David Alberto Campos Vargas*
Luis Fernando Campos Vargas**
Some scenarios are remarkable for the tricks the universe plays on us. One of the most fascinating, still under ongoing research, is circular causation.
Linear causation, which positivism and Cartesian rationalism have taught us to revere for centuries, seems to fall short before the phenomena related to circular causation, reluctantly accepted by some scientists in view of the countless proofs and experiments backing them, but feared by others because they force them to detach from their accustomed positivist-mechanistic paradigm.
Psychiatry, being a young science, yet the most complex medical discipline, still has unanswered questions about the unconscious and the processes of volition and affection---not to mention the parapsychological or the metaphysical. For this reason, some purists (perhaps staunch positivists) would have its scope limited to observable behavioral phenomena. We do not share such a viewpoint. Psychic phenomena encompass much more than observable behavior.
Systems theory and psychoanalysis (particularly Jungian analytic psychology) allow further progress within this framework: they attempt to decipher many phenomena that cannot be observed and are not directly accessible to sensory perception and consciousness. Thus, a patient's fantasies and dreams, the symbolic contents of his or her nonverbal thinking, the succession of his or her psyche's primary processes, the roles unconsciously assumed within his or her family or social system, the rules and expectations passed down across generations, etc., which are not always measurable or accessible as perceivable behavior, are subject to indirect study by the researcher; e.g. analysis of dreams can pinpoint unconscious conflicts, or a family therapy session can expose a behavior pattern associated to a secret loyalty.
An interesting feature of psychic affairs which Jung and Pauli studied with fascination is synchronicity (from Greek συν, together, and χρόνος, time), the term Jung himself chose to denote the simultaneousness of two events linked by a shared sense in a non-causal manner.
Carl Gustav Jung's work, it must be noted, took place in a strikingly positivist era, during which science was subject to reductionism, to the primacy of the inductive method and the premises of Baconian research. It was a time when positivism permeated (and, occasionally, maimed or curtailed) intellectual production (actually, Sigmund Freud himself was victim of that positivist bias, and his original ideas had to be passed through the lenses of mechanism, determinism and linear causation before the ruling scientific circles could “accept” them). It is admirable for this reason that Jung had jumped head-on into waters many scientists despised or shunned (precisely because they were incomprehensible to them).
Jung understood the concept of synchronicity in the special sense of the temporal coincidence of two or more events which are related to one another in a non-causal manner and whose meaningful contents are the same or much alike. This concept Jung sets apart from synchronism, which constitutes the mere simultaneousness of a pair of events.
Now, the concept of synchronicity is not a particularly innovative finding. Humankind has actually been acquainted with synchronicity and circular causation for centuries. A glimpse of it is found in Taoism: there is a thing of uncertain formation / prior to Heaven and Earth / silent, endless! / dependent on nothing, unchanging / tirelessly twirls and returns / may be held to be the mother of the world / its name I do not know / is called Tao. Eastern philosophy and theology, especially Buddhism and Taoism, frequently refer to that cosmic wholeness that makes many apparently unrelated phenomena converge, coincide and correlate in meaning. Jung's predilection for the study of this ancient Eastern wisdom is well known.
Synchronicity can also be traced to the Chinese Shang culture, one of the most important in antiquity, which lasted longer than the British Empire and relied on the divination of the future from turtle shells. Another Chinese divination method, the I Ching is likewise based on synchronous propositions; and virtually any divination method (such as tarot or runes, tools Jung got to know deeply too) fulfill the same premise: to interpret the whole from particular facts; the ability to grasp the essence --the wholeness of the universe-- of a moment.
Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism refer to the correspondence between things: all the universe functions as a whole, and nothing exists without. We believe ourselves to be individual egos (I), but individuality is a delusion. We are all extensions of the one and supreme atman, from which we attempt to artificially detach so we can believe in our distinctness. Jung recovered very ancient lessons from Eastern spirituality and concluded that our individual egos are like islands in a sea, connected in fact (by the waters and the all-common sea floor) albeit appearing to be disconnected. We are used to seeing other things (persons, objects, events) as individual and separate beings, but we do not see our connections.
