F. DAVID PEAT
F. DAVID PEAT
In exploring the notion of Synchronicity, that remarkable proposal of Carl Jung1, I will be looking towards a liaison or bridge between two worlds. On the one hand we have the inner world of our direct experiences, of dreams and aspirations, memories and visions; the world of love and loss, of poetry, art, music and of spirituality. And, on the other, the world of matter and energy, the domain of physics and chemistry, the world of black holes, galaxies, elementary particles and quantum fields. And so, in speaking of Synchronicity, one asks if a bridge is possible between these worlds, between mind and body, between matter and spirit.
Or perhaps one should go further by asking if the very way the question has been posed already exposes a fundamental fragmentation within our thinking. Are there indeed two such different worlds? Or are there simply two sides to the one reality, two reflections in the one speculum, two modes of experience? Is it perhaps the particular way of seeing and of thinking within our Western society, indeed the reflection of the language we speak, that causes us to speak in terms of two worlds and then to seek to erect a bridge between them.
A number of important questions underlie these speculations:
Let me begin this exploration not with Jung’s synchronicity but with the idea of an Epiphany as proposed by the Irish writer James Joyce. Each one of us will have experienced, at some point in our lives, a moment of manifestation in which the world, our thoughts and memories, indeed everything becomes integrated and charged in a numinous fashion. It is as if the things around us, the significance of what we are about to do and the pattern of our life becomes unified within a field of meaning, a meaning that is at one and the same time universal, yet highly specific to the details of our own particular history and character.
Probably the best known example from Joyce’s own work occurs at the end of his short story ‘The Dead’ (from his collection of stories Dubliners). Gabriel Conway sits in a hotel room late and night, watching the snow falling outside his window. Earlier that evening he had attended a reunion, a dinner and musical evening with family and friends. And now, back at the hotel, his wife has told him of her first love and of the death of the young man.
His wife has fallen asleep and as Gabriel watches the snow fall he senses a connection to a much deeper pattern, to the pattern of the lives and deaths of his friends and relatives, to the death of a young lover, and to the snow, the snow that is falling over Dublin, over the countryside, over all of Ireland.
His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling… .His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead2.
This sudden clarity of perception, this dissolution of the boundaries between inscape and landscape is also found in a passage from T.E. Lawrence’s (Lawrence of Arabia) autobiographical account of his time in the desert.
We started off on one of those clear dawns that wake up the senses with the sun. For an hour or so, on such a morning, the sounds, scents and colors of the world struck man individually and directly, not filtered through or made typical by thought 3.
But perhaps the most celebrated and deeply explored series of epiphanies occurs in Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu as, for example, in the first volume Du cote de chez Swann in which the narrator bringing to his lips the teaspoon containing a fragment of a Petite Madeleine, is overtaken with an extraordinary sense of pleasure and joy which then causes him to enquire into the origin of these intense feelings and associations.
I have begun with this idea of epiphany because, for me, it focuses upon what I feel to be the essence and the importance of synchronicity—that sense of a unifying pattern of meaning which brings together in a perfectly seamless way the unfolding movement of inner and outer events.
The idea of synchronicity evolved after a long period of gestation, a time in which Jung appears to have been concerned not only with the structure and dynamics of the unconscious but also with the nature of time and causality. Indeed, for a psychologist, Jung had many contacts with the leading physicists of the day, not only the well publicized collaboration with Wolfgang Pauli but also discussions and exchanges with Einstein, Heisenberg, Pascual Jordan and Markus Fierz. (It is unfortunate that our leading physicists of today are less openminded!)
As for definitions of synchronicity, one can find the following within Jung’s writings:
And as to my own reading of synchronicity it would be to emphasize the sense of pattern and meaning which dissolves the boundaries between inner and outer and transcends our normal orders of space, time and causality. Yes, certainly the idea of coincidence is present, if by coincidence we mean those events which cannot be accommodated into any conventional account of causal relationship. But I feel that an obsession with coincidence alone acts to shift our focus from the deeper sense of transcendent meaning that is equi-present in synchronicities and epiphanies.
And as examples? Well one could perhaps select the following:
To these particular examples of synchronicity, each of which involves individual and highly personal occurrences, I would add the whole tradition of alchemy and its Great Work, or Ars Magna. Taken in one sense the work has two sides, the physical operations of separation and purification that are carried out within the alchemist’s laboratory and the corresponding internal purification of the alchemist’s soul. Yet, the deeper meaning of the work lies in its perfect synchronistic parallelism between inner and outer, between the inscape and the landscape of both the chemical and the spiritual substance.
