by Michael W. Clark
Parts relate to whole,
the chain holds on,
and where it ends,
An Essay on Man
The Swiss psychiatrist
Carl Gustav Jung
(1875-1961) at one time was a close friend and colleague of Sigmund
But the two pioneering theorists had a falling out in 1914
over personal and professional differences, most notably Jung's
rejection of Freud's increasingly dogmatic insistence on the primacy
of the libido.
Before their split, the two corresponded frequently about the
emerging school of psychoanalysis. One of the topics mentioned in
their letters was Jung's idea of synchronicity, which at that time
wasn't clearly defined.
While Freud mostly ridiculed the notion of
synchronicity, Jung's far-reaching interests led him to the study of
quantum physics, providing him with solid theoretical and empirical
grounds to develop the concept.
Jung also wrote about personal
encounters with synchronicity, another factor which compelled him to
advance this cutting edge idea.
Synchronicity suggests that mind and matter,
as well as past,
present and future
exist in a meaningfully connected continuum.
also implies that everyday distinctions
concerning self and
causality and the belief in linear time
historically specific assumptions
rather than absolute truths.
By the 1950's, Jung had outlined three types of synchronicity:
The meaningful acausal coincidence
of a psychological event and an external observable event, both
taking place at or around the same time.
This first type of synchronicity could be illustrated as
follows: You're driving home and about two and a half blocks
from your destination, you begin to think of a friend whom you
haven't seen in years.
Upon entering the front door you find the
very same friend had just phoned and left a message on your
This second type of synchronicity is
illustrated by the well-documented vision of the Swedish
scientist and mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).
Jung notes that Swedenborg inwardly saw a devastating fire
which took place approximately 100 miles away in Stockholm,
representing what psi researchers now call remote viewing.
Also called precognition, examples
of this third type of synchronicity are found throughout
In the Biblical tradition, for instance, Jesus
accurately predicts Peter's finding a coin in a fish's mouth, as
well as his own betrayal, death and resurrection (Matthew 17:27;
26:23; John 2:19).
With Jesus, however, one could argue
that he was absolutely certain that his precognitions would come
true. Therefore his predictions might
be construed as synchronicities by non-believers but not by
himself and his followers.
For believers, Jesus'
accurate predictions are sure evidence of God's plan of
The Chicken or
Jung says that synchronicity entails an acausal relationship between
ego consciousness and the outer environment.
happens; it's not caused by any single agent. Moreover, Jung
cautions against actively searching for instances of synchronicity,
emphasizing the idea that synchronicity is never sought nor
anticipated, but discovered. 1
At the same time, however, Jung also
says the conscious ego is guided toward synchronicities by the
archetypes of the collective unconscious. If this sounds confusing,
the problem may in part be attributed to Jung's brand of theorizing
and perhaps to the somewhat mysterious nature of time.
The issue of causality vs. acausality
continues to be debated within academic, scientific and theological
Causal or Acausal?
Jung's take on acausality can be confusing. When
consciously recognized by the ego, synchronicity is
supposedly an "acausal connecting principle." But
Jung also says that the archetypes, as primordial
patterns of the collective unconscious, direct us to
the experience of synchronicity.
If observed from a
deeper, archetypal level of consciousness,
synchronicity might appear somewhat more causal than acausal. Jungian scholars still debate this apparent
Perhaps part of the problem arises from different
beliefs about the nature of consciousness. Some of
the related questions are:
Do we perceive from the vantage point of the ego,
the archetypes or the self? Are these loci discrete
or connected? If they overlap, how might the
different loci be weighted?
Do psychological conditions and parameters influence
our perception and interpretation? Assuming the ego
is the high achievement of consciousness, do we ever
not identify with some other agency?
What about individual differences? Might different
people have qualitatively different centers or norms
of consciousness? Might some people have several
alternating norms of consciousness, each one being
different (i.e. multiple self theory as found in
How well do Jung's concepts correspond to reality?
Is Jungian theory shaped by European and North
American cultural assumptions?
