SYNCHRONICITY

An article for the Encyclopedia of Creativity ( Academic Press, 1999)

by

Jane Piirto

Ashland University

I. Psychology

II. Biology

III. Physics

IV. Cosmology

V. Creativity

 

Formative causation - A hypothesis proposed by biologist Rupert Sheldrake: all biological and chemical systems at all levels of complexity are organized by morphic fields. Under standard conditions anywhere in the world, permutations in one morphic field will occur more readily over time in similar organisms through inheritance of habits.

 

Implicate Order: A theory by physicist David Bohm. The universe is organized from within as well as from without. The implicate order underlies and enfolds all matter.

 

Morphic resonance: According to Rupert Sheldrake, "Formative causation is the kind of causation responsible for form, structure, and pattern, and the causal influence on this is the morphogenetic field, morphic field, from the Greek word morphi meaning form. Each kind of thing has a field which gives its form, pattern, field or structure. This field is like the plan, the shaping influence has the kind of form it does because of its memory by the morphogenetic fields .  An influence of similar things on subsequent similar things. Fields have a kind of inherent memorywithin them that is nonmaterial but physical. The gravitational field is physical, it has physical effects, part of nature, but it's not material in the sense it's made of matter."

 

Trickster: a mythological character found in many cultures, who transforms aspects of the world and who plays pranks. Often in the form of the raven, the coyote, the spider, the mink, the bluejay, or the rabbit, in North American Indian cultures; of the monkey in Asian cultures; of Hermes and Prometheus in Greek mythology; of Loki in Norse mythology.

 

The simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state and in certain cases, vice-versa. Synchronistic events rest on the simultaneous occurrence of two different psychic states. One is the normal, probable state (the one that is causally explainable) and the other, the critical experience, is the one that cannot be derived causally from the first. (pp. 25-28)

1. A woman in therapy dreamed of receiving a scarab pin. While she was describing the dream, Jung heard a buzzing rap at the window. There, simultaneous with the woman's story, was a golden beetle, similar to the Egyptian scarab beetle, which is a symbol of rebirth in Egyptian mythology. This was an example of synchronicity in which a psychic state simultaneously occurs with an external event that coincides with the content of the state.

2. A woman saw birds gathered outside the rooms in which her grandmother and mother died. Jung was treating her husband for a neurosis. The man seemed to exhibit signs of heart trouble. Jung sent him to see a doctor. The man was given a clean bill of health. On the way back home after his appointment with the doctor, with the papers in his pocket, the man collapsed of a heart attack. The woman reported that soon after he husband had gone to the doctor, she saw a flock of birds land on their house. She remembered what had happened at the deaths of her mother and grandmother, and was very fearful. Her fears were justified. Jung said this was an example of synchronicity where the woman's unconscious had already perceived the danger to her husband. The first two incidents of birds landing were coincidences that set up a correspondence in her that could only be proved when the man's dead body was brought home.

3. A man in Europe dreamed the death of a friend in America. The next morning he received a telegram that the friend had died an hour before the dream occurred. Jung said that such experiences commonly happen almost simultaneously with the event, just before, or just after it happens. The person had unconscious knowledge of the event.

The two necessities for synchronicity to take place are (1) the presence of emotion; and (2) an unconscious image which comes to consciousness either directly or indirectly. The melding of space and time are crucial and how the energy is transmitted is not known, and perhaps unknowable. Jung said that there is no explanation for the transmission of energy in these cases.

He conjectured about three different ways of understanding synchronicity, focusing on how intuition has worked in a way that is statistically significant.

