Friday, May 15, 2009


Maria Mango

Because our scientific worldview is built on the concept of cause and effect, as a culture we tend to doubt and deny aspects of experience that aren’t measurable and verifiable. So often when events coincide in startling ways, the first words we hear or say are, "Oh, it’s just a coincidence."

Some people might think of it in terms of the odds. If there’s a one in a million chance of that coincidence happening, why make such a big deal of it? After all, somebody has to win the lottery! This point of view has a certain validity: synchronicity is part and parcel of physical laws. It doesn’t defy the natural order of events; it simply raises more questions than can easily be answered by a cause-and-effect equation.

The concept that everything has a concrete cause is so entrenched in our modern Western mentality that it took considerable courage for Carl Jung to take on the subject of synchronicity. He didn’t discuss it in depth until the eighth decade of his life when, as he wrote in his preface to the I Ching, "The changing opinions of men scarcely impress me anymore." A dramatic incident clarified his thinking on the matter. He had been looking for some way to break through to a patient who was super-rational, had rigid, stock answers for everything, and therefore was not doing well in therapy. He writes, "I was sitting opposite her one day with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab—a costly piece of jewelry. While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned around and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the windowpane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, whose gold-green color most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, ’Here is your scarab.’ The experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance." On the basis of his work with his patients, Jung said that synchronicity is more likely to occur when we are in a highly charged state of emotional and mental awareness—when, in his words, the "archetypes," universal images or themes underlying human behavior, are activated.

Before Jung, Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer documented another type of coincidence that he called seriality, in which things repeat themselves across time. He wrote of a case involving a Mr. Deschamps who, as a boy in Orleans, France, was presented with a piece of plum pudding by a guest of the family, Mr. de Fortgibu. Years later, Mr. Deschamps, now a young man, ordered plum pudding in a Paris restaurant, only to find that the last piece had just been taken—by Mr. de Fortgibu, who was sitting across the room. Many years later, at a dinner party where Mr. Deschamps was again offered plum pudding, he regaled his guests with the story and remarked that all that was missing was Mr. de Fortgibu. Soon the door burst open and in came Mr. de Fortgibu himself, now a disoriented old man who had gotten the wrong address and had entered by mistake.

When we talk about synchronicity within the book, we base it on Jung’s definition—

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