By way of contrast, the Asian theory of chakras
indicates seven different centers of consciousness.
A German submarine officer in WW-II looks through
the periscope at night for enemy battleships. The
crew of a nearby Allied battleship believes they're
in safe waters. The ship's decks are well lit.
German submarine officer sees the Allied ship's
lights through the periscope, reports to his
commander who fires a torpedo. The torpedo makes a
Meanwhile, the captain of the Allied battleship is
deep in his quarters and muses what terrible luck,
we've hit an iceberg. He notes with bitter irony
that he was just getting some ice for a shot of
whiskey at the very moment his ship struck what he
supposed was an iceberg.
For the Allied captain, the ice cubes and the impact
of the wrongly imagined iceberg were acausally
connected. He radios his base commander and tells
the sad story. The radio transmission is overheard
by the German submarine officers.
uproariously. They know it's no iceberg.
"I See A Secret
A lonely man called Lorenzo visits a fortune teller.
But the fortune teller is a scam artist. She
extracts all sorts of details from Lorenzo,
including his home address. "I see love for you in
the near future. A secret admirer... flowers in the
Meanwhile the fortune teller's husband is secretly
recording the entire session. Later that week the
fortune teller's husband drives by Lorenzo's house
in the middle of the night and drops a flower with
an attached "From a Secret Admirer" note in his
Lorenzo is impressed and delighted. He's hooked and
returns to the fortune teller for many more visits.
In this analogy, Lorenzo represents the ego duped
into perceiving a contrived synchronicity. The
fortune teller and her husband are dark archetypal
The archetypal forces manipulate individuals
by providing the ego with false information, thus
influencing their ego-choices in such a way as to
literally bring about synchronicities.
ego, however, only sees wonderful and amazing acausal connections.
"Look Both Ways"
A woman named Annabelle dreams of a beautiful angel
who says, "always look both ways before you cross
the road." The next morning Annabelle is rushing to
her bus stop, about to cross a busy intersection.
She judges the traffic velocities, all set to dash
across the road. Seeing an opening in the oncoming
traffic, Annabelle begins to run for it. Suddenly
the angel of her dream vividly comes to mind and she
stops on the center line. A speeding car whizzes by,
as if from nowhere. Had Annabelle not stopped at the
center line she would have been killed.
In this analogy Annabelle represents the ego
perceiving synchronicity. The dream angel is a
positive archetypal force. The archetypal force is
aware of future possibilities.
It provides valuable
information to the ego so as to contribute to a
Inferiority/Superiority and Synchronicity
It's essential to realize that synchronicity is ethically
ambivalent. Synchronicity may be experienced by saints,
devil-worshippers and the insane. 2
In instances of psychological
inflation, 3 individuals may act in horrendously cruel ways, all the
while believing they're God's special gift to humanity. Indeed,
synchronicity may be extremely dangerous when experienced by a
demented person who interprets it so as to inflate his or her ego.
In such instances, the immodest identify
with archetypal forces and adopt a false and destructive sense of
superiority. Jung says that this kind of self-aggrandizement often
arises when psychological complexes have not been resolved.
Thus an Adlerian inferiority/superiority
complex may be reinforced by the experience of synchronicity.
Spiritual Elitism and
Synchronicity isn't talked about too much in modern society.
likely wouldn't be a great topic at cocktail parties. It's hard to
know if this taboo arises from fear, ignorance or some combination
of the two. It seems reasonable to say that not too many people
experience synchronicity on a regular basis.
While this may be the
state of affairs in most so-called developed countries, the
paranormal writer Colin Wilson turns conventional wisdom
upside down by suggesting that a healthy mind, not a deviant one,
regularly experiences synchronicity.
In keeping with this idea, gurus,
shamans and saints from a wide variety of spiritual traditions claim
to live in an almost perpetual state of synchronicity. Could the
spiritually wise be more aware and, therefore, better attuned to
synchronicity than the unwise?
Myself, I see this kind of thinking
as leading to unhealthy, elitist attitudes.