Some mystics of the Hellenistic tradition speak, too, of the sympathy between things, a sort of specular correspondence between phenomena. Philo of Alexandria had already mentioned that man was a kind of microcosmos that contains the essence of the whole world. Theophrastus speaks about the divine union of the supra-sensory and the sensory (a concept which Pico della Mirandolla would recapture much later). Plotinus, the neo-Platonist, who had theorized about individual souls emerging from the one Universal Soul, resonates in Augustine of Hippo, who likewise conceived of the human soul as a being similar in substance (“in his own image”) to the universal soul he identified as God.
Leibniz, one of the great minds of the Modern Era, wrote in his Monadology (another work that interested Jung) that each human soul should be viewed as belonging to a superior “master soul.” Within his concept of pre-established harmony there is ultimately a correspondence between the monads that constitute human essence and the monads of the cosmos, in such a way that all psychic and physical events and phenomena are interrelated.
Jung's interest in astronomy led him to study some thoughts of Kepler, who drew from Aristotle to conceive of Earth as subject to universal forces (“the world is linked to the heavens, and its forces are governed from above”). Surprisingly, a great mechanist such as Newton emphasized, too, this correspondence between the elements of cosmos. In point of fact, Newton sought that harmony between heavenly bodies (of all sizes) which made the universe a kind of perfect machinery. Those of us who do not subscribe to reductionist, deterministic and mechanist positivism rejoice in remembering that the English physicist also did interesting work in alchemy.
Moreover, a personal experience in Jung's clinical work served to further open his eyes: “A young female patient dreamed, at a decisive point in her treatment, that she was presented with a golden beetle. I was sitting while she was telling me her dream, the window closed behind me. Then I suddenly heard a noise, as though something was tapping the glass. I turned around and saw an insect flying outside, hitting against the window. I opened the window and caught the bug in mid-flight. It was the closest analogy to a golden beetle that can be found in these countries, to wit, a scarabaeid1, Cetonia aurata, the rose chafer, which seemingly contravened its natural custom and felt the need to enter a dark room at that precise moment. Neither before nor since, I must say, did any such thing occur to me, and that patient's dream remains a unique case in my experience.”
However, that was not the only deeply personal experience of synchronicity that befell Jung. During his continuous self-exploration and analysis, he realized that many of his life circumstances were linked to the whole of humankind. For a while, he had a persistent impression of Europe as drowning in blood. A few months later, the worst slaughter the world had ever known---World War I blazed afire, and Europe was lost in bloodshed.
An intrigued Wolfgang Pauli (physicist, chemist, mathematician, but a full-time reseacher above all) joined Jung in his exploration of synchronicity and circular causation. The concept gradually received new additions, and synchronicity would come to be seen as causal equivalences: every particular synchronicity is but one of the countless instances of general synchronicity. The universe itself is synchronicity.
Pauli and Jung found that “archetypical situations” (death, adolescence, midlife crisis) are specially correlated with other conjoined events (other particular synchronicities) that tend to emerge during those archetypical situations, as if one thing were summoning another.
Jung's (and several of his patients') personal experience with premonitory dreams aroused Pauli's interest. The physicist, in turn, began to discover that certain particularities could find mathematical explanation in synchronicity. The very nature of the universe seemed, as Pitagoras and Cicero believed, to have this inborn feature of connecting events and phenomena.
Jung and Pauli concluded that “the classical physical image of the world is supported on four ruling principles: energy, space-time continuum, constant connection via effects (causation) and inconstant connection via contingency, equivalence or meaning (synchronicity).”
