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Synchronicity and Acausal


Connectedness - Jim Fournier

Jim Fournier
Spring 1997PAR 667
David Ulansey
Introduction

This is an attempt to say something coherent about synchronicity. A


task which may be impossible as it seems that the very nature of
these phenomena is to confront one with a direct experience of
paradox in which our categories of mind, matter and time fail. Any
deep apprehension of synchronicity must necessarily leave one with
the sense of having encountered an awe inspiring mystery.
Nevertheless, it seems that there may be a potential to frame the
problem more systematically than has so far been achieved.

Much, indeed most, of the material currently in print on synchronicity


seems to spend more time referring back to Jung, what Jung
thought and what Jung said, than actually trying to grapple with
primary data in any systematic way. I feel that this is a serious error
for several reasons. In the first place, although Jung was the first
figure in modern times to articulate the issue and gave the
phenomenon the name synchronicity, Jung's style in the face of
paradox was to contradict himself. Secondly, even if his elucidation
of the questions had been flawlessly systematic (which it most

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certainly was not) the subject at hand should be the actual realm of
phenomena, not one person's thoughts about this realm. To allow
the discussion to degenerate into a debate about Jung's views on
the topic (which were hopelessly contradictory anyway) is only to
insure that the entire field of inquiry will never gain any credibility in
the larger world of ideas.

Definitions
Without going into Jung's various definitions of synchronicity for the
moment, if you asked most people, and some dictionaries, the
simple definition of synchronicity would be: a "meaningful
coincidence." These two words raise many questions. First, what is
a coincidence, meaningful or otherwise? The most obvious answer
is that two (or more) events appear to coincide (in time) but there is
no obvious causal connection between them. It might be more
accurate to say that it is our experience of two events which
somehow seems to coincide. Another way to say this would be to
say that we recognize an associative connection or discern a pattern
in events, but can see no mechanism to account for the apparent
connection between them. To a rational reductionist the term "just a
coincidence" is as unitary as "damn Yankee" was in the old South.
The rational implication being that any apparent connection is only
an illusion brought about by the inherent ability of our minds (brains)
to see pattern even where none "actually" exists.

It is important to recognize that there is also a further implicit


assumption in our definition of synchronicity; at least half of the
pattern exists "out there" in matter, as opposed to "in here" in our
minds. It is easy to see why, if both halves of the association occur
on the interior side of perception, the experience is less troubling, at
least to an outside observer. For the mind itself may be mysterious

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and troubling, but it does not call physics into question. Two ideas
arising together in the mind is far from unusual, but is instead
merely regarded as normal thought. From the psychologized
Jungian viewpoint most definitions of synchronicity have built into
them the idea that half of the pattern always originates in an entirely
interior experience, most often in a dream, which is then confirmed,
mirrored or reflected by some event or experience in the exterior
material world of consensus reality. It is not surprising that a
psychotherapist obsessed with analyzing dreams would first
encounter synchronicity in this context, but what is odd is that
definitions of the term synchronicity which include this as a
necessary condition would continue to be parroted without question
over half a century later.

This brings us to the second word in our definition: "meaningful."


This word is by far the most difficult and troubling of the two. I will
not attempt to define meaning at this point, but will instead review
some of the various approaches to it in the context of synchronicity.
At one extreme is the narrow view of synchronicity advocated by
Victor Mansfield. He asserts that only those experiences which
contribute to one's "individuation" (a Jungian term meaning psycho-
spiritual growth) should be called "synchronicity" experiences. By
inference, to Mansfield, only those experiences sufficiently
contributing to this Jungian individuation process would be
"meaningful." Mansfield then asserts that all experiences of
coincidence which do not fit this narrow definition should be classed
as expressions of (Jung's) acausal connectedness. He (Mansfield)
then goes on to assert that those astrological experiences which
contribute (sufficiently) to one's individuation may be correctly
classed as synchronicity experiences, while all other astrological
coincidences are merely expressions of acausal connectedness. I
find Mansfield's distinction bizarre and artificial, largely because it is

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too late. The cat is out of the bag. Synchronicity has a functional
definition in popular culture which is not about to be constrained by
Mansfield or any Jungian apologist even if they did make sense.

