This article is the third in a series in response to an article by Ted Wade on Medium, which claimed that the ‘supernatural’ is a figment of humans’ imagination. I am arguing the contrary. By the end of part 2, I had provided convincing evidence, to my mind at least, in the light of statements by quantum physicists over a period of 80 years, that the material world does not exist independently in its own right, but emerges from a hidden background, which is unmeasurable and not accessible to scientific experiment. I am choosing to call this the ‘supernatural’, although I accept that Wade would say that this is merely the natural waiting to be discovered by science. (He has said this in our correspondence.)
The next task would be to try to ascertain what might be going on in this hidden realm, also whether it might be inhabited (that will be the subject of later articles). If it could be shown that intelligences(s) operating from within this hidden background, were influencing the material world, this would be further evidence of something supernatural. This is what appears to be the case in the phenomenon of synchronicity, as understood by Carl Jung, who coined the term.
Synchronistic events are extraordinary, sometimes life-changing, coincidences, mysterious comings together of an external element with a subjective state of mind. Rationalists will obviously say that such coincidences are nothing more than that; they are bound to happen occasionally, and reading a hidden meaning into them is a fanciful illusion. All I can say in response is that many highly intelligent people have not dismissed such incidents in this way, and have taken them seriously, believing that something mysterious (supernatural?) is going on behind the scenes. (For a list see footnote 1.)
If they are real, and not mere coincidence, we have to ask what hidden intelligence is organising these synchronicities, with apparent foreknowledge of all the circumstances, including what is going on in the mind of the participant.
Here are three bizarre incidents, as related by Jung in his book² (although he is not claiming that they are all examples of synchronicity). Firstly:
“The writer Wilhelm von Scholz has collected a number of stories showing the strange ways in which lost or stolen objects come back to their owners. (There is a) story of a mother who took a photograph of her small son in the Black Forest. She left the film to be developed in Strasbourg. But, owing to the outbreak of war, she was unable to fetch it and gave it up for lost. In 1916 she bought a film in Frankfurt in order to take a photograph of her daughter, who had been born in the meantime. When the film was developed it was found to be doubly exposed: the picture underneath was the photograph she had taken of her son in 1914! The old film had not been developed and had somehow got into circulation again among the new films.
“The author comes to the understandable conclusion that everything points to the ‘mutual attraction of related objects’, or an ‘elective affinity’. He suspects that these happenings are arranged as if they were the dream of a ‘greater and more comprehensive consciousness, which is unknowable’ ” (p21–22).
This is the second incident, which Jung describes as typical of a certain category of events. “The wife of one of my patients… once told me in conversation that, at the deaths of her mother and her grandmother, a number of birds gathered outside the windows of the death-chamber. I had heard similar stories from other people. When her husband’s treatment was nearing its end, his neurosis having been removed, he developed some apparently quite innocuous symptoms which seemed to me, however, to be those of heart-disease. I sent him along to a specialist, who after examining him told me in writing that he could find no cause for anxiety. On the way back from this consultation… my patient collapsed in the street. As he was brought home dying, his wife was already in a great state of anxiety because, soon after her husband had gone to the doctor, a whole flock of birds alighted on their house. She naturally remembered the similar incidents that had happened at the death of her own relatives, and feared the worst” (p31–32).
The third incident is the most famous example in the literature on synchronicity. “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 the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round 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, the common rose-chafer, which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment” (p31).
Jung comments that the woman had been a very difficult case, essentially because her mind was full of ‘Cartesian philosophy’ (i.e. scientific materialism). “Evidently something quite irrational was needed which was beyond my powers to produce”. So, when the scarab came in through the window, this was enough to blow her mind, and “the process of transformation could at last begin to move” (p33). (It should be further noted that the scarab is a symbol of rebirth.)
This last example fits Jung’s definition of synchronicity perfectly: “the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state — and, in certain cases, vice versa” (p36). At the moment that the woman is telling Jung about her dream of a scarab-beetle, such a beetle appears at his window.
Jung accepts, and explains at some length, that the flock of birds example is not, strictly speaking, an example of synchronicity according to this definition. It is nevertheless an extraordinary, and mysterious coincidence: “Such phenomena cannot be explained causally unless one permits oneself the most fantastic ad hoc hypotheses” (p37).
The example of the photograph returning to the woman is even less of a synchronistic event, because there was no simultaneous psychic state; she had presumably given up all hope of finding it, and was not thinking about it at the moment she recovered it by chance.
Synchronicity or not, Jung describes such coincidences as acausal. If, however, they are not merely the result of random chance, there must be a cause of some kind, some intelligent agency both willing and organising them. I therefore take him to mean that there is no cause and effect relationship according to the laws of conventional physics, which assume a present situation following on and caused by the past, whereas the elements in a synchronistic coincidence come together simultaneously, without any comprehensible causal connection between them. The question then arises, where is this organising will located? My suggestion is that, if something cannot be explained by the laws of physics, then a paranormal or ‘supernatural’ explanation must be considered.
Let’s have a look at the examples one by one, beginning with the return of the lost photograph. Surprisingly, such occurrences are not especially rare. I have discussed extraordinary coincidences in a previous article , where one category was ‘the unexpected finding of a lost possession’. Two other examples I mentioned there were:
- a man finds his engraved fountain pen on a street in New York over two years after losing it in South Carolina³.
- a teenage boy catches a large cod and gives it to his grandmother to prepare. Inside it she finds a valuable diamond ring she had lost while fishing ten years earlier⁴.
In trying to find an explanation for such occurrences, I quoted Geoffrey Cornelius: “And which student of Magia and the imagination, ancient and modern, could there be who did not know of the capacity of the Soul to draw the object of its desire towards it across time and space?”⁵.