(1) one could look at the ESP experiments which provided statistical empirical evidence that such events exist. In the ESP experiments, the subjects did better when the tasks were fresh and their emotion and interest was focused.  As the tasks repeated, boredom set in, and they did not do as well. This shows that emotion is indeed necessary for synchronicity to occur. (2) If we look at the Chinese way of holistically seeing the world, rather than the western way of seeing the world by analyzing small parts and generalizing to the whole, we can see that the concept of synchronicity is more explainable. The ancient Chinese practice I Ching, based on the concept of the Tao, where one throws stalks of yarrow (or, in the west, three coins) in order to grasp the meaning of an event or to predict the future, is based on intuitive principles. (Jung did much work with the I Ching and first used the word synchronicity at the funeral of his friend Richard Wilhelm, who had translated the I Ching. When an intuitive person who understands the 64 mutations of Yin and Yang interprets the tosses, the interpretation taps into the inner knowledge of the person which is the same as the person's psychological state at that time. This state is synchronous with the chance falling of the coins or sticks. Thus the results are meaningful but there is no cause or explanation for the meaning.

(3) Jung settled on another intuitive technique based on ancient science, and that was astrology. He conducted an experiment with 80 married couples and found that their signs were compatible to a degree that was statistically significant. A mathematician colleague of Jung's looked at the data and found that 25 percent of the couples had signs that were compatible. Of course, the other 75 percent did not. Jung said such astrological coincidence has little chance of being proved by mathematical law, and that astrologers would argue that probability mathematics is not subtle enough to decipher the many permutations that influence the married couple's charts and signs.

Jung reviewed historical antecedents to the idea of synchronicity, cautioning, that the rationalistic view of people in the West is not the only possible explanation for events, and in fact, the rationalistic view shows short-sightedness, prejudice, and bias. He cited the western practices of astrology, alchemy, and mantic practices such as tarot and I Ching as being open to synchronicity.

Jung referred to Schopenhauer's idea of the unity of primal cause,  Leibniz's idea of pre- established harmony, and Kepler's idea of a geometrical principle that underlies the physical world. Jung said there must be some girding idea or principle which can explain these seemingly coincidental happenings. Noting that both primitive and medieval people did not doubt the existence of synchronicity as explanation for seemingly acausal events, Jung asserted that it is the role of psychology and parapsychology to take into account the fact that synchronicity might explain such events.

Jung pointed to dream analysis, and focused on his principle of the collective unconscious, which is an underlying species memory, common to homo sapiens, that is expressed in archetypes, overarching mythic figures which appear similar in myths and fairytales in all societies. They are primordial images that exist in the unconscious and surface in dreams, images made in art forms such as poetry, painting, and music, and in fantasy, delusions, and delirium states of people alive today. In 1961 Jung stated that the form of archetypes is comparable to the form of a crystal, which is preformed in the liquid from which it rises, even though it does not exist materially by itself.

Jung worked with physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who postulated that synchronicity is the fourth pole in a unity of time, space, and causality. Pauli pioneered with his explication of the exclusion principle, which stated that electrons cannot share the same path of orbit in an atom. This led Pauli to assert that quantum physics did not uphold the idea of universal principles and thus began the era of "new physics." Pauli and Jung proposed an addition to classical physics, that of synchronicity. Figure 1 shows this.

In 1980 Arthur Koestler described synchronicity as even more enigmatic than ESP such as telepathy and precognition. Humans have been infatuated with such riddles since the beginning of mythology. These riddles contain the perhaps accidental and coincidental meeting of unrelated events which seem to have no cause, but which also appear to be very important and significant.

Koestler felt that Jung's relating synchronicity to the idea of the collective unconscious was a mistake. Koestler applauded Jung for working in concert with the physicist Pauli as he developed his theory. While Jung used Pauli as a "quasi" tutor in theoretical physics, Koestler faulted Jung for not following up on Pauli's ideas, but rather descending into the obscure by attributing synchronicity to the collective unconscious and to archetypes. Koestler said, "This was sadly disappointing but it helped turn synchronicity into a cult word" (p. 664).

Synchronicity in Biology

Synchronicity is expressed by the principle of morphic resonance in formative causation described by Rupert Sheldrake. According to Sheldrake in 1994,  "the hypothesis of formative causation suggests that self-organizing systems at all levels of complexity ù including molecules, crystals, cells, tissues, organisms, and societies of organisms ù are organized by æmorphic fields.'" These fields include morphogenetic fields which have to do with the how organisms, molecules, and even crystals inherently remember what previous bodies have done.