At the same time, however, it's possible that one form of wisdom is
characterized by an acute awareness of synchronicity. But this is a
complicated issue. Those claiming to be wise often prove to be lost
in fantasy, wish-fulfillment, paranoia, confusion, deception and
error. This wouldn't be a huge problem if misguided people always
kept to themselves.
But oftentimes we hear of arrogant
charismatic figures who seem to hoodwink, exploit and abuse
others—economically, sexually and sometimes lethally.
On a more optimistic note, synchronicity may point to a divine plan
within God's Creation.
It's hard to know if Jung would have seen it
But the Biblical Isaiah illustrates this essentially
This plan of mine is not what you would work out, neither are my
thoughts the same as yours! For just as the heavens are higher than
the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than
In his recent publication, The Rupture of Time, the Jung scholar Dr.
Roderick Main writes extensively on synchronicity and its wider
Synchronicity suggests that there
are uncaused events, that matter has a psychic aspect, that the
psyche can relativise time and space, and that there may be a
dimension of objective meaning accessible to but not created by
If the psyche can relativise time and space, then it
becomes possible for temporally and spatially distant events
somehow to involve themselves in the here and now without any
normal channel of causal transmission.
If there is a dimension
of objective meaning, this implies that the meaning we
experience in not always or entirely our subjective creation,
individually or as a species, but that we may be woven into an
order of meaning that transcends our human perspective.
To sum, I've tried to briefly present
some of the ethical and cosmological issues addressed by Jung in his
exposition of synchronicity.
If synchronicity seems somewhat obscure
and perhaps difficult, we should try to remember that it's a
relatively new concept, one which compels us to take a fresh look at
ourselves and our place in the unfolding universe.
Considering its recency, it's hardly
surprising that the idea of synchronicity has given rise to several
branches of inquiry, each requiring further development.
1. The philosopher
Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) also refers to mutually
occurring events. In Leibniz's Monadology, the soul, body
and all of creation exist in a "pre-established harmony." But
for Leibniz the ultimate cause of cosmic interconnectedness is
the Divine Will of an eternal Creator, existing
beyond and above time and the cosmos. Freud wrote to
Jung that synchronicity is merely the product of
unconsciously projected desires. In another letter, however, he
concedes to an "undeniable cooperation of chance."
(a) For instance, while denying
Jesus, Peter heard the cock crow as predicted by his master
(b) A fair and responsible discussion of the arguably relative
idea of insanity is beyond the scope of this article. But
perhaps we could tentatively define insanity as "holding a rigid
belief in the truth of ideas, persons, objects or processes
which are false, to the extent of losing the ability to make
This definition is, of course,
problematic in that so-called madpersons may see or
believe in things that are existing, meaningful and true but
which are visible and understandable only to themselves. And to
complicate matters, some philosophers speak of imaginary ideas
as having at least a subsistence, if not a true existence. See
William T. Blackstone, The Problem of Religious Knowledge:
The Impact of Contemporary Philosophical Analysis on the
Question of Religious Knowledge (N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963),
3. Most of Jung's concepts are competently defined in
Daryl Sharp's Jung Lexicon.
(a) See the discussion in
2007, under the headings Aliens, Psi and Delusions of
Grandeur and Spiritual Discernment: Negative Spiritual
ET's, UFO's and
the Psychology of Belief
Psi and Delusions
Arlan K. Andrews summarizes a considerable number of
reports which suggest that psi abilities (e.g. ESP,
clairvoyance) increase significantly after a person
encounters what he or she believes is a first ET/UFO
contact.1 Although not adequately explored in the
ET/UFO literature, it's conceivable that
exploitative ET's or negative spiritual influences (NSI)
impart paranormal abilities particularly on
psychologically vulnerable individuals, leading them
to develop an Adlerian-style inferiority/superiority
It might be relatively easy for a vulnerable person
to overlook painful personal issues if ET's/NSI's
were busy feeding him or her other people's
thoughts, false prophecies and delusional ideas
about being special. Some individuals seem convinced
that they've been sent to Earth to fulfill their
role as sacred rulers of the unenlightened masses.