Jonathan Black, who is an important source for this series of articles, as explained in part 1, says something similar in more detail:
- “In the universe this book describes, our emotional states directly affect matter outside our bodies too. In this psychosomatic universe the behaviour of physical objects in space is directly affected by mental states without our having to do anything about it”⁶.
- “The ways in which the physical content of the universe responds to the human psyche are described by deeper and more powerful laws than the laws of material science”⁷.
According to this analysis, the photograph, the pen, and the ring found in the fish are attracted back to the owners because of the latters’ unconscious longing to be reunited. If this is true, these coincidences would not be examples of synchronicity, rather a paranormal ability of consciousness. We don’t know exactly how Cornelius defines the word ‘Soul’ but, whatever the definition, its ability to achieve what is claimed here would lie way outside the worldview of materialist science and its understanding of the brain. According to the alternative understanding of the universe that I am advocating in this series, even our everyday consciousness is a supernatural phenomenon (since it is not generated by the brain). (This was also the view of Sir Arthur Eddington, pioneer in quantum physics, as quoted in part 2.)
In the third example of the scarab-beetle, some comparison could be made to this explanation. Since the woman was in therapy (Jung was her third analyst), she presumably at some level knew that something was wrong and wanted to be healed, even though her conscious ego was furiously resisting this. It is therefore possible that her soul or Higher Self organised this synchronicity in order to enable her to move on. I nevertheless think that such an explanation is less likely than that some other organising intelligent agency was responsible. We assume that the scarab-beetle was not aware of its role and meaning in this sychronistic event, yet it was driven to appear at Jung’s window “contrary to its usual habits”. So who or what was doing the driving? I suggest that this would require something beyond the woman’s unconscious psychic abilities. Since it is hard to conceive where this organising agency could be within the space-time universe, I therefore conclude that it is, in some sense, supernatural.
The second example of the birds on roofs has clear similarities to a synchronicity, in that there is an external event — birds alighting on roofs — meaningfully related to a separate event — the man’s death — which is in itself related to a psychic state — the wife’s anxiety. It is different in that there are three elements, rather than the customary two. It is also significantly different, in that nothing positive emerges from the coincidence, the delight in being reunited with a lost object, or making a breakthrough in therapy. On the contrary, the birds seemed to be a sinister omen of the man’s impending death. He was presumably not unconsciously willing a signal to be broadcast to his wife, and it is reasonable to assume that the birds, like the scarab-beetle, were not aware of their role in this drama. Unless all this is just a coincidence, and anyone who thinks otherwise is mad, as rationalists would say, I would have to conclude, as in the previous example, that the birds were being driven by an unconscious impulse, controlled by some supernatural intelligence. The wife intuitively, and correctly, recognised the signs.
What can we say about this supernatural, intelligent agency? Is it an independent entity, or is it some kind of collective consciousness? I favour the latter idea. Quantum physics teaches us that the whole universe, both matter and psyche, is interconnected. We would not need to include the whole universe when considering this question, however; something like the psyche of our Planet Gaia would be enough.
Above I asked the question, “what hidden intelligence is organising these coincidences, from behind the scenes, with apparent foreknowledge of all the circumstances, including what is going on in the mind of the participant?”
One answer could be provided by the quote above from Wilhelm von Scholz; he called it the dream of a “greater and more comprehensive consciousness, which is unknowable”. The Jungian analyst and astrologer Liz Greene says something similar, but with more detail. She talks about “the overriding sense of some kind of a priori knowledge in the unconscious… This ‘it’ is generally experienced as God. The sense of the omniscience of the unconscious, without any conceivable causal basis, gives rise to a peculiar feeling of fatedness when we encounter synchronous events… ‘It’ seems to have fingers, if that is the appropriate word, in both the inner and outer worlds, in the realms of both spirit and matter, as though there were really no distinction between these opposites”⁸.
That sounds supernatural to me.
In the next article, I’ll discuss one category of what Jung called synchronicity, consultations of the I Ching.
- Some of the most noteworthy, not directly followers of Jung, are:
- Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind by F. David Peat (physicist and associate of David Bohm),
- The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler
- The Challenge of Chance by Arthur Koestler, Alister Hardy, and Robert Harvie
- Coincidences, a Matter of Chance? by Brian Inglis.
Some less well known figures are:
- The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self by Jean Shinoda Bolen
- Synchronicity and You by Frank Joseph
- Synchronicity, Science and Soul-Making by Victor Mansfield
- Coincidences, Chance or Fate? by Ken Anderson
- Coincidences, Towards a Greater Understanding by Tony Crisp
- There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives by Robert Hopcke
- Beyond Coincidence by Martin Plimmer and Brian King
- Incredible Coincidences by Alan Vaughan
- Synchronicity, Science, Myth and the Trickster by Allan Combs and Mark Holland.
Those with a more direct connection to Jung are:
- On Divination and Synchronicity by Marie-Louise von Frantz
- Jung, Synchronicity, and Human Destiny by Ira Progoff
- Revelations of Chance, Synchronicity as Spiritual Experience by Roderick Main
- C.G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity by Robert Aziz
- Synchronicity: C.G. Jung, Psychoanalysis and Religion by M. D. Faber
2. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972
3. source, Alan Vaughan, Incredible Coincidence, Corgi, 1981, p33. Repeated in Coincidences, Tony Crisp, London House, 2000, p61.
4. source, Ken Anderson, Coincidences: Chance or Fate?, Blandford, 1995, p79
5. The Moment of Astrology, Arkana, 1994, p88
6. The Secret History of the World, Quercus, 2010, p35, his italics
7. ibid., p36, my italics
8. The Astrology of Fate, Mandala, 1985, p278