The case of the blue tits is an example. Over time, ornithologists noticed that small blue tit birds learned to pierce the tops of milk bottles left on the doorstep in the morning in Great Britain. The phenomenon was first reported in 1921. By 1947 the behavior had been noticed throughout Europe. Blue tits do not usually travel far from their homes and live only two or three years. In the Netherlands, milk delivery had been all but stopped during World War II.

When milk delivery resumed in 1947 and 1948, the blue tit behavior also resumed. Sheldrake used this as an example of how organisms remember habits established by previous generations.

Sheldrake said that space and distance do not matter to morphic resonance, for information and not energy is exchanged. That is, the universal principles of space and causality do not apply. The hypothesis of morphic resonance explained by formative causation explains the patterns and events in nature to be "In effect, this hypothesis enables the regularities of nature to be understood as regulated by inherited habits and not by universal and eternal underlying principles.

Mechanistic science after Descartes took for granted that there were universal principles that were inviolable, and that the task of science was to discover these principles. Thus memory was "stored" in cells in the brain or body; Sheldrake said this was not true; memory is part of a collective memory of the species inherited from former members of the species. In 1994 Sheldrake said that this is a concept similar to Jung's concept of the collective unconscious: "The hypothesis of morphic resonance enables the collective unconscious to be seen not just as a human phenomenon but as an aspect of a far more general process by which habits are inherited through nature" (p. 117).

Sheldrake commented that these two hypotheses ù of formative causation and of morphic resonance ù may seem mysterious, but the mechanistic idea that there are laws of mathematics that transcend nature are more mysterious, as they also rely on a metaphysical explanation for what happens in nature.

Synchronicity in Chaos Theory

In 1987 Ervin Laszlo formulated a hypothesis about mathematical wave functions that assemble themselves into forms and nested patterns or psi-fields. Laszlo theorized that once patterns are made, they probably will occur again. This is an expression of creativity in the universe, or cosmos.

Synchronicity in the New Physics

In physics, the principle of correspondence was cited by Niels Bohr to illustrate the discontinuum between the particle and the wave. Bohr later changed the term to "argument of correspondence." The idea of correspondence is related to the concept of the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages, who talked of the "sympathy of all things," and to the Greek philosophers such as Plato who postulated an underlying ideal form.

David Bohm expressed the theory of the implicate order, which is the order that underlies what is external, or the explicate order. The implicate order is part of and contains the explicate order. Bohm saw the universe as a hologram, where each part is enfolded into each other part. The synchronicity in this theory is that locality disappears. Time, space, and causality are not evident in events that happen. What may seem to be creativity may instead be the expression of synchronicity. Bohm also proposed a superimplicate order, which may contain a unifying principle. Intuition may be an expression of the superimplicate order functioning to perceive the implicate order and therefore the explicate order. The notion of the "sixth sense" is similar to the notion of synchronicity.

Synchronicity and Creativity

These and other theories evolving simultaneously from many branches of knowledge converge in the root definition of creativity, which means "to make." The root of the words "create" and "creativity" comes from the Latin cre tus and cre re. This means, "to make or produce," or literally, "to grow." The word also comes from the Old French base kere, and the Latin crescere, and creber. The Roman goddess of the earth, Ceres, is an example, as is the Italian corn goddess, Cereris. Creativity as a word has roots in the earth. Other similar words are cereal, crescent, creature, concrete, crescendo, decrease, increase, and recruit.

The Dictionary of Developmental and Educational Psychology in 1986

defined creativity as "man's capacity to produce new ideas, insights, inventions

or artistic objects, which are accepted of being of social, spiritual, aesthetic,

scientific, or technological value." In 1988 the Random House Dictionary of

the English Language, Unabridged Edition noted that creativity was an ability,

the ability to "transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the

like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc."

Synchronicity has thus two relationships with the concept of creativity.