It is true, however, that in his analysis of alchemy Carl Jung tended to concentrate upon the inner processes of transformation to the point where the external work seems almost to serve as a metaphor for him. But, for me, the true meaning of alchemy lies in its perfect synchronicity, a synchronicity in which a veritable transmutation of material substance occurs in parallel to the interior spiritual transformation, for the speculum of alchemy reflects and enfolds inner and outer, inscape and landscape, into each other.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of making contact with some of the First Peoples of Turtle Island (Native Americans) and of learning something of their sacred ceremonies which not only affirm and celebrate the unity of the group with the cosmos, but also seek to renew the spirit, energy and life within all that exists.
It is important to note that the synchronistic relationship between, for example, a Sun Dance or a ceremony carried out at a medicine wheel, does not seek a direct causal involvement with the rising of the sun or the movement of the cosmos. In other words, these ceremonies are not based upon a worldview that seeks to control and manipulate the forces of nature; rather, it is through these ceremonies that the group comes into relationship with the surrounding energies and spirits, and in this way sustains within nature a dynamic state of harmony and balance. Within such a state of balance the sun, game, the group and each person in it will live harmoniously.
To put it another way one can turn to the Mbuti pygmies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who sing and play music to the forest4. Their worldview is likewise not based upon our Western notion of causal relationship for, if questioned, they would probably say that they sing in order to make the forest happy, for when the forest is happy then all its children are happy. After relating this example to my Blackfoot friend, Leroy Little Bear, he pointed out to me that all the creatures of the forest have their tasks to perform, their obligations and their ways of being. The ants move across the forest floor, the birds sing, the animals hunt, the trees grow and provide shelter and, for their part, the Mbuti sing. And so when each aspect of life, from the trees and rocks, to the birds, flowers and humans carry out their proper tasks then harmony and balance is present for all. The Mbuti with their music, and the Blackfoot with their Sun Dance are well aware of the synchronistic dance in which they are involved. But what of ourselves? What of our own society? Do we understand the nature of the task required of us, the way of being that does not seek to control and manipulate nature but rather ensures harmony with the rest of existence?
Epiphanies and synchronicities are concerned with the harmony and balance between inner and outer; between, on the one hand, the world of mind and spirit and, on the other, the world of matter, space, time and causality. On an individual basis, synchronicities may be experienced as patterns, pregnant with meaning, that spill over from the world of dreams, memories and visions into similar patterns of concrete physical events in external, ‘objective’ world.
But such experiences bring us face to face with an essential paradox, namely, what sort of connection could there be that lies outside all causality? Or, more specifically, what meaning can be given to the term ‘acausality’ and by what manner does a pattern of very different and causally unconnected events unfold within the confines of space and time?
Despite the quantum revolution of the early decades the 20th century, we still live in a world of causality and the inevitable flow of time from past into present. Indeed, to a physicist, every event in the physical world is the end point of a causal chain involving what are termed ‘unitary transformations’; that is, the particular state of the present is totally determined as being a function of a state in the past. Likewise, the implications of the future are causally and completely contained within the present.
And so when we look from this perspective at a pattern of events in the physical world we seek the causal chains that link them. We look for the operation of the forces of physics, for transformations of energy, and for the inevitable march of time. And, in doing so, we give little importance to the occurrence of related dreams, memories and visions.
If our classical physics denies the very nature of synchronicity then does there perhaps exist a loophole within the quantum theory? Unfortunately not, for when it comes to Schrödinger’s equation, which determines the way the wave function changes in time, this too is totally deterministic. It may come as somewhat of a surprise to readers who are non physicists, but just as with the Newtonian laws of planetary motion, so too the Schrödinger equation is governed by what are termed ‘unitary transformations,’ in which the present state of the wave function is totally determined by its state in the past.
Some commentators, however, have speculated that, when it comes to the quantum measurements, the theory admits a rupture within its causality and allows for the influence of human consciousness. Their argument generally works in the following way: while the changes of a quantum state are totally deterministic, nevertheless Schrödinger’s equation allows for all different possibilities or potentialities. However, when it comes to an actual quantum measurement, or observation, only a single, unambiguous outcome is ever recorded. Somehow, by a process that seems to lie outside the normal, deterministic laws of physics, all those different possibilities have become condensed into a single actuality. (This is called the Collapse of the Wave Function, or the Quantum Measurement Problem.) Does the influence of the human observer, perhaps, play a role in this? Does human consciousness act to collapse the wave function? Could it be that the explanation for parapsychology and even for human consciousness lie in this ‘collapse of the wave function’?