We will proceed to parse this statement. For three centuries energy has been known to be only transformed, not created or destroyed; and Albert Einstein's transcendental contribution points towards a matter-energy continuum: matter can become energy; energy can become matter. As everything in cosmos, this is a dynamic, flowing reality, not a static or predetermined one.
As for the space-time continuum, Einstein (contemporary with Jung and Pauli) and Hawking (a scientist who keeps bringing new realities to our eyes, and whom we have the fortune to be contemporary with) opened the mathematical possibility that many realities may coexist (many worlds, many dimensions). All events, all phenomena are related, and that connection, the circular causation Heinz von Foerster referred to in his work on cybernetics, is not restricted to particular contingencies, but is inherent to the universe. Augustine of Hippo and Immanuel Kant were intrigued by this subject, which resurfaces in the obsolescence of the concept of linear time as an immovable chain from past to present to future.
Linear time does not exist: it is a delusory category that we humans have created to apprehend the world. Life is easier if we believe in “before” and “after;” but time, like the universe, is actually infinite.
Eternity could be described as the universe's real state. Times are infinite: there is no such thing as one linear time. The universe is eternal. As it expands and shrinks, as it creates and destroys itself, new eras emerge which are really the same, for the universe is timeless.
Nature (the universe) is not only a flux of links and relations; it not only provides the convergence of multiple causalities; it not only feeds back from phenomenon A to phenomena B and C and all the way back to A and B; it also has the capability to rewrite and even replay varied phenomena. Eons from now, we may find ourselves typing these same words again---or may already have. As we type them, others in parallel dimensions and worlds (we ourselves, perhaps?) may be typing them too. This instance of synchronicity is but one particular event among the infinity of synchronicities that arise in this endless and infinite universe. One further example would be to find the same reader of this article before or after (categories we made up, as was said above: time and space are an eternal, uncreated reality, which has always been and will always be there) doing the same thing.
Theologian and naturalist Teilhard de Chardin (one of the few Catholic priests who openly embraced Darwinism during the early 20th century) converged towards another idea of Jung's, that of foreknowledge, by postulating the “prior life” of inanimate matter. Synchronous phenomena draw from an anticipatory process and a relativization of space and time that assumes these latter two to be able of “shrinking, stretching, or canceling.” In other words, our mind becomes permeable to realities that dwell at a segment or alignment that differs from what we commonly call reality.
Like linear time, cause and effect are human ways of simplifying phenomena. It does not suffice that A just happens to cause B, because B influences A as well. C, too, can cause B; D and E influence A; D and F also influence B. Causation is circular. The universe is connectedness.
Constant connection via effects is mechanistic, linear causation (“A causes B”); inconstant causation via contingency, equivalence or meaning is Jung and Pauli's synchronicity, the circular causation of von Foerster and the atman or God concept that some thinkers and theologians have reached.
Lovers of History may find this story interesting: on July 28, 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was dining at a restaurant in Monza, where he was scheduled to attend an athletic competition the next day. He was greatly surprised to notice the great resemblance between the restaurant's owner and himself. As their conversation went on, he discovered they shared even more similarities. The owner's name was also Umberto; like the king, he had been born on Turin, on the same day; and he had married a girl named Margherita on the same day the king had married Queen Margherita. He had opened his restaurant on Umberto's coronation day. The king was fascinated, and invited the restaurant's owner to join him at the games. However, on the next day, the king's aide informed him that the owner had died in the morning after having been mysteriously shot. While the king was lamenting the event, an anarchist named Gaetano Bresci approached him and shot him dead.