First is that seemingly acausal coincidences may jar a person to have new

ideas, to see the old in new ways, and force a person to pay attention and

perhaps change the old ways of behaving, acting, doing, making. Second is

that in the new cosmology where universal principles have been shown not to

exist (except perhaps in Jung's concept of the collective unconscious and in

Bohm's of the superimplicate order) creativity is found in the constantly

evolving and perhaps accidental forms and patterns that are being developed.

The former may be illustrated with the following: A woman

wakes up. Last night she dreamt about a coyote coming out of a

cave and licking her hand. At the dentist, she flips through a

fashion magazine and sees there a new perfume called Coyote, in

which the model is dressed in Indian fashion, petting a coyote. She

goes to work and receives a letter from a man called William

Coyote who wants her to give a speech at his school. At lunch she

tells her friend about these unforeseen coincidences. Her friend

pulls from her purse a novel she is reading. It is called Coyote

Justice. By the fourth coincidence, the woman has a strong feeling

that there is something going on. She and her friend talk about the

coyote as trickster in American Indian mythology. This begins a

search that leads the woman to a life change as she begins to

embrace the significance of the trickster figure in her life. These

coincidences with no seeming cause are called "synchronicity."

An example of the latter is the following, as explained by Sheldrake. When

random mutations occur, organisms must react in new ways. Organisms adapt

to the genetic mutation by making a creative leap which synthesizes into a new

pattern. These patterns are instituted by morphic fields, which get more

powerful and instill habits into the organism if the organism is preserved

through natural selection.

Thus the creativity that gives rise to new bodily forms and to new patterns of

behavior is not explained by the random mutations alone. It involves a creative response

upon the part of the organism itself and also depends on the ability of the organism to

integrate this new pattern with the rest of its habits. (p. 141)

Thus synchronicity is basically creative whether at the level of the atom,

the molecule, the cell, the organism, or the system. Enigmatic, inscrutable,

mysterious, seemingly acausal, playful and funny, synchronicity makes us

laugh, cry, pay attention, and shake our heads in amazement. In 1996 Combs

and Holland stated it well: "Nothing is closer to the heart of the experience of

synchronicity than the feeling that the world itself expresses creativity in

synchronistic coincidences. Such coincidences often have more the feel of

poetry than physics" (p. xxxiii).

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Boym, D., & Hiley, B.J. (1993). The undivided universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory. New York: Routledge.

Combs, A., & Holland, M. (1996). Synchronicity: Science, myth, and the trickster. New York: Marlowe & Company.

Jung, C.G. (1973). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle. Tr. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, dreams, reflections. Tr. R. & C. Winston. New York: Vintage Books.

Koestler, A. (1972). The roots of coincidence. New York: Random House.

Koestler, A. (1980). Bricks to babel. New York: Random House.

Laszlo, E. (1987). The psi-field hypothesis. IS Journal 4, 13-28.

Sheldrake, R. (1994). The rebirth of nature: The greening of science and god. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

 

Thus the creativity that gives rise to new bodily forms and to new patterns of behavior is not explained by the random mutations alone. It involves a creative response upon the part of the organism itself and also depends on the ability of the organism to integrate this new pattern with the rest of its habits. (p. 141)

 

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boym, D., & Hiley, B.J. (1993). The undivided universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory. New York: Routledge.

Combs, A., & Holland, M. (1996). Synchronicity: Science, myth, and the trickster. NewYork: Marlowe & Company.

Jung, C.G. (1973). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle. Tr. R.F.C. Hull.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, dreams, reflections. Tr. R. & C. Winston. New York:Vintage Books.

Koestler, A. (1972). The roots of coincidence. New York: Random House.

Koestler, A. (1980). Bricks to babel. New York: Random House.

Laszlo, E. (1987). The psi-field hypothesis. IS Journal 4, 13-28.

Sheldrake, R. (1994). The rebirth of nature: The greening of science and god. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Figure 1. THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD

 

 

SPACE                                              TIME

 

 

 

 

 

CAUSALITY                                      SYNCHRONICITY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME