The Synchronity of Jung's Response to Reality

Born feet first, a prince of the scientific age in Kesswil, Switzerland in 1875, Carl Gustav Jung became an intellectual giant of his generation, and is considered by many to be the originator of analytical psychoanalysis. Completing his medical education in Basel, Jung then passed through a series of apprenticeships under some of the brighter names in psychiatry, methodically setting up shop in cities in bustling turn of the century Europe. He then met and became quick friends and collaborator with Freud. In 1911 he was elected the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Society.

Meanwhile he continued to travel, study, write and lecture extensively, breaking with Freud in 1914 to found his own school of analytical psychology. Inspired by data he had compiled in studies of free association tests, ESP, precognition, causal astrological conjunctions tying in with what he called "meaningful coincidences" and backed by encouraging but admittedly incomplete statistical data, these threads led to the gradual development not only of a theory of the collective unconscious but also had profound implications for the study of culture, especially the study of mythology and religion.

Although a strong believer in the scientific challenge and an equally just practitioner of applied methods along the crowded path to truth, Jung held that the increase in scientific understanding has led to a dehumanization of the natural and social worlds. "A former unconscious acceptance of natural phenomena, which involved endowing them with symbolic power has disappeared", he wrote. Yet, at the root of the problem lies the standard ambiguous set of ontological claims. Jung insisted that the contents of the psyche are as real as that which exists in the external world. He clearly meant by this more than the obvious, which nobody would be disposed to deny. For example, that there are recurrent patterns of symbolism that even the most dull man in the street can detect.

In a lecture given at the 1951 Eranos conference in Ascona, Switzerland, Jung described several examples of what he considered classical synchronicity as evidence that psychic events both in dreams and the waking state do not only influence but are influenced by the collective unconscious on the simultaneous planes of symbolic and physical being and do often supersede notions of time, space, and statistical probability. Careful notekeeping allowed the eminent psychologist to amaze himself at the confluence of events beginning April 1, 1949.

The Eranos conference of cigar chomping VIPs heard Jung recall that early that morning he drew an inscription on a notepad containing a figure that was half man, half fish. There was fish for lunch. One supposes he didn't arrange the menu. Somebody later mentioned the custom of making an "April fish" of someone. In the afternoon, a former patient, whom he had not seen in months, showed him some impressive pictures of fish. In the evening, he was shown a piece of embroidery with sea monsters and fishes in it. The next morning he saw a former patient who was visiting him for the first time in ten years. She had dreamed of a large fish the night before. A few months later, when he was using this series for a larger work and had just finished writing it down, he walked over to the spot by the lake near the front of his house where he had already been several times that morning. This time a foot long fish lay on the sea wall. Since no one else was present, he wondered how it could have got there.

Praising J.B. Rhine's reliable basis for work in the field of ESP and his trademark pack of cards depicting five geometric symbols, Jung delighted in the statistical evidences he gathered from his own office practice and random samplings set up to discover "meaningful coincidences" predicted by his system.

One rumor has it that whenever Freud and Jung would gather together in a parlor, odd things would occur, a picture falling off the wall, a chest of drawers crashing, or books dropping off shelves. This tale may well be apochraphal and intended merely to relay the message that there was some powerful psychic brainstorming going on when the two Goliaths met head to head.

His "golden scarab" story of a young woman patient is famous. Well-educated and poised to disagree on everything from apples and oranges, she proved to be psychologically inaccessible because she always had a response to everything in hard intellectual terms. Jung was faced with the psychic wrestling of the patient's "geometrical" or Cartesian reality when it proved "illogical" while encountering the intellectual resistance a patient's problems had erected. The powers of synchroncity Jung claimed, by quickly and opportunistically pointing out a real-time real-space association to a dream she had the night before, punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and opened her to treatment with satisfactory results.

Jung claimed that his cases of synchronity, extra sensory perceptions, astrological, and other causal relationships differ from manticism, or the oracle method of the I Ching. Not everyone is convinced.

However, Carl Jung's influence on later generations of writers is not disputed.