We can draw another historical example from two renowned American politicians: Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy. Both presidents were elected in their centuries' respective 60s (the 1860s for Lincoln; the 1960s for Kennedy); each was elected to the House of Representatives in his century's respective '46 (1846 for Lincoln; 1946 for Kennedy); each was murdered by a man born in his century's respective '39 (1939 for John Wilkes Booth; 1949 for Lee Harvey Oswald); each was succeeded by a Southern Democrat president named Johnson and born in his century's respective '08; both had to deal with African American issues and each made a public declaration of his stand on the matter on his century's respective '63 (Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which was signed into law in '63; Kennedy sent his Civil Rights report to the Congress in 1963, the same year in which the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom occurred); each was shot in the head while in his wife's presence on a Friday. Lincoln was murdered at Ford's Theatre; Kennedy was murdered while riding a Lincoln car, a model manufactured by Ford. Booth shot Lincoln at a theatre and then hid in a warehouse, whereas Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and then hid in a theatre. Both murderers were killed before they could stand trial.
The mathematical basis of synchronicity
The universe spans a whole range of synchronicities: it serves as the stage of circular causation. All things in it are in communication with one another---sometimes in ways that are almost imperceptible, difficult to apprehend, yet none the less existing. Authors like Xavier Dariex, Charles Robert Richet and Camille Flammarion approached the problem via probabilistic estimation. By the way, the lives of Newton and Leibniz provide us with another beautiful case of synchronicity: both scientists invented infinitesimal calculus independently, each unaware of the other's progress. Sadly, they quarreled fiercely over the subject's authorship, and Newton eventually declared his satisfaction “after having broken Leibniz's heart” when the Royal Society, where many of Newton's associates belonged, pronounced him to be the original author.
As we have pointed out in previous papers, synchronicity encompasses events which are (are/were/will be, according to the aforesaid space-time continuum) linked to other events which lead to a specific result, in a way that appears inexplicable to human “classical” or mechanistic reasoning. One of has has elsewhere explained synchronicity by recourse to great numbers law. This theory is based on the fact that an event happens at every second or fraction thereof.
Synchronicity can also be mathematically explained with the concept of relative probability. Relative probability is based on causation: a cause provokes an event which then has an effect, which in turn causes something else. Relative probability is evident when a very probable event is caused and then an equally probable event is caused as well. In connection to the much-touted law of attraction, an event of little probability will, upon happening, bring forth a very probable effect.
There is also the concept of imperative probability, which one of us termed inflexibility of time during an earlier communication. The inflexibility of time is compatible with the idea that linear time does not exist and is relative. Each day is one day more, or one day less. If we are writing this paper, or you reading it, we are in the present for an instant, but a millisecond later that instant is not present, but past; but that past could look like the future for someone further in the past. The past, present and future readers may be reading simultaneously, each unaware of the others' existence. Time may be described as something that happens, happened and will happen. The universe is eternal, uncreated---the infinite stretch-and-shrink oscillation does not require an external God. This is not to deny His existence, for He is inherent to the world: he is the atman of the universe. Only the metaphor of an external creator is torn down. The universe is both infinite and finite, it forms and transforms itself, wherefore time is relative, contingent and determined by variations in the universe.
Synchronicity occurs at every second, but its presence is more abrupt at some times. Synchronicity does not only imply that what I dreamed then happened; it also implies that what I did not dream then happened.
Synchronicity is atman, world spirit (the Jungian spiritus mundi), circular causation, interrelation, connection between all phenomena and beings in the universe. All events, however varied in appearance, are linked, sometimes in a very meaningful way. We are never apart from the whole.
Synchronicity and psyche
Circular causation and synchronicity are not restricted to physics or mathematics---nor are they restricted to philosophy or theology. A whole psychology can be built on it. Jung defined synchronicity as the meaningful coincidence of two o more events in which something more than random probability is involved. What distinguishes synchronicity from normal synchronous events is the existence of a common subjective meaning inevitably present in the experiencing subject's interpretation. Thus this is also a psychological theory, because it is centered on a subjective experience that encompasses supposedly “outer” alignments of events. As said above, Jung went through several synchronicities in his life (as do all human beings without noticing). Synchronicities tend to occur more profusely during transformational times: births, deaths, engagements, psychotherapy, intense creativity, career change, and so on. In David Peat's words, “it is as if this internal restructuring resulted in external resonances, or as if an explosion of mental energy were spreading outwards in the physical world.”
