Synchronicity and the Nature of Reality
- By Paul Cochrane
- Jul 17
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The concept of miraculous coincidences is not at all new. The phenomenon has been recognized by many cultures, and in the distant past, was attributed to the acts of the Gods. In Greek mythology, the God Hermes, was represented as a playful "trickster" who was manifested in unexpected and humorous events. The same type of character was known by various names in different cultures.
Exceprt from The Mind Of God, Human Destiny, Music, and the Search
for Meaning Amidst Tragedy (chapter 9)
You don't see something until you have the right metaphor to perceive it.
-- Diane Larsen Freeman
The concept of miraculous coincidences is not at all new. The phenomenon has been recognized by many cultures, and in the distant past, was attributed to the acts of the Gods. In Greek mythology, the God Hermes, was represented as a playful "trickster" who was manifested in unexpected and humorous events. The same type of character was known by various names in different cultures. To the Native Americans, he was known as "Ictinike," to the Polynesians as "Maui," "Krishna" to East Indians, and "Loki" to some tribes of Europe. The modern equivalent might be illustrated with a character named "Q" in the popular science fiction book and television series Star Trek. Q was a vastly advanced human with nearly inexhaustible powers, who would appear on the Star Trek space ship, producing mischief and misdeed. Eventually Q's father, a being of superior power and wisdom, would intervene and scold him for his improprieties.
The unexpected nature of synchronicity gives it a humorous twist, as seen in many historic events. Charles Darwin was working on his treatise about "survival of the fittest" in 1844, when he received a manuscript from A.R. Wallace, a biologist unknown to him. Darwin later wrote:
I never saw a more striking coincidence. If Wallace had my M.S. sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters.
Surprisingly, synchronicity has captured the attention of some well-respected scientists. As one might suspect, the scientists have experienced it themselves! Carl Jung said the synchronistic events he witnessed in his life might appear unbelievable, yet he couldn't deny their reality!
Jung once counseled a woman he described as having a disposition of total rationality. She couldn't free herself from this attitude to explore things from a different perspective. One day, she was in his office describing a dream about an Egyptian scarab beetle. To the Egyptians, the scarab was a symbol of rebirth or new awakening. Jung heard a tapping on the window behind him and turned around to see that just such a beetle was bumping against his window! Catching the beetle, he presented it to his patient. The occurrence of such an irrational event so stunned her way of thinking that it provided the breakthrough for his treatment of her problems!
Another synchronistic experience described by Jung, involved his analysis of the fish symbol. He believed symbols in legend and literature were universal indicators of an underlying psychic structure common to all. He'd been studying the significance of the fish for some time, when the following chain of events occurred on April 1, 1949.
Finishing an inscription containing a figure that was half-man, half-fish, Jung went out to lunch, and was served fish. Someone at the meal, with a slip of the tongue, mentioned the custom of making an "April fish" of someone. Later that afternoon, a former patient he hadn't seen in months showed him some pictures of fish. That evening, someone showed him a piece of embroidery filled with fish. The next morning, a patient he hadn't seen in ten years, described a dream she had the night before about a large fish. A few months later, after writing about this series of events to use in another paper, he walked to the bank of a lake. He'd been to the same spot several times already that morning, and no one else was present. Now, however, there was a sizable fish laying on the sea wall with no explanation for how it got there.4
Wolfgang Pauli was a Nobel prize winning physicist contemporary with Jung, who predicted the existence of the neutrino in 1930, 26 years before it was confirmed by experimentation. He also developed the exclusion principle, which states that no two electrons can occupy a planetary orbit within the atom, and he helped in championing the quantum theory of physics. Interestingly, Pauli experienced many synchronistic events in his lifetime.
While studying the behavior of subatomic particles, Pauli became enamored with mirrors and their reflections as a model for particle behavior. A friend wrote, making fun of his obsession with mirrors. Pauli wrote back, quoting the legend of Perseus and the Medusa.
In the mythical tale, the Medusa was a monster said to be so ugly that men would turn to stone if they gazed at her. Perseus used his shield to see her reflection and thus was able to slay her.
Shortly after sending this reply, Pauli received a paper from a former student he hadn't heard from in years. The paper was about a fungus called Mykes, which is light sensitive. Mykes in Greek means "mushroom." Shortly thereafter, he read an essay on Jungian philosophy about symbolism in the story of Perseus. It described how Perseus founded the town of Mykenea after killing the Medusa. According to the story, Perseus found and dug up a mushroom, and in the process, caused a spring of water to come forth from the ground. Thus, the town Mykenea was named after that mushroom. Upon reading this, Pauli burst into hysterical laughter.5 This, and other synchronistic events he witnessed, caused him to explore outside the accepted rationality of science.