Mansfield's argument becomes even more self-contradictory when


one realizes from Marie-Louise Von Franz's more comprehensive
treatment of Jung's works that Jung himself apparently most often
used the term "general acausal connectedness" to refer to invariant
physical constants and the individual qualitative properties of the
natural numbers. In other words he used this term to describe the
predictably observable properties of the world which (apparently)
could not be explained by any causal argument. These phenomena
are inherently different than those unique phenomenological
experiences which Mansfield is now attempting to redefine the term
"acausal connectedness" to apply to. In this case I do not think that
Jung's use of the term "general acausal connectedness" is
necessarily any better than Mansfield's, but Mansfield would have
been wiser to instead coin his own new term to describe only his
subset of synchronicities which involve seminal experiences in one's
psycho-spiritual growth or "individuation process". So, from
Mansfield we find that the narrowest definition of "meaningful" might
be only that which contributes to one's "individuation".

Jung himself often tried to build into the definition of synchronicity


some connection to his own term the "archetype." "(Synchronicities)
seem to manifest only when an archetype is constellated in the
collective unconscious." Thus by inference we might conclude that
to Jung "meaning" was somehow tied up with the archetypes. I find
this line of argument involving the definition of synchronicity through
"the archetype" to be the most circular and damaging to the whole
field of inquiry into synchronicity. It is essentially definition by
tautology. It is asserted that the archetypes are not things. It is

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asserted that they can not be defined concretely but always


contaminate each other. It is asserted that they do not cause
anything. About the most concrete thing we do know about the
archetype is that they are associated with emotional, or at least
psycho-spiritual intensity, and that they represent patterns of content
which transcend individual experience. So empirically what we really
have is a very slippery term for a "transpersonal pattern" associated
with "psychic intensity." Even Von Franz admits that the Archetypes
might just as well be called "patterns of human behavior". Jung
asserts that synchronicities only happen when an archetype is
"constellated" i.e. present. Well this brings us back to the same
problem as Mansfield's narrow definition of synchronicity. Is an
unexplainable coincidence only "meaningful" if it involves some
deep psycho-spiritual transformation of the individual psyche? Jung
himself asserts that "such synchronicities must represent only a
small part of a larger continuum." Thus we see that Jung himself
was at the root of the confusion as to the definition of meaning in
synchronicity experiences.

Jung was in a sense right in all the various possibilities that he


affirmed, but his lack of systematic rigor laid the foundation for even
greater confusion in a field already inherently riddled with paradox. I
can point to many of my own experiences of meaningful
coincidences which do not involve any hint of a Jungian archetype
being "constellated", nor did they contribute noticeably to my
"individuation" apart from their incremental contribution to my overall
apprehension of a general acausal interconnectedness of absolutely
everything. My point is that there are a vast realm of different types
of experiences which in modern popular culture are now referred to
under the general rubric of synchronicity but Jung is going to be of
absolutely no help in sorting out and categorizing this primary

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phenomenological data. Indeed many of the terms or definitions he