During the Grinberg-Zylberbaum experiment, published in 1987, an electroencephalograph was used to measure the brainwaves of couples who meditated together. Some couples were found to exhibit a strong correlation in their brainwave patterns, which suggested a close mental link. They could perceive each other in direct communication, which the measuring device confirmed. These closely linked couples were asked to meditate together for twenty minutes. Then, one of them would enter an isolated room. Once thus separated, they were asked to engage in communication. The person who had been asked to move was stimulated with shining lights, which caused small brainwave peaks called provoked potentials. The fascinating result of this experiment is that the persons not exposed to the light exhibited corresponding peaks in their own brainwaves. Thus, each couple was linked at a deep level through meditation, and that link caused measurable physical reactions in both members, even if only one was receiving the light stimulus. What happened to one happened
to the other, automatically, instantaneously. These results cannot be explained except via a non-circumscribed correlation happening in the virtual realm, the spiritual level which connects, orders and synchronizes everything. This endless intelligence or consciousness field is present everywhere and is manifested in all things. It is not necessary to go into a laboratory to see this non-circumscribed intelligence in action: the proofs are all around us, in nature, in animals, even in our bodies.
Jung also linked the concept of synchronicity with that of collective unconscious (another one of his creations, which boldly continues to stir unrest among psychiatrists and mind philosophers). The deeper we go into our personal unconscious, the closer we get to our essence: the collective unconscious. For this reason, in specific states of consciousness (like the one described in the preceding paragraph) we are more permeable to others' communications. This might be the basis of telepathy and some types of paranormal activity.
We will now proceed to describe a quite interesting experiment that illustrates synchronicity at the molecular level. It was conducted by the U.S. Army. A sample of white blood cells was taken from a number or donors. The samples were placed in a room equipped with a device which measured electrical changes. In this experiment, each donor was taken to another room and subjected to emotional stimuli in the form of video clips that would provoke a response. The blood sample was in a different place of the same building. Both donor and sample were monitored, and when the donor exhibited high and low emotional responses (measured in electrical waves), the sample showed identical responses at the same moments. There was no lag in transmission; the highs and lows of the sample coincided perfectly with those of the donor. The researchers wanted to know how far apart this effect could persist, and the tests were stopped when a separation of 80 kilometers failed to stop the result, still with no lags in transmission. Both donor and sample showed the same responses at the same time. According to Gregg Braden, this means that live cells recognize one another by a previously unknown form of energy that is not affected by distance or time. This is a non-localized form of energy that exists in all places and at all times. Here Sheldrake's theory of morphogenetic fields finds interesting resonations. It is practically evident that a synchronous field links the individual with its DNA regardless of distance.
We have, therefore, a universe in which everything causes everything else. We are whole and one, part of the whole and the whole itself, synchronicity, flowing spiritus mundi. We artificially separate the contingencies of nature and look for individual patterns to make epistemology and life itself easier, but in truth everything is connectedness. The common point shared by synchronicity theory, Jung's foreknowledge, Chardin's prior life, the precepts of the ancient religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism) and the theory of morphic fields and implicate order is the dissolution of the materialistic representation paradigm: according to this vision, matter does not represent a fundamental reality, but something beyond the matter realm. In this way, synchronicities can be explained as coincidences that occur at an “explicit” level (the Platonic cave's wall) whereas the real level is the “implicit” one. Or, quoting Deepak Chopra, who also studies synchronicity, “at this second level of existence, the chair you are sitting on is nothing but energy and information.”
A level of existence has been proposed. In this mathematically conceived dimension, the distance between to events, regardless of how far apart they may seem in space and time, is always zero. This, in turn, suggests a level of existence in which we are all inseparably one. Separateness may be just an illusion. From this perspective of inescapable unity of the whole, the existence of synchronicity (and the multiple particular and contingent synchronicities) can be understood. Everything is connected: the whole contains the parts, but is also much more than the mere sum of them.