Recent contributors to the "meaningful coincidence" method as a critical pursuit of the signals life has to offer are noted writer and old Bull of the Beat Generation, William S. Burroughs, and prolific homme des lettres, Colin Wilson, who has spun webs across nearly every print genre from philosophy to encyclopedias, the occult and science fiction.

Burroughs has rattled the cages of establishment thinking ever since the 1959 publication of his book, Naked Lunch, with his significant emphasis on the human instinct as an integration of mechanical and psychic coincidences as they appear upon the matrix of randomized order in human affairs. His peculiar belief is that the artist actually creates the future using principles of the collective unconscious which lead directly to life imitating art. That human events are created by this process and are not merely culturally peddled synthetic forms or conscious copycat behavior, but instead, exist psychically in the realm of hard reality as art urges man to relocate himself within this swirl, is well established in his essays and novels and meets the demands Jung originated in his own work.

Wilson in the late 1980s notes that an American professor of psychology named Abraham Maslow, after bringing healthy people together to study their common energy, postulated a belief in the healing and paranormal inferences of what he called "peak experiences", a phenomenon that healthy people engage with fair degree of frequency. Stunning athletes speak of a place they call "the Zone", typified by unconscious will linked to the power of implicit influence and outstanding achievement. After much study Maslow became convinced that these peak experiences could not be induced.

That is where Wilson worked to prove Maslaw wrong. Enter biologist Rupert Sheldrake who developed a theory of evolution that outraged most of his older colleagues. According to Sheldrake, there is a simpler and much quicker method than changes in genes, a method he dubbed "morphic resonance".

He cites the story of a band of monkeys on an island off the coast of Japan. Scientists fed the monkeys unwashed sweet potatoes, and one exceptionally bright female named Imo was quick to dunk her tots in the sea, making them not only less gritty but more tasty. Soon all the monkeys on Koshima learned the trick. But so had monkeys on the mainland - monkeys who had no contact with those on Koshima.

Telepathy? Not according to Sheldrake. For it works not only for animals but for crystals as well. Some substances are extremely difficult to crystallize in the laboratory. But as soon as one laboratory had succeeded in doing it, the substance begins to crystallize much easier all over the world. Careful considerations eliminated the possibility that visiting scientists had carried fragments of the new crystals on their clothes or beards. Hypothesis: the crystals were "learning" from one another.

Anyone remember the first four minute mile? Sheldrake was encouraged to test his theory with a number of experiments. One of these involved sending out thousands of trick pictures in which a face is concealed in a mass of lines. He reasoned that once a certain number of people had learned to "see" the face, increasing numbers of people would be able to see it immediately. And that is precisely what happened. If Sheldrake is right, and the physical scientists are fighting him tooth and nail at every turn, the consequences would obviously be earth-shattering. Colin Wilson suggests that we would have to recognize that our writers and our artists are largely to blame for the chaotic state of society. He laments that the 20th century fascination with defeat is being stuffed down the throats of our children, school and university. Adding, "If there is anything to the theory of morphic resonance, this is the equivalent of pouring plague germs into the city's water supply". Not exactly the cold meaningless random world of post-Newtonian physics.

In regards to Wilson's indictment of modern writers, in 1932 Jung wrote a letter to James Joyce voicing his near indifference to the extravagant psychological peregrinations of the latter's recent masterpiece, Ulysses, admitting "a string of veritable psychological peaches". Finnegan's Wake seems to have left Jung even more dry in the mouth.

Many argue that Jung is open to criticism for treating the collective unconscious not as a theoretical entity to which reference is made in an as yet untested hypothesis, but as something whose existence is an established fact. Finally it is worth noting that we possess little worthwhile statistical evidence about the efficacy of Jungian psychotherapy. Lacking this evidence, many are forced to conclude that although Dr. Jung established a psychological system of some complexity, there are yet no grounds for believing any of its propositions which go beyond recording empirical data, either as to the nature of personality, the world at large, or as to the process of cure when so desired.