The HPedia: Synchronicity

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This notion, originated by Carl Jung, indicates an underlying pattern of meaning between events acausally related.

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described in this terminology by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s.[1]

The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead it maintains that, just as events may be grouped by cause, they may also be grouped by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of cause and effect.  (Wikipedia)

Lurhmann, in her anthropological study of modern magicians (i.e. Contemporary Pagans), describes the concept:

‘Synchronicities’, as the term is used in modern magic, are two events that happen more or less at the same time, which have no direct causal connection, but arise because of some common underlying cause.  If a magician chose an arbitrary date for a conference on, say menstruation and the moon, and the date turned out to be astrologically significant, this would be called a ‘synchronicity’.  The one event did not cause the other, but they were interconnected in some larger plan.

Synchronicity is sometimes cited by Pagans as proof or support for the existence of deities or magic.  Elani Temperance gives some common examples:

  • “I’ve been thinking about honoring Athena for a while and I have started seeing owls everywhere–I think Athena would like me to worship Her.”

  • “I needed money so did a spell to attract it and suddenly I get a raise in salary. The spell must have worked.”

  • “I’ve been having such bad luck since I did that offering to Artemis, perhaps I did it wrong and she’s mad?”

For Temperance, such events constitute “proof”, though she admits they “will never convince a sceptic.”

Jung proposed a “psychoid” field complementing causality to account for the phenomenon (as described by John Ryan Haule).  Applying Occam’s razor, however, it would make sense to first hypothesize synchronicity as an effect – perhaps a faulty effect – of the brain’s pattern-detection capacities.  Cognitive research has yielded numerous ways in which confirmation bias and other tendencies can lead to such hyper-perceptions of pattern.  One might also point to Littlewood’s Law, which states that an individual can expect to experience “miracles” at a rate of about once per month (if we experience events at a rate of one per second of waking and alert consciousness, and spend about eight hours per day alert, then we will experience a million events per 35 days, resulting in a one-in-a-million event about every month).

Regardless of the mechanism behind it, perceptions of synchronicity can be significant to an individual’s life.  Even if a perceived meaning is entirely subjective, i.e. projected onto external events, there remains the useful question of why one perceives that particular meaning at that particular time in those particular circumstances, which may yield insights into one’s psychological state.  In essence, it can help bring to consciousness current emotional or cognitive patterns, the awareness of which may influence decision-making.  The process can be compared to projective tests.  One naturalistic account of a synchronicity experience is available here.

See also “Bias” and “Divination.”

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2 Comments on “The HPedia: Synchronicity

  1. “A grouping of events by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of cause and effect.”

    That’s an interesting notion. In a sense, though, the meaning would be the cause of the grouping. But in what sense is “a meaning” a physical cause? Someone might say that a meaning is just the result of the firing of neurons in the brain, and thus a physical cause. But such a firing is certainly not random. Thus the question What causes the neurons to fire in just the way necessary to group together events (or ideas) by meaning? What is it that causes neurons to fire in “a meaningful way.”

    Every attempt I’ve seen by materialists to answer that question leads to an endless regress. In light of this, I suggest the possibility that information, not matter, is what is fundamental in the world. A meaning is a complex form of information, and the causality of information is a deeply mysterious thing. I see no evidence to suggest that it can be reduced to the interactions of matter.

    I’m not sure any of that has anything to do with the concept of synchronicity, but I find it rather interesting.

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