Carl Jung and other philosophers and writers on coincidences: do they have a deeper meaning?

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Coincidences are an intriguing phenomenon that are never far away from our lives. When was the last time you stumbled upon a coincidence in your life? Do you recall how it felt? Did you try and explain it? A quick search for ‘coincidences’ on Google will give you a whole host of results showcasing ‘unbelievable’, ‘weird’, and ‘crazy’ coincidences. Some coincidences are almost too unbelievable to be true, whether they are coincidences involving probability or chance encounters. Yet, even though they are true, we question the validity of them. But instead of questioning the uniqueness of other people’s coincidences, perhaps we should begin to question if there are any meanings behind our own coincidences.

Coincidences are defined as ‘two or more events coming together in a surprising, unexpected way without an obvious casual reason.’ Embedded in this definition is a hint that there is an explanation, we just don’t know what the explanation is yet. The eminent Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung wrote:

“Chance we say, must obviously be susceptible of some casual explanation and is only called chance or coincidence because its causality has not yet been discovered.”

The perception of coincidences has led to the determining of supernatural and paranormal claims. It has also led to fatalism which is the belief that events will happen in the manor of a predetermined plan whilst Albert Einstein once said: ‘Coincidence is Gods way of remaining anonymous.’

Carl Jung developed a theory which suggests that remarkable coincidences occur because of what he defines as synchronicity. To Jung, synchronicity is a meaningful coincidence in time, a psychic factor which is independent of space and time. This deeper look into the causality of a coincidence as something meaningful and connected is not a modern idea. Rather, it was the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who opened the field up for reflection in the 19th century.

Unlike his contemporaries who thought peculiar phenomenology such as coincidences were some kind of energy transmission or worse; dismissed the whole thing as poppycock in order to avoid a too difficult task, Schopenhauer credited meaningful coincidences with occurring so regularly and systematically that their verification would be either unnecessary or the simplest thing in the world. However, Schopeanhauer’s optimistic viewpoint cannot be sympathised with today or during Jung’s time. Jung asserts that the scientific view of the world based on natural law lacks something which plays a considerable role in the intuitive feelings of modern humans, Jung in his essay titled ‘Synchronicity: An Acasual Connecting Principle’ writes:

“One of the most problematical and momentous centuries the world has ever known separates us from that still medievalist age when the philosophizing mind believed it could make assertions beyond what could be empirically proved. It was an age of large views, which did not cry halt and think that the limits of nature had been reached just where the scientific road-builders had come to a temporary stop.”

Synchronicity is not based on the natural laws of science which dominate the world we see today, which is why Jung’s synchronicity idea is not a mainstream scientific view. The writer Wilhelm von Scholz collected numerous stories in his book ‘Der Zufall: Eine Vorform des Schicksals’ which showcases the ways in which lost or stolen objects came back to their owners. These stories consist of many coincidences including one where the author tells the true story of a mother who took a photograph of her son in the Black Forest. However, due to the breakout of war she left the film in Strasbourg and afterwards deemed it lost. Later, she bought a film in Frankfurt in order to take a photo of her daughter, who had since been born. When the film was developed it was doubly exposed: the picture underneath was the picture she had taken of her son two years previous! The old film had somehow got back into circulation among new films. Von Scholz suspects that the happenings are arranged as if they were the dream of a “greater and more comprehensive consciousness, which is unknowable” and that everything points to the “mutual attraction of related objects.”

In the 21st century, much is discussed about force and energy ‘vibes’ in relation to encounters and where humans’ paths lead to. For certain this article is not here to deny the existence or non-existence of these vibes, however, experiments by J.B. Rhine into extra-sensory perception (ESP) which delved into perceptions and future events (in this case a subject guessing patterns on cards) concluded that neither time nor distance has an effect in the perceptions of events which had not yet occurred. This means that there is no energy relationship between the perception and the future event. They point, instead, to a psychic relativity of time. Jung states that:

“We must give up all explanations of there being any energy relationship, events of this kind cannot be considered from the point of view of causality, for causality presupposes the existence of space and time. It is impossible to explain meaningful coincidence as a phenomenon of energy. This makes an end of the casual explanation as well, for ‘effect’ cannot be understood as anything except a phenomenon of energy. Therefore, it cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity.