Some researchers continue to pursue this avenue of enquiry but, to my mind the issues of quantum measurement, as they are normally discussed, have little to do with the ultimate nature of consciousness. Certainly there is a degree of confusion and a lack of general agreement as to the interpretation of quantum theory amongst physicists. But what is really called for here is a deeper theory that will unify both quantum theory and relativity and shed light on some of the current difficulties of interpretation. While the problem of quantum measurement has generated a host of different interpretations, as far as my own opinions are concerned once the disposition to take a particular measurement has been made, using a particular arrangement of experimental apparatus, then the outcome is totally independent of the wishes, desires, memories, dreams and visions of the human observer.
And so, at this level at least, I believe that quantum theory cannot provide us with a convincing explanation for synchronicity and we must therefore look even deeper. Indeed, the whole question of synchronicity causes us to question the very assumptions upon which our science is based; notions of objects that are well defined in space and time and of the physical interactions between them; assumptions as to the nature of an independent reality, in the sense of spatially localized states whose properties can be defined independent of any observer; assumptions as to the nature of space and of time. It is certainly true that while, at the level of its equations and dynamics, quantum theory may not provide a gap for synchronicity it has certainly called into question many of the assumptions listed above. In particular quantum theory has stressed the holistic nature of the world and in doing so replaces object by process.
But one can go even deeper and question the fragmentation, within our current world view, between inner and outer, the desire for an objective science which has no room for values, qualities and the nature of subjective experience.
It is at this point I wise to invoke the poet Gerard Manley Hopkin’s term inscape and in doing so I wish to convey the notion of the authentic voice, or inner-dwellingness of things and of our experience of them. By inscape I wish to suggest the inexhaustible nature of each human being, tree, rock, star and atom, and that there is no most fundamental level, no all-embracing account or law of a perception or encounter. Rather one attempts to engage the inner authenticity of the world.
And this, to me, clearly implies that there can be no single explanation, theory or level within nature. We must seek complementary descriptions rather than the single, all-embracing, complete and logically consistent rational accounts which attempt to answer all questions and close all doors. We must seek to engage nature using all the richness that is possible within human language, by drawing upon metaphor, allusion and ambiguity in order to create coherent yet complementary accounts.
In short, if we are truly to reveal the face of synchronicity then we must seek a new language for science. It is at this point that the family languages spoken by the Cree, Miꞌkmaq, Blackfoot, Naskapi, Ojibwe and other groups of Northern Canada springs to mind. This Algonquin family of languages is very much verb-based, for it relates to what could be called a process view of the world. The Blackfoot, for example, do not so much see a world of objects in interaction as one of flowing processes, of relationships and alliances between energies and spirits. In talking with Blackfoot and Miꞌkmaq friends I have been struck by the extent to which their world view blends harmoniously with some of the insights gained by the quantum theory.
For example, rather than seeking a definitive version of a traditional story, or providing the ‘correct’ explanation, they tend to see many different versions or stories, each depending upon the season, the ceremony and the overall context. Likewise there is no definitive account of a dream, a vision, or the creation of the world, but rather there can be many accounts, some of which appear to contradict each other yet which must all be taken together in a complementary fashion.
In a similar fashion, I am suggesting that the science of inscape and landscape requires a degree of creativity within its language, including the ability to deal with metaphor and ambiguity and to accommodate the qualities and values of our experience.
Form and Pattern
With the vision of this new science and new language in mind let me return to something more specific and speculate on the notion of pattern and form within the world of matter; specifically through the example of the Pauli Exclusion Principle.
It is a general principle of physics that systems spontaneously fall towards their lowest energy state by getting rid of any excess energy. According to this universal rule it would seem logical that, for example, the carbon atoms that make up their body should emit their excess energy by having all their electrons drop to a common (1s) ground state. However, this never happens, for electrons in all atoms occupy a series of levels of increasing energy.
It was Wolfgang Pauli who first proposed his famous Exclusion Principle that dictates the way electrons are distributed in the ground state of an atom. (The Exclusion Principle also applies to other quantum particles like the proton and neutron.) A simple statement of Pauli’s principle would be to the effect that no two electrons can possess the same value for all their quantum numbers. It is thanks to this principle that the variety and distinction of the different chemical elements becomes possible. Without it the electronic structures of different elements would be indistinguishable and there would be no stars, planets or life.
A deeper statement of the Pauli Principle would be that the wave function that describes the quantum system of electrons must have a particular global form—called anti-symmetry. One could try to interpret this anti-symmetry by saying that something seems to be correlating the dynamics of each individual electron by keeping them apart in their different energy levels, or quantum states. But given such an interpretation one would tend to look for a force of repulsion or some other causal connection between the motion of each electron. In fact, the mutual exclusion of electrons is truly ‘acausal.’ That is, the internal correlation of the electrons’ dynamics is not brought about by any physical force or transfer of energy; rather it is the direct manifestation of the global form of the wave function of the whole system. One could say, therefore, that the dynamics of the electrons are the manifestation of a global, non-local pattern, or form—a true expression of synchronicity.