left us are so confused and conflated that we are likely to be better
off to start over from scratch.
Before I launch into a more detailed discussion of these I should say
something about my own functional definition of "meaning". It seems
to me that what is really implicit in both Jung's definition of the
archetype and in the popular intuitive definition of synchronicity is
pattern recognition, our ability to distinguish figure from ground. To
discern pattern is to distinguish the meaningful from the
meaningless. The Jungian archetype is essentially a pattern which
we are able to infer from a collection of images, words and feelings.
In the case of the archetype these patterns seem to be
transpersonal, that is they transcend and pervade individual human
experience. So by this definition, what is common to all
synchronicity experiences is that they involve pattern recognition.
And the existence of the patterns in question can not be explained
by any normal mechanism. Thus they stand out from the
background of our normal expectations about the behavior of
material reality. I believe that it is this violation of our rational
expectations about the relationship between matter and
consciousness which is in and of itself meaningful. In some cases
the pattern may be part of a larger pattern which Jung characterized
as an archetype, but it need not be for the pattern to be noticed, and
I hold that it is the act of apprehension of some discontinuity with our
expectation of reality which constitutes a synchronicity experience.
They are almost always psycho-physical. That is they challenge our
notions of mind and matter, and frequently also call into question our
notion of time and hence causality. This was at the root of Jung's
choice of the word synchronicity, suggesting things coming together
in time. Indeed Marie Louise Von Franz, following Jung, asserts that
one cannot imagine a synchronicity not involving coincidence in
time, but instead involving coincidence in space. This seems to be

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an example of very limited imagination uncharacteristic of Von


Franz. It seems to me that all that would be necessary would be to
repeatedly have a similar unlikely event happen at the same place at
different times. In any case, most actual synchronicities do seem to
involve internal and external events coming together in time without
any apparent cause, or even possibility of a cause according to
Einstein locality i.e. no communication faster than the speed of light.

Maps of Mind and MatterObviously the details of exactly which


expectations of the behavior of reality are violated in what way by
any particular incident are manifold and varied. But it may only be in
the detailed exploration and articulation of exactly which rules are
violated in what way that any larger meta-patterns concerning a wide
range of phenomena may emerge. For example, if one allowed
telepathy, which synchronicities would be adequately explained, if
one allowed communication from the dead, if one allowed telekinesis
etc. I have found in my own thought experiments based on this
approach to the analysis of my own synchronicity experiences that
the paradoxes in most transcend even these and other categories,
but I believe it may still be a useful exercise. Especially as it is
premature to discount the possibility that we are actually dealing
with a variety of phenomena which have been lumped together out
of our own ignorance. To date I have not encountered any attempt to
organize and categorize such data, much less conduct the thought
experiments necessary to articulate the paradoxes in detail. Only by
doing so would we begin to have an understanding of which
expectations of science are violated in what ways by which
phenomena, and what if any adjustments to existing theory might
hope to accommodate, if not account for, the primary
phenomenological data.

To instead assert an idealist philosophy such as Middle Path

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Buddhism as Victor Mansfield does is, I believe, an irresponsible


position for a scientist to take in the face of the challenge. This is not
to say that an idealist philosophy may not be correct in the deepest
analysis, but the problem of the scientific endeavor is to articulate in
detail how things work, not to explain philosophically why. Even if
everything is a consequence of the one Mind, we are still left with
the problem of how the details of the appearance of reality residing
within Mind are constrained. We have through science been able to
articulate those patterns of constraint and predictability in great
detail. We are now faced with a realm of data which seems to
contradict or at least to lie perpendicular to that line of inquiry. It is
not enough to assert an idealist philosophy and ignore the problem,
especially for physicists such as David Peat or Victor Mansfield.

The tack taken by Pauli and Jung seems more productive. Though
Jung's attempt to make a perfectly valid linear dichotomy into a four
fold system seems forced and unconvincing. Pauli and Jung point
out that causality and what the Chinese regarded as "the tendency
of things to arise together" might be seen as two complimentary
aspects of reality. This complementarity might be seen as a parallel
to the wave particle paradox wherein the result one gets is
dependent upon how one asks the question and designs the
experiment. Thus, as Von Franz points out, an act of divination
designed to take a reading of the particularity of a situation might be
seen as the exact reciprocal complement to a statistical program of
many measurements designed to determine what is most invariant.
One can in a sense know one or the other, but not both from any
particular experiment. Thus, divination might be seen as being to
particularity what probability is to predictability.

