature of the universe to help us wake up to its, and our, dreamlike nature. Just like a dream, mind and matter are not separate, distinct realities, but rather, are seemingly different fundamental components of the same deeper, underlying reality that has both an external-matter aspect and an internal-mind aspect.”  –Paul Levy, “God the Imagination”

The blurring of boundaries between consciousness and matter challenges everything we are taught in traditional Western thinking. From a very early age we are urged by our parents, teachers, and religious leaders to draw clear lines between the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective,’ the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal,’ the existent and the non-existent, or the tangible and the intangible. However, a reality that is very similar to Jung’s acausal universe is becoming recognized in modern science, notably in quantum-relativistic physics … It was Jung’s recognition of phenomena that exist outside cause and effect that led him to define synchronicity as an ‘acausal connecting principle.’  Meaningful coincidences between the inner world – the world of visions and dreams – and the outer world of ‘objective reality’ suggested to Jung that the two worlds were not as clearly separated as we might think.”  -Stanislav Grof, “The Holotropic Mind” (169)

Have you ever experienced visions or emotional pangs related to some person or incident outside your sensory experience?  Have you ever had déjà vu or coincidences so meaningful yet improbable that it boggled your mind?  Have you ever had a friend or relative pop into your head and then seconds later the phone rings and it is them?  Myself and many others have experienced such synchronicities, all of which can only be seen as chance/coincidence in a Newtonian world, but have special meaning in a Jungian, consciousness-based world.

How many times have you gone to call someone on the phone, and found that he or she was already on the line when you picked up the receiver … or when you dialed the number, you discovered that the line was busy because your pal was calling you?  On how many occasions have you found yourself enjoying time with friends in a busy street, mall, or airport, only to have the eerie feeling that you’ve already been in that place or with those people before, doing exactly what you’re doing at that moment?  While these simple examples are fun to talk about, they’re more than random coincidences.  Although we may not be able to prove scientifically why these things happen, we all know that they do.  In such moments of connectedness and déjà vu, we find ourselves spontaneously transcending the limits imposed by physical laws.  In those brief instances, we’re reminded that there’s probably more to the universe and us than we may consciously acknowledge.”  -Gregg Braden, “The Divine Matrix” (57-58)

I have personally experienced many synchronicities, déjà vu’s, and prophetic dreams which have convinced me that something like Jung’s acausal connecting principle truly does exist within consciousness outside of space and time.  For instance, one night in college I actually dreamed of a conversation that I would be having the next day and experienced paradigm-shattering déjà vu as I found myself enacting my dream in reality.  Stunned in revelatory paralysis, the dream came flooding back to me and I realized that I was standing in the exact place, wearing the exact clothes, and having the exact discussion that I had dreamt.  Suddenly it occurred to me that I knew exactly the entire next sentence my friend was about to speak, so I quickly snapped out of the reverie and said the whole sentence along with her verbatim simultaneously.  My friend then stared at me dumbfounded as I laughed and tried to explain.

Another time, a few years ago I was meditating and started to feel a tight clenching at my solar plexus so I tried to relax, took a deep breath and exhaled with an Om.  The very second I finished my Om breath, the electricity in my  3rd floor apartment room, all the lights and my digital clock, went dark for 2 seconds then came back on.  Shocked, I phoned my friends on the 2nd and 5th floors to see if their power had gone out and it hadn’t.  This meant at most the power went out only on my floor and perhaps only in my room!  Perplexed and curious I then said a little prayer to “God,” my “higher self,” or whatever aspect of the one consciousness was listening, and said, “it seems like that was more than just a coincidence, if that was some kind of sign, could I please have another one?”  And so the next day I was downstairs in my girlfriends’s room watching the cartoon South Park on DVD, the episode where Cesar Millan comes to deal with Cartman.  Just as Cesar finished saying the words “you must express the dominant energy,” the lights, the television, everything went dark once again, then came back on 2 seconds later and the DVD somehow skipped back and said once again “express the dominant energy.”  “Express the dominant energy” coinciding with 2 power outages, my meditation, and my asking for a sign was quite an odd, memorable and mysterious synchronicity for me.

