Synchronistic events provide an immediate religious experience as a direct encounter with the compensatory patterning of events in nature as a whole, both inwardly and outwardly.
- C.G. Jung
We have plenty of evidence that we live in a universe of random interaction, where things often happen for no apparent reason. Centuries of skeptical rational inquiry have shown how causes and effects are governed not by a controlling will but by countless little operations of natural laws. There is some liberation and even comfort to be found in this fact, but when it comes to directing our lives as human beings and not robots, it is demoralizing to face a universe devoid of meaning.
And sometimes things happen which we feel must be meaningful: things come together in such a way that we feel we must have been the recipient of some kind of grace. People have attributed such events to God, to the Gods, to the Universe, to Fate, to any number or description of agents beyond human egos and their bumbling institutions. Carl Jung gave such phenomena the name of synchronicity.
Simply put, synchronicity refers to events which occur close together in time yet cannot be shown to have a causal relationship. When someone recovers from an illness in a rapid and unusual way, scientific medicine cannot attribute the fervent prayer of family as a cause for the recovery. Nor can the rational facts of matter give any credit to the notions of luck, answered prayers, inspiration, visions and dreams, revelation . . . depending on the language you use to describe the phenomena, you can easily find yourself alienating people who believe in things beyond this world, just not the same way you do.
Like so many of Dr. Jung's concepts, synchronicity can be and has been misunderstood and dismissed as unscientific – and indeed, it is devilishly difficult to test. After all, how can you subject to scientific testing a phenomenon which depends not on causation but on subjective meaning? To be human is to make meaning, and to be human is also to operate mostly unconsciously. As Dr. Jung tirelessly worked to show, the workings of the unconscious are so rich in strange and wondrous intelligence and wisdom that the proper attitude of the conscious intellect is respect and even deference.
Any citizen in a society that has made some pretensions to democratic processes ought to understand that correlation does not imply causation. We need well-developed rational faculties in order to guard ourselves from being manipulated by people with power. But every denizen of a society built up on the products of rationalism, whose life is shaped and channeled in every way by technology, also needs a meaning for that life. Whatever words you might prefer to use in describing them, synchonistic phenomena are messages which help us find such meaning.
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