Synchronicity & Coincidence
Though we will define synchronicity more precisely and technically for our needs, synchronicity is generally seen as the simultaneous occurrence of two ‘meaningfully-connected’ but ‘acausal’ events.
When we say ‘meaningfully-connected’ we denote a meaning ascribed by the observer to the event, and this is independent of whether or not the event inherently carries such meaning with it, or whether this is projected onto the event by the observer. We will later distinguish between these two.
Events are ‘acausal’ when they do not originate from the same cause or event. For instance, from the window my desk overlooks, we can see my neighbor’s door. We notice that whenever it rains he leaves his home attired in red. The traffic signal on the corner is also always red at this time. The second of these events is acausal; the first is not. The cause of the redness of his dress is due to an ulterior fact: that his only raincoat is red; and being the sort of man he is, he would not leave his home on an overcast day without it. The redness of the traffic signal is coincidental through the intermittence of the signal.
Note that one would be correct in dismissing the redness of the traffic signal as a ‘coincidence’; one would be incorrect in doing so for the first. And this is due simply to the notion of causality: that there is a cause, even if we know not what it is, or ascribe it incorrectly.
Now let us say, that knowing nothing of traffic signals, we repeated the experiment a hundred times and improbable as it may seem, every time my neighbour steps out the traffic signal is red. Then these two events are synchronous and acausal. They are acausal, only because we know the interior workings or the mechanics of the traffic signal to be independent of weather.
Now imagine that upon further investigation, we learn that he commutes to work. The city bus runs on a fixed schedule. He himself is meticulous and leaves his house everyday at precisely seven-thirty, so he can be at the city bus stop exactly one minute and thirty seconds later. We take apart the traffic signal and study its logic further. The traffic signal is synchronised via microchip on a controller board, and these necessarily break up time in the same units that the city bus runs on (seconds), that our neighbor’s clock runs on and also that his conception of time depends on. It is natural that if he synchronizes himself to his watch; then he enters a world in which time is measured and its effects proffered out discretely. If it is red the first morning at that time, it will be red the following morning at that time, unless the traffic signal’s programming has changed, his alarm clock loses time, or he fails in his usual meticulousness and leaves the home after the fifty second window of time in which the traffic signal remains red, before it switches green and begins the cycle anew.
Now we have understood why after one hundred experiments, the traffic signal was red the moment he emerged from his door. We have explained away the synchronicity and so further established the acausality. This is a critical point. In a direct chain, all causal events are contiguous, but not all contiguous events are causal. Furthermore, all causality is directional: the rain causes the use of the raincoat, and not vice-versa. Indolence of the mind often obscures this fact, and causality is mistaken for identity. Thus in an unexamined mind superstition takes root, and we often acquire the imbecile notion of reversing the chain of causality (as in for instance, wearing red in order to make it rain), especially when we have no understanding of the mechanics behind the events.
Philosophically, synchronicity does not compete with the notion of causality, but subsumes it. It maintains that just as events may be grouped by cause in time (temporal contiguity being the necessary empirical factor), they may also be grouped by meaning. By ‘meaning’ we understand their energy signature, and that all living things, human beings included, constitute energy fields. Thus in the same way that particles in space can be bound together invisibly by a gravity field, we can have elements in time bound together by significance or meaning intrinsic to that element.38
Note that the development of this line of theory leads invariably to the conclusion that such synchronistic events reveal an underlying pattern, a conceptual framework that encompasses, and is larger than any system displaying synchronicity. In this way, the existence of a larger framework is necessary to the definition of synchronicity and is necessarily presupposed by it.39 Jung for instance, believed that synchronistic events are the manifestation of parallel events or circumstances in terms of meaning or significance reflecting this governing dynamic. The Scientist will see that the Universe is reactive and intelligent and the Mystic will see meaningful communication in such synchronous events: it will mean to him a constellation of powers at least, and the Qabalah will be the means of deciphering the communication.
In fact, it is difficult to speak of synchronicity without evoking Jung’s popular work in the exploration of this phenomenon. He is even credited with coining the term ‘synchronicity’ by some, and credited with the discovery of the phenomenon by others; neither of which are accurate.
Jung however, did believe (naively perhaps) that modern physics could explain synchronicity. He appealed to aspects of Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics and went so far as to discuss these ideas earnestly with both Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli in the hopes of arriving at a cohesive scientific theory on the question. Jung was transfixed by the notion that life was not a series of random events but rather an expression of a ‘deeper Order’. Together with Pauli, they referred to this Order or syncreticism as Unus mundus. This Unus Mundus implied that a human being was both embedded in an intelligent and conscious framework and (to Jung) was the focus of that framework. These were more than intellectual realizations, but implied in Jung’s view, a personal transfiguration.40
Jung describes synchronicity as “the experience of two or more events, apparently causally unrelated, that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner.”