Most of us have encountered strange coincidences that defy ordinary explanation. The Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer, one of the first to be interested in the scientific implications of this phenomenon, reported a situation where his tram ticket bore the same number as the theater ticket that he bought immediately afterward; later that evening the same sequence of digits was given to him as a telephone number.  The astronomer Flammarion cited an amusing story of a triple coincidence involving a certain Mr. Deschamps and a special kind of plum pudding. As a boy, Deschamps was given a piece of this pudding by a Mr. de Fortgibu. Ten years later, he saw the same pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and asked the waiter for a serving. However, it turned out that the last piece of the pudding was already ordered—by Mr. de Fortgibu, who just happened to be in the restaurant at that moment. Many years later, Mr. Deschamps was invited to a party where this pudding was to be served as a special rarity.  While he was eating it, he remarked that the only thing lacking was Mr. de Fortgibu. At that moment the door opened and an old man walked in. It was Mr. de Fortgibu who burst in on the party by mistake because he had been given a wrong address for the place he was supposed to go.”  -Stanislav Grof, “The Holotropic Mind” (171)

Metallic scarab isolated on white

Jung was treating a woman whose staunchly rational approach to life made it difficult for her to benefit from therapy.  After a number of frustrating sessions the woman told Jung about a dream involving a scarab beetle.  Jung knew that in Egyptian mythology the scarab represented rebirth and wondered if the woman’s unconscious mind was symbolically announcing that she was about to undergo some kind of psychological rebirth.  He was just about to tell her this when something tapped on the window, and he looked up to see a gold-green scarab on the other side of the glass (it was the only time a scarab beetle had ever appeared at Jung’s window).  He opened the window and allowed the scarab to fly into the room as he presented his interpretation of the dream.  The woman was so stunned that she tempered her excessive rationality, and from that point on her response to therapy improved.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (78)

These kinds of anecdotes are not exactly “scientific” but due to the very nature of synchronicities, science and the scientific method are unfortunately ill-equipped to offer any insight into such intangible, immeasurable, and subjective phenomena. However, for many people who have personally experienced such highly improbable, unbelievable synchronicities, confirmation from science is unnecessary because like a glimpse behind the veil, they are given a kind of gnosis, an intuitive recognition of the subtle interplays between consciousness, space, time and matter.

In a mechanical universe where everything is linked by cause and effect, there is no place for ‘meaningful coincidences’ in the Jungian sense. In the practice of traditional psychiatry, when a person perceives meaningful coincidences, he or she is, at best, diagnosed as projecting special meaning into purely accidental events; at worst he or she is diagnosed as suffering from hallucinations or delusions. Traditional psychiatrists either do not know about the existence of true synchronicities or they prefer to ignore the concept. As a result they may wrongly diagnose ‘meaningful coincidences’ as the result of serious pathology (delusions of reference). In many cases of spiritual emergencies, where valid synchronicities were reported, people have all too often been hospitalized unnecessarily. Had those experiences been correctly understood and treated as manifestations of psycho-spiritual crisis those same people might have been quickly helped through approaches supporting spiritual emergence, rather than undergoing all the problems that unnecessary hospitalization entails.”  -Stanislav Grof, “The Holotropic Mind” (173)

Physicist F. David Peat believes synchronicities are very real phenomena which provide circumstantial evidence for an absence of division between the outer physical world and our inner psychological worlds.  He states that “the self lives on but as one aspect of the more subtle movement that involves the order of the whole of consciousness.”  It has been an arduous process, but as explored in the first chapter, quantum physics is slowly dragging the world of “rational science” kicking and screaming to the realization that staunch materialism is untenable, and concepts like Jung’s collective unconscious are not so fantastic or fanciful after all.

Jung himself was fully aware of the fact that the concept of synchronicity was incompatible with traditional science and he followed with great interest the revolutionary new worldview that was emerging from developments in modern physics. He maintained a friendship with Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum physics, and the two of them had a very fruitful exchange of ideas. Similarly, in personal communications between Jung and Albert Einstein, the latter explicitly encouraged him to pursue the concept of synchronicity because it was fully compatible with the new thinking in physics.  Sadly, however, mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists have still not caught up with the revolutionary developments in modern physics and Jungian psychology.”  -Stanislav Grof, “The Holotropic Mind” (173-4)


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