An implication of this global form is what is called ‘non-separability,’ namely that the form of the wave function cannot be broken down into contributions localized at different points in space and time. An immediate consequence of this non-separability are the famous ‘non-classical correlations,’ or Bell Inequalities (also known as Bell’s Theorem), which have been experimentally verified between widely separated quantum particles5. Again, these correlations are not the result of any communication, force or energy exchange between the particles but are the direct manifestation of the overall form of the wave function.
Now at this point I would like to clarify what I am trying to do because there have been some attempts, by other physicists, to connect these Bell correlations with things like telepathy and parapsychology, and to suggest that in some way a Bell correlation could exist between two minds, or between mind and matter. I believe that this is an unwarranted extrapolation of Bell’s Theorem. What I am really trying to say is that it is this idea of global form itself, upon which Bell’s Theorem is based as one particular manifestation, has a much wider importance for physics. In fact, I believe that this concept of global form is one of the most important insights to emerge out of quantum theory.
Using the overall idea of a global form of the wave function one can also discuss coherent systems such as superconductors, superfluids and plasmas—and there have been speculations that coherent states are ubiquitous within living systems. In the case of a superconductor, for example, the motion of an individual electron becomes an aspect of the global form and dynamics of the entire superconducting system—in this fashion the electron becomes a part of that global dance that guides it around obstacles to its motion without scattering, and therefore without resistance. In short I am suggesting that a sort of global dance of form and pattern underlies much of what happens in the quantum domain.
Let me now generalize this idea of a field of form, or a global activity of pattern to other systems in nature. The speculation is that dynamical patterns of form underlie all of nature, material, energetic and mental. One could think, for example, of the human immune system as involving a flow of active meaning within the body. Indeed, it seems a promising avenue of speculation to explore notions of this coherent dance of form, pattern, meaning and information within both matter and mind.
These speculations have been, of necessity, brief but my general train of thought is to explore the whole notion of fields and patterns of form and meaning. To suggest, for example, that the pattern of dynamics of a material system can be correlated in a very subtle way by what could be called active form or active meaning. And, in turn, that unfolding patterns in space and time generate a field of meaning. In this sense one reaches a new dynamic in which material processes generate fields of meaning and, in turn, fields of active meaning lead to the unfolding or manifestation of patterns of material activity.
In this sense, therefore, inscape and landscape each become the manifestation of the other, and synchronicity becomes that pattern of meaning and activity that transcends the distinction between inner and outer.
Time, Space and Causality
One could also, perhaps, call into question some of the cherished notions about time, space and causality that underlie our current notions of reality. For synchronicity itself appears to be a phenomenon that transcends the restrictions of time and space. In one of my books, The Philosopher’s Stone6, I suggested that the universal assumption of unitarity within physics may be over restrictive. In its place I opened the possibility of the existence of non-unitary processes—i.e. those in which the present enfolds the past but is not totally determined by it.
Or, to put it another way, all that exists is the present, for the present is the given of our experience. It is only from within the present that one can discover and unfold the past—as Marcel Proust well understood. And from within the present one can explore those tendencies and patterns that may lead into the future.
The present, therefore, becomes an Inscape, something that is inexhaustible in its nature. Within the present are, contained and enfolded, the orders of time. But this is not the rather mechanical, linear arrow of time of the physicist, bur rather it is time that we ourselves generate as we seek to unfold the patterns that lie within the present.
It is from within this well of time, this inexhaustible inscape of the present that the mind excavates the patterns of past and future, unfolding the dynamics of matter and touches the numinous field of meaning that suffuses the universe. Indeed, the linear, arrow of time of traditional physics becomes no more that a superficial reflection of this much deeper order.
1 Jung, C.G. and Pauli, W. (1955) The Interpretation of Nature of the Psyche, trans R.F.C. Hull and P. Silz. New York: Pantheon, Bollingen Series LI.
2 ‘The Dead’ from James Joyce’s collection Dubliners. (2000) London: Penguin Classics
3 Lawrence, T. E. (1976) Seven Pillars of Wisdom, (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
4 Turnbull, Colin M. (1961) The Forest People: A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo. New York: Simon & Schuster.
See also Katz, Richard. (1982) Boiling Energy: Community Healing among the Kalahari Kung. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
5 For an overall review of John Bell’s thinking see Bell, John S. (1987) Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
see also Peat, F. David. (1990) Einstein’s Moon: Bell’s Theorem and the Curious Quest for Quantum Reality. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
6Peat, F. David. (1991) The Philosopher’s Stone. New York: Bantam Books.