Mind and body are one and the same. Likewise the internal and external. Nothing in the universe is separate or isolated. Knowledge of the personal unconscious (the one Freud described) and, with it, immersion in the collective unconscious (the one Jung described) grants us access to that whole. Hence psychotherapy, creativity, intuition and even alchemical knowledge can bridge the way to that archetypical, millenary world. Synchronicities are important in a persons' life. If their meaning is grasped, it becomes possible to perceive the path that should be taken, the choice that should be made. This will evidently never happen as long as the mind perceives them as mere chance. The worldview determines the lived world (the aim of the representational paradigm). If the reader chooses from now on to give meaning to lived experiences, not only will enhanced perception come, but the capacity to take profit from them will develop. This means appropriating the ancestral, intuitive wisdom of the foreknowing, archetypical world of Jung.
Another thought stems from this: psychotherapy---that work of self-knowledge, that immersion in our personal and collective unconscious, should lead us to integration, but not only at the intrapsychic level: it should let us reintegrate ourselves with the cosmos, with nature, with other beings. Psychotherapy should lead to transcendence, which is information too.
The psychologist, the psychiatrist and the therapist must understand, based on the aforesaid, that transformative changes come from the individual inasmuch as it partakes of the whole; integration does not only cover individual features (the patient, client or analyzed part), but features from the world as well, and from others' psyches. Here the proposal of systemic therapy has full value: it does not suffice to heal the person. One must also intervene in the context.
Like dream images, archetypes show us parts of our life that we do not consciously identify. For this reason dreams, myths, psychotherapy, cybernetic thinking, alchemy, even tools like I Ching and tarot reveal to us in a symbolic language what we should know about ourselves. Symbols bridge the way between the conscious and the unconscious mind. They can help us channel psychical energy, see the innermost meanings in our lives, and connect with others and the cosmos.
We cannot deny our shadow, our most primitive and difficult part---the id, but we can integrate it within our self. The potential for development and self-realization is located inside us inasmuch as we achieve this process of integration, transcendence and transformation which is psychotherapy. It is in us, inasmuch as each of us partakes from the universal whole.
The division between the parts is illusory. Just like all objects are interconnected, a great part of our work as therapists lies in getting the patient to integrate his or her own objects (for example, parental imagoes). As Klein and Bion pointed, the aim is to progress from partial, detached objects (an immature vision thereof) to total objects (one of the achievements of maturity: to admit that nobody is either absolutely good and pleasurable or absolutely evil and frustrating, but, instead, all persons and all beings in the universe have mixed pleasurable and frustrating aspects).
As therapists, our own thinking processes must be free from biases and partialities. Our thinking must be complex, relational, cybernetic: it should include contacts, networks, connecting principles. A great part of a psychotherapist's job is to understand the patient's relationship system, which is but one patchwork within the great fabric of the universe.
Synchronicity still awaits more work, more research. This paper is only an invitation for all of you present, past, future readers. Life is a becoming, the universe is endless and continuous, and this which we call life (each one's life) is a part of that continuum. The ideas of linear time, past, present or future, like the ideas of up and down, are merely conventions. There is no left or right. A memory, a precognition or a premonitory dream may just be the consequence of an already lived event, an echo.
We will end by mentioning one last example of synchronicity, which happened, of all men, to Wolfgang Pauli, Jung's associate during his research. Pauli was obsessed with the fine structure constant, 1/137. That number is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of science. Pauli was once hospitalized, and when he was told that he was to occupy room 137, he immediately said: “I will not leave this place.” In effect, he died soon afterwards.
M.D., Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
Psychiatrist, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
Neuropsychology Diploma, Universidad de Valparaíso
Neuropsychiatry Diploma, Universidad Católica de Chile
Master of Arts, Universidad Nacional de Colombia