When it comes to particularity there is a deeper implicit question of


the relationship between mind and matter which so far has been

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systematically excluded from causality. Jung for the most part paid
homage to this keystone of rational reductionism in the realm of
causality, asserting that in all questions of synchronicity
consciousness apriori is not causal. For the most part it has
consistently been shown not to be in statistical investigations. Yet,
Jung may have been too quick to concede the point in the realm of
the particular. We will return to this point later. Jung did however
make a significant contribution to modern thought with his
(re)introduction of the idea of a Unus Mundus, a deeper unified
realm underlying both mind and matter. This idea is in many ways
similar to David Bohm's idea of the implicate order, a rigorous
interpretation of the mathematics of modern science which has been
criticized by other physicists for not leading to any new testable
hypotheses. In a sense they are correct, but then the same criticism
should apply to the Copenhagen, and all of the other, interpretations
of quantum mechanics. Yet, the implicate order provide the most
effective bridge so far advanced for integrating the troubling
phenomena of consciousness which most other scientists are still
trying to ignore. However, precisely because it is largely an
interpretation of existing mathematical physics, even Bohm's
concept still lacks a rigorous link between consciousness and
physics, and thus between synchronicity and science.

It was Jung's very quest to be seen as "scientific," what I might call


his "science envy," which I believe may have been responsible for
some of the most unfortunate linguistic baggage which we are now
saddled with in the discussion of synchronicity phenomena. Some of
this was not his fault but was a logical and inevitable outgrowth of
the foundations of psychology laid by his mentor Sigmund Freud.
Freud had discovered the individual "unconscious. So it was only
logical that when Jung found that the deeper one went into an
individual's unconscious, the more it began to look like some sort of

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universal collective phenomenon, he would name this realm the


"collective unconscious." So far so good. But as Jung began to open
to a more transpersonal view of the human psychological growth
process he noticed that it seemed to be guided by something larger
than, and different from, the existing Freudian concepts of the ego,
super ego and id. He noticed that this element in consciousness
was associated with images of the "Godhead" so for some bizarre
reason he named this the "Self" with a big "S." Perhaps he meant to
make reference to the Buddhist notion of the "true self". It is true that
in many spiritual traditions it has been pointed out that the place to
seek the Divine is within yourself. But everything Jung has to say
about the Self are properties we might first associate with traditional
conceptions of God. Yet Jung, being "scientific" could not call it that,
and to his credit the Judeo-Christian conceptions of God carried
plenty of extraneous baggage he did not want to invoke, perhaps
most notably the conception of some vengeful bearded guy pulling
the strings. But, at least today, when you get into a conversation with
most people and they wish to make a distinction between the small
ego consciousness and some sort of larger conception to
transpersonal awareness, the word most likely to be used to
describe ego consciousness is "self." In conversation as opposed to
print it is very difficult to make clear that it is a capital S on Self, and
putting "The" in front of it is only marginally more clear. On top of
this, the other word which Jung used for transpersonal
consciousness, "the unconscious," or at best "the collective
unconscious" is, as Sheri Ratchin pointed out, a bit like calling the
ocean an "un-island." Thus, we are now stuck with two cumbersome
and counterintuitive Jungian words for describing transpersonal
consciousness. In my opinion it would have been better if Jung had
said what he really meant and had just called it God, or because he
couldn't do that, he could have just called it "the un-God." In any
case I find the Jungian language unfortunately counterintuitive and

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we do need a shorter term than "transpersonal consciousness."

[ I just paused to figure out what to say next and noticed that this
was line 23.]