The following is a famous example commonly employed in the university classroom to describe a synchronous event:
The French writer Émile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that, in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room.
This attempt at finding patterns within coincidence inevitably involves apophenia. Because “a meaningful manner” is a perfectly subjective term or quantifier, this statement is rampantly liable to projection error as we discuss at length in the next section on Syncreticism. Synchronicity in and of itself can not constitute Proof nor Argument for such a governing dynamic. However, a contiguous series of such events does begin to constitute strong evidence.
Before we can address these concerns however, we are faced with the unfortunate fact that these definitions of synchronicity lack any definable, deterministic terms. We would better confine ourselves to what is empirical and verifiable, and build our definitions and the scope of their applicability upon these, than attempt an all-inclusive, all-encompassing model. We define synchronicity then, as the simultaneous occurrence of a series of events (contiguous in time) in the same location (contiguous in space) sharing a direct syncretic correspondence.
Note this definition depends on two empirical factors:
- Temporal contiguity of two or more events (Contiguous in space x contiguous in time = temporal contiguity).
- Syncretic correspondence.
Temporal contiguity then, is a physical fact determined by events E1 and E2 occurring at the same time t at the same place x.
Syncretic correspondence is determined by a translational application of the Keys and tables of correspondences such as those presented in this book. Direct experience of the phenomenon should present an endless supply of ‘noise’ phenomenon all in direct and perfect correspondence to these.
This statement has a number of advantages over Jung’s concept of synchronicity. First, it further reduces the scope of synchronistic applicability and thus reduces our data sets, making our verifiability tests more rigorous. Second, the factors are phenomenological and so quantifiable and empirically verifiable. Finally, we can infer relational definitions directly: Synchronicity depends on two or more events (E1,E2,…,En )occurring in temporal contiguity (same time t and place x) and in syncretic correspondence (Q).
Now, Q or syncretic correspondence is inferential: It is a variable whose function (or value in the field of time) varies with and depends upon the events (E1,E2,…,En), so that Q is a function of E. Thus if p(Ei) denotes the probability of event Ei occurring in syncretic correspondence, then Q becomes a multiplicative probability function where the probabilities can be discrete or continuous, but certainly definable.
Thus, Synchronicity becomes a factor of Q =1 – ∏i=1(i=n)p(Ei)
The Book of Results, Equinox, Vol I No VII, provides an elementary example of this sort of analysis:
How W. knew R.H.K.
- Force and Fire (I asked her to describe his moral qualities).
- Deep blue light. (I asked her to describe the condition caused by him. This light is quite unmistakable and unique; but of course her words, though a fair description of it, might equally apply to some other.)
- Horus. (I asked her to pick out his name from a list of ten dashed off at haphazard.)
- Recognised his figure when shown. (This refers to the striking scene at the Boulak Museum, which will be dealt with in detail.)
- Knew my past relations with the God. (This means, I think, that she knew I had taken his place in temple, etc., and that I had never once invoked him.)
- Knew his enemy. (I asked, “Who is his enemy?” Reply, “Forces of the waters—of the Nile.” W. knew no Egyptology—or anything else.)
- Knew his lineal figure and its colour. (A 1/84 chance.)
- Knew his place in temple. (A 1/4 chance, at the least.)
- Knew his weapon (from a list of 6).
- Knew his planetary nature (from a list of 7 planets.)
- Knew his number (from a list of the 10 units).
- Picked him out of (“a”) Five . : indifferent, “i.e.” arbitrary (“b”) Three symbols.
We have no mathematical expression for tests 1, 2, 4, 5, or 6. But the other 7 tests give us the following probabilistic calculations: 1/10 x 1/84 x 1/4 x 1/6 x 1/7 x 1/10 x 1/15 which yields a 1 in 21,168,000 chance.
The above provides us with an example of how a simple probabilistic calculation can give us quantifiable means of determining synchronicity and the valence/magnitude of that synchronicity. These can be useful in providing empirical evidence to satisfy Science’s or one’s own burden of proof requirements. They are sufficient argument for rationalists and may provide mathematical proof via the application of limits and the law of large numbers. However, the practitioner will require more stringent standards for verifiability; that is, he/she must admit no error.
38 (See Hume and other Rationalists on the notion of Causality).
39 As in the case of the neighbor and the traffic signal. A coincidence is always just a coincidence until one ‘sees the meaning behind it’; that is the observer endows the event with a meaning it may not have had. The question here isn’t (yet) whether this ‘meaning’ is illusory or not, but whether it ‘informs’ the event.
40 These ideas are presented fully in Jung’s Eranos lectures, which he developed and explored further with the Nobel-laureate physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Their findings were published and are available.