They're quite willing to overlook their flawed
prophecies and as long as their bubble doesn't
burst, which would result in painful personal issues
coming to the fore.
Spiritual Discernment: Negative Spiritual
While most people see false prophecy in terms of a
delusion or mental illness, contemporary and ancient
religious traditions suggest the perhaps related
approach of discernment. As the anthropologist I. M.
Lewis illustrates in Ecstatic Religion (1971),
saints, sages and shamans from all corners of the
world agree that the psyche is not an island. This
may have a positive side. Figures like St. Anthony,
for instance, reportedly have guided individuals
toward lost articles and missing children. But
personal openness to being guided also has a
negative side. Many believe that the mind can be
influenced or even possessed by spiritual hackers,
traditionally regarded as demons, tramp souls and
Some believers in NSI might be paranoid
reactionaries. But it's doubtful that all who
believe in evil spiritual powers are paranoid and
deluded. Along these lines different religious
traditions suggest that NSI may produce
hallucinations and manipulate individuals by seeming
to predict aspects of the future. Accordingly, NSI
could see future possibilities, influence a
spiritually inclined person's choices and compel him
or her to accept a false explanation as to why
certain events took place. Most of us have probably
encountered someone with an underlying inferiority
complex and/or unresolved psychological wound who
parades around telling others they're an achieved
To avoid this kind of scenario, it's important that
external influences are painstakingly discerned.
Discernment is the use of reason and experience
coupled with divine gifts to separate true and false
interior perception. As Henri Martin P.S.S. puts it:
The charism of discernment is "a kind of
supernatural instinct by which those who have it
perceive intuitively the origin, either divine or
not, of thoughts and inclinations submitted to
them." (J. de Guibert, Lecons, p. 306). It is to be
distinguished from revelation of the secrets of
hearts, properly so called, made directly by God. In
such revelations, which is extremely rare, objective
certitude is absolute. In the case of discernment
the chances of error lie in the subjective
interpretation and use of the supernatural light
received. Lacking an infused charism, ordinarily
"God will assist by special interior light a gift of
discernment acquired by experience and prudence in
the application of the traditional rules of
On the need for seekers to be sincere, humble and
rational in the discernment process, the scholar of
mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, says:
Ecstasies, no less than visions and voices, must,
they declare, be subjected to unsparing criticism
before they are recognized as divine: whilst some
are undoubtedly "of God," others are no less clearly
"of the devil."4
Having said this, there's no doubt that the concept
of ET/UFO's may be thought-provoking. It points to a
broader canvas and possibly to the next stage of
humanity's journey on this Earth. As with any new
and uncharted territory, however, it would be unwise
to act on blind impulse. Those who believe they
inwardly perceive and perhaps have special abilities
from ET's would likely do best to err on the side of
caution. Regardless of their origin, interior
perceptions and alleged psi abilities must be
soberly evaluated in the spirit of humility and, in
most instances, within the context of informed and
qualified associates. By testing interior
perceptions within a larger group of qualified
people and, in the case of predictions, against
actual outcomes, interpretive mistakes could be
identified and, with sober reflection, redirected.
This could also involve coming to terms with
personal issues and/or faulty information that lead
to the interpretive mistakes in the first place.
To rigorously examine a truth claim is hardly a
groundbreaking idea. It's the essence of the
'discernment' process as practiced in most world
religions and the 'peer review' of most scientific
disciplines. And there's no reason why ET and UFO
research shouldn't strive to be both spiritually and
scientifically responsible. Anything else runs the
risk of lapsing into fanaticism and fantasy.
(b) Jung and Adler's concepts are
noted here for the sake of argument. The idea of so-called
"archetypes" and Adler's emphasis on a "Will to Power" are much
debated within depth psychology and related disciplines.
5. The Living Bible (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1973) Isaiah
6. Roderick Main, The Rupture of Time (New York: Brunner-Routledge,
2004), p. 2.