[Then I looked at my watch and it was 7:23]


This leads to my next point: meaningless cumulative low level
synchronicity. By that I mean a pattern which one may discern which
in no way noticeably contributes to one's personal individuation and
carries no particular intrinsic meaning other than the fact that you
notice it -- a lot. The cumulative nature of such patterns mean that
they can occur and expand at any time without need for any specific
prior internal state of consciousness. This seems to work best with a
"synchronicity number." Mine is 23 which I caught from Robert
Anton Wilson (they do appear to be at least potentially contagious).
My friend Tom's is 13, our mutual friend Robert's is 117, Catherine's
is 11 and Juliana's is 7 etc... Many people might describe them as
lucky numbers, but at least in the case of Robert and Tom they too
already had a long sting of synchronicities, which they identified as
such, in exactly those terms, associated with each of their own
numbers when I met them. None of us regarded our respective
numbers as "lucky" per se. It was much more a matter of them
simply appearing so often that they came to represent the
phenomenon of synchronicity itself in our lives. It is interesting to
note that these numbers are all prime and while the sample is far too
small to be definitive, it seems that synchronicity numbers do tend to
be prime. In fact I can't think of anybody I know who has one that
isn't prime. I have known several people who identify with 7 and 11
in particular. These prime numbers seem to embody a quality of
non-rational randomness. My point is that here we have a
phenomenon of a synchronicity-like phenomenon which is at least

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somewhat common in modern popular culture (at least among my


circle of self selecting weird friends) which is outside of the strict
Jungian definition of synchronicity. I suppose that Jung might argue
that in these cases it is the archetype of the number which is
constellated, but then for each of us that archetype would have to
always be constellated, and it would further mean that the
"constellation" of the archetype was apparently totally independent
of any process of "individuation." Or else one would have to concede
that once someone is embedded in a process of cumulative low
level synchronicity their entire life can be seen a process of
individuation (psycho-spiritual growth) even without the benefit of
Jungian analysis! My friends and I would all tend to favor the latter
view. Indeed we all tend quite naturally to talk in terms of low level
vs. high level synchronicity and tend to see absolutely everything as
part of one massively interconnected unity which we are becoming
more and more consciously aware of through cumulative
synchronicity experiences.

This brings us back to the question of general acausal


connectedness. Von Franz points out that Jung saw synchronicity as
a unique and special phenomenon in contrast to Leibniz who had
instead postulated a massively parallel correlation between psyche
and matter which we become aware of only when it is exhibited in
sporadic phenomena. She also points out that Jung opposed any
causal connection of consciousness acting on matter. He made a
distinction between unique synchronicity phenomena which were
unpredictable, rare and un-repeatable and a concept of a general
acausal connectedness which he seemed to use to refer to the
consistent and predictable, but causally unexplainable just-so-ness
of the natural numbers, radioactive decay, non-locality in atomic
interactions etc. Yet Von Franz also touches on a number of other
areas which seem related to but outside of these two categories.

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Among these are various psi phenomena, acts of intentional


divination and astrology. To this list I would add ceremonial magic
and intentional manifestation, but these two areas are apparently
taboo even for the Jungian's as they have concluded apriori that
there can be no actual influence of consciousness on matter. I am
not arguing that there necessarily is, but in some cases there
certainly appears to be an associative connection and I do not feel is
actually "scientific" to rule out the possibility in advance from all
possible provisional maps and models based on the empirical data.

There are several distinctions I would like to make in what I see as a


continuum of phenomena. First, Jung himself states that he is
sympathetic to a view in which various psi phenomena are seen as
special cases of synchronicity rather than trying to explain away
synchronicity in terms of posited psi phenomena. I am also
sympathetic to this view, but I think that it may be a very useful
exercise to engage in the detailed thought experiments to see just
how absurd the paradoxes become as one details exactly what psi
phenomena would be required. It is only as a result of having
engaged in exactly this type of thinking that I support the general
synchronicity view. So, we see that even Jung grants psi
phenomena provisional synchronicity status. But, then he insists
that synchronicity is always an unpredictable "act of creation." What
about divination? Is not each act of divination essentially an exercise
in intentional synchronicity and therefore not entirely unpredictable?
Here we have a further distinction as well.