“Synchronicity therefore means the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state. An unexpected content which is directly or indirectly connected with some objective external event coincides with the ordinary psychic state: this is what I call synchronicity.”

Jung gives one example of synchronicity that happened right before his eyes involving a patient who had a dream about a golden scarab beetle.

“A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to a closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned around and saw a flying insect knocking against the window pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, which contrary to its usual habitats had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like this ever happened to me before or since, and that the dream of the patient had remained unique in my experience.”

Jung is also of the opinion that due to his own experiences and that of his patients that we often dream about people from whom we receive a letter by the next post, he says:

“I have ascertained on several occasions that at the moment when the dream occurred the letter was already lying in the post-office of the addressee.”

Here we have another example which have an important bearing on the concept of synchronicity. The first; a man experienced in a dream the sudden death of a friend which contained all the details. The dreamer was in Europe whilst the friend in America. The death was confirmed the next morning after the dream by telegram and several days later a letter confirmed the details. After time zones had been compared it turned out that the death occurred at least an hour before the dream. It must be said though; the dream experience is not synchronous with the death. These kinds of experiences frequently take place a little before or after the critical event.

The second example is a dream mentioned by soldier and philosopher J.W. Dunne in Spring 1902. In the dream he was stood on what seemed to be a volcanic mountain. It was an island that he had previously dreamed about, and he knew that the island was to be threatened by a massive volcanic eruption that threatened all of the 4000 inhabitants. Of course, in the dream, Dunne wanted to save all the inhabitants from the impending doom, so he tried to get the French officials on the neighbouring island to begin preparations for rescue work. Throughout the dream the words ‘Four thousand people will be killed unless…’ hovered throughout his mind. A few days following the dream Dunne received a copy of the Daily Telegraph which contained the headline: ‘Volcano Disaster in Martinique. Town Swept Away. An Avalanche of Flame. Probably loss over 40,000 lives.’ The dream did not take place at the moment of the actual catastrophe, but only when the paper was already on its way to him with the news. While reading, Dunne misread 40,000 as 4,000. The mistake became fixed, however, so whenever he told the dream he said 4,000 instead of 40,000. Then, fifteen years later after he had copied out the article did he realise his mistake. Jung sees synchronicity as something that is working in between the psychic state and the unconscious mind. According to Jung:

“His unconscious knowledge had made the same mistake in reading as himself.”

As this article suggests, various scientists and philosophers have often queried on the meaning behind coincidences, but nobody more than Jung. Albertus Magnus explains what Jung calls Synchronicity as a ‘magical faculty in the soul’. Whilst Flemish philosopher Arnold Geulincx was of a similar opinion to Albert Einstein in the sense that coincidences are prompted by God and do not stem from our own thinking. German writer Goethe was of the same opinion and thought of synchronistic events in the same ‘magical way,’ Goethe says:

We all have certain electric and magnetic powers within us and ourselves exercise an attractive and repelling force, according as we come into touch with something like or unlike.”

This article only touches on a tiny fragment of Jung’s work within the field of synchronicity and indeed the world outside of the natural laws of science and the paranormal. I will end the article with a quote from Jung who sees it as the duty of not only philosophers and scientists but also ordinary everyday people to summon up the courage to shock the prejudices of our age if we want to broaden the basis of our understanding of nature.

“When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter with his telescope he immediately came into head-on collision with the prejudices of his learned contemporaries. Nobody knew what a telescope was and what it could do. Never before had anyone talked of the moons of Jupiter. Naturally every age thinks that all ages before it were prejudiced, and today we think this more than ever and are just as wrong as all previous ages that thought so. How often have we not seen the truth condemned, it is sad but unfortunately true that man learns nothing from history. This melancholy fact will present us with the greatest difficulties as soon as we set about collecting empirical material that would throw a little light on this dark subject, for we shall be quite certain to find it where all the authorities have assured us that nothing is to be found.”

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