Arthur Koestler, in his book The Challenge of Chance, says it was appropriate for Pauli to develop the exclusion principle and also be one of the first to recognize limitations in the experimental method. In the exclusion principle, he showed the behavior of electron orbits made it appear as if there was a force operating, yet no known force was identifiable. In a similar manner, he felt that unseen forces might be operating on scientific apparatus, placing great limitations on the experimental observer.
Pauli was having great personal difficulties when he became acquainted with Carl Jung. Jung described him as a very one-sided, intellectual man. At his request, Jung began counseling with Pauli, starting with an analysis of his dreams. He was intrigued to find the physicist's dreams paralleled some of the symbolism in alchemy, the mystical teachings of medieval times. He later incorporated this discovery into a paper titled Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy. Pauli's dreams culminated in what Jung called a "conversion" experience.
Pauli had a dream, or vision, that he called the "world clock." This was a figure that included two perpendicular discs contained within a golden ring. On the horizontal disc, four little men were holding pendulums, and the vertical disc had the hands of a clock. The figure was covered with numbers Jung recognized as being similar to those used in the Kabbalah, the mystical teachings of the ancient Hebrews. Jung interpreted the figure as being symbolic of the conscious and unconscious aspects of Pauli's inner balance. For Pauli, it also seemed to represent the orderly nature of the universe. He found the dream provided a cure to his inner turmoil and began collaborating with Jung on some of his theories.
Pauli saw parallels between modern physics and Jung's theories of consciousness. He even postulated a revision in the theory of evolution.
It was assumed in the past that mutations within species occurred at random, and natural selection, then, favored the more desirable traits. More recently, however, scientists have pointed out that the selection of mutations by chance alone would have taken much longer than the age of the earth would allow for. Pauli suggested Jung's concept of synchronicity might account for how stressed organisms could produce changes in physical reality more quickly than by chance.
As time passed, it became well known among the physicists of Europe, that the presence of Pauli often produced catastrophic failure in experimental apparatus. This became so pronounced that it was humorously dubbed: "The Pauli Effect"! It seemed uncannily symbolic of Pauli's break with traditional thinking, considering his belief in the limitations of the experimental method.
With Pauli's helpful insights, Jung eventually completed his book, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Jung recognized meaningful connections between psychic and physical events, but the events appeared to exist outside of time, space, and causality. The existence of synchronicity has been recognized by other scientists as well, but it has eluded a clear explanation. Postulated theories include Kammerer's theory of "seriality," and Bohm's theory of an "implicate order." Jung described synchronicity as: "acts of creation in time." He believed the subconscious was somehow producing a physical manifestation in external reality. The significance of a synchronistic event, however, is not only its occurrence beyond all reasonable probabilities, but its meaning to those involved. One rather humorous case is described in the book Incredible Coincidence.
Dr. Tom Leonard, a professor of Statistics at the University of Warwick, Coventry, England tells of a new professor of Statistics giving his first lecture. He flipped a coin to demonstrate the 50-percent probability of it landing either way. The coin landed on a polished floor, spun around a few times, and came to rest vertically on its edge, whereupon, the class came to their feet in thunderous applause! The odds of this occurrence have been calculated at a billion to one!6
This incident might seem to have no significant meaning, therefore not qualifying it in the strict definition as synchronicity. However, we have no way of knowing how the event affected the lives of the instructor or the students. It's possible that the improbability of it may have encouraged a student to pursue a particular field of study or to approach all theories with an attitude of discretion. Thus, it would only have been meaningful to that individual. Synchronistic events may occur that way, by involving several people, but only representing a meaningful relationship to one.
The principles of probability are well established, such that synchronicity might seem like a strange, occasional exception. But in the quantum mechanics realm of subatomic particles, strange, improbable occurrences seem to be the norm.
An experiment performed in May 1997 by a team from the University of Geneva showed that a measurement carried out on one photon particle had an instantaneous and identical effect on another photon, although separated by nearly seven miles! Physicist Nicolas Gisin, the team leader, said it was the equivalent of having two persons seven miles apart flipping coins. Each time one person would grab the coin out of the air his colleague's coin would simultaneously stop spinning and always land identically! This was repeated thousands of times in a row! Any connecting force would need to travel faster than light, something thought to be an impossibility. It implies an inter-connectedness or "whole" aspect inherent within matter itself.
The experiment was actually proposed in 1935 as the "EPR" paradox, by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen. It was presented as a thought experiment whose paradoxical result was originally intended to show that the "uncertainty principle" was a measurement problem not a problem of what would actually occur. In 1964, physicist John Bell turned the idea into a testable hypothesis by developing an equation called "Bell's inequality." The EPR paradox was first verified experimentally in 1981, although the photon separation in that experiment was only a few meters. Appropriately, it's called "Quantum Synchronicity."