Von Franz repeats a call from Jung for an experiment in which


people who are at points of great emotional intensity would each be
the subject of multiple acts of divination. The specific techniques
suggested include I-Ching, Tarot, and Transit Astrology. I believe
that this proposal itself illustrates a lack of understanding of a

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fundamental distinction between transit astrology and all other


methods of divination. While Jung's point was to determine whether
various different methods of divination gave consistent results. The
key insight he is missing, in my opinion, is that transit astrology,
unlike any other method of divination, is far more like Jung's acausal
orderedness. It provides a map of a general archetypal configuration
which is consistent across all observers. If one ignores signs and
houses, the angular relationship between where the planets are now
and where they were when you were born is consistent across
virtually all systems of astrology around the world. If you ask two
different astrologers to give transit readings for the same time you
will get substantially the same result. This consistency and
predictability is not found in any other system of divination. All other
systems of divination (including horary astrology) tend instead to be
like flash photos, snapshots in time which are unique and
un-repeatable. In that sense they are more like the narrow definition
of synchronicity, unique and un-repeatable, yet not like synchronicity
in the strict narrow sense of the word in that they are intentional.
Thus, we have a continuum from transit astrology, through divination
to spontaneous synchronicity phenomena. I believe that this may be
a critically important distinction to bear in mind in trying to
understand the nature of the whole spectrum of general acausal
connectedness. One might frame it as a distinction between general
synchronicity, including all related phenomena and special
synchronicity involving only spontaneous episodes with tremendous
emotional charge. This crude model still leaves out the question of
intentional manifestation and various psi phenomena.

Scientific Speculation
For the most part the most interesting speculative models seem to
have been given short shrift in the major popular works on

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synchronicity. David Peat touches on, but does not elaborate on, the
flatland metaphor originally articulated in the classic work by Edwin
Abbot. The core of this idea is essentially that a being who
understood only a two dimensional reality would encounter points
which would seem totally disconnected, much as columns appear in
an architectural floor plan. But seen from a higher dimension these
would be seen to be part of a coherent integrated structure. We can
elaborate this idea in at least two or three different ways. First we
might simply posit space as a higher dimensional manifold. If super
string theory currently requires a twenty six dimensional model, then
one could in some sense infer twenty three enfolded dimensions in
which to embed hidden interconnectedness. This numerical
example is far too literal and simple minded and is only meant to
illustrate the concept. The next step would be to infer that
dimensionality might somehow refer to the conceptual space of
consciousness interpenetrating with spatial reality such that not only
spatial dimensions, but also virtual dimensions of consciousness
were somehow inter-enfolded. I am not sure exactly what this
implies, but it is an interesting model for potential thought
experiments.

The final extension of flatland is the one I find most interesting. It has
frequently been stated that we live in three space dimensions plus
time, or in a four dimensional space-time continuum. But this is not
in fact the case. We understand time as having only one direction
and therefore one sign. Thus, it is really only half of a dimension. If
you wanted to say something to someone in flatland to make them
realize that they in fact live in a larger and more interconnected
reality you would say, "hey look up." "Up" would be in the direction
of the next higher dimensionality. But we don't have to go a whole
dimension higher, only half a dimension. If we actually live in a three
and a half dimensional space time continuum, "up" to us would be

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into the future to meet that other half a dimension coming backward
toward us. This suggests that the direction a higher level of
interconnectedness might come toward us would appear to be from
out of the future. This bears a startling similarity to many (but by no
means all) synchronicity phenomena, which appear to us to be
violations of our conventional view of temporal causality.

This idea becomes more rigorous in the form of work done by John
Wheeler and Richard Feynman in the nineteen forties and recently
extended into quantum mechanics by John Cramer. This work
essentially points out that the most consistent interpretation of the
mathematics underlying quantum mechanics is to interpret certain
lines in the Feynman diagrams as illustrating virtual particles
moving backward in time. As Cramer points out, in his transactional
interpretation of quantum mechanics, one may essentially trade
acausality for negative temporality. That is to say, if one is willing to
accept virtual particles moving backward in time, one may avoid the
conventional quantum paradoxes. Perhaps this may also be true of
the paradox of synchronicity.

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