On Carl Jung’s Concept of Synchronicity

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who coined some of the best known psychological concepts, including collective unconscious, extraversion vs. introversion or the archetype. He was also a prolific writer, although most of his pieces were published only after his death.

I personally first came across his name while reading an interview with Anthony Hopkins, one of my favorite actors. When asked if he enjoys getting older, the British actor answered: Yeah. I keep in shape. […] Mortality is the great rescuer, it finally takes you out of everything, and that makes life good, you know? Read Carl Jung. It makes life richer because this is it; none of us know where we go and this is the fun of it. (http://the-talks.com/)

Among many other concepts, one that I found to be extremely interesting, even for someone who does not have a solid background in psychology, is called synchronicity. Synchronicity can be defined as the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality. (http://www.merriam-webster.com) In the future paragraphs, I will give several examples as to clarify and illustrate this concept better.


To start with, the first example is given by C.G. Jung himself, in his book Synchronicity (1952). When trying to heal one of his patients, C.G. Jung was in a situation of impasse in treatment. The patient’s exaggerate rationalism was holding her back from responding to unconscious stimulus. However, one night, the patient dreamt a golden scarab. The day after that, during the psychotherapy session, while Jung was talking, a real golden scarab hit against the cabinet window. (http://www.carl-jung.net/)  Thus, in this case, there is something a bit more than just a mere coincidence, something that has gained meaning. This occurrence did not follow the path of cause and effect, thus it does not rely on causality (when the cause is responsible for the generated effect).

Another example is provided by the French writer Émile Deschamps in his memoirs. He recalled that in 1805, he was invited to serve some plum pudding with a stranger named Monsier de Fontgibu. A decade later, the writer found out that this dessert was served in a restaurant in Paris and wanted to have some. However, the waiter told him that the last dish was served to another customer, which turned out to be the same de Fontgibu. And last but not least, almost 30 years later from their first encounter, Deschamps was at a dinner and ordered the plum pudding. He was eating with some friends and shared with them the anecdote, just as de Fontgibu entered the room. (Emile Deschamps, 1874)

Carl Gustav Jung gave a brief presentation of this concept in 1951, at an Eranos lecture. After that, he confronted his idea with the opinions of Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli, as Jung believed that there were several connections between his concept and some aspects of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. (Igor V. Limar, 2011) Jung associated the existence of synchronicity with the existence of dreams – that have the role to make the person think about the greater wholeness rather than the egocentric self. And from a religious standpoint, he argues that synchronicity shares the same characteristics of an “intervention of grace”.

Although there were a lot of writers that were sympathetic with Jung’s ideas, synchronicity did receive a good dose of criticism too. Mainly, this criticism is addressed mainly through the prism of other previous laws and concepts, such as the law of truly large numbers. This law, coined by the American mathematician Persi Diaconis and the statistician Frederick Mosteller, states that if there is a sample size large enough, any outrageous thing is likely to happen. (Everitt, B.S., 2002). According to this law, we get accustom to events that are likely to occur in a given situation, thus, we don’t notice them as often. But when unlikely events happen, we notice them more. Another criticism is given through the association of Jung’s synchronicity with the term of apothecia, which is the apparent detection of pattern or meaning in random or meaningless data. (Brugger, Peter, 2001)

Now, with all this information on Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of synchronicity, I wonder how often and under what circumstances does it appear in one’s life. For example, last week I was in the possession of a sum of money. I was considering buying a new bike, since repairing my old one might have cost me almost the same amount of money. However, I had to spend the money on a medical treatment and I decided that I should wait and clean the old bike and see how it works. On the night when I took that decision, I came home, only to find out that my dog has bitten off my bicycle saddle. Having to invest my money in a different place didn’t make my dog feel like destroying the saddle, thus, it is not a causal event, I was wondering if this can be a case of synchronicity. Can it? C.G. Jung would probably agree.

(This video gives futher explanation on the topic).

Written by IRP


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