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Beyond the doors of perception

by Keith Purtell

Hubble Space telescope astrophotography of 'Pillars of Creation' in the Eagle Nebula (M16) (NASA image)
"Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula (M16)

Synchronicity is a theory that proposes everything in the universe is connected. Discoveries in quantum physics have strengthened this idea.

The presumption that major scientific theories have broad social impact is well established in mainstream academia.

Paul Johnson’s epic chronicle “Modern Times” is based on the premise that contemporary history began 77 years ago with tests which confirmed Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Johnson said:

The emergence of Einstein as a world figure in 1919 is a striking illustration of the dual impact of great scientific innovators on mankind. They change our perception of the physical world and increase our mastery of it. But they also change our ideas. The second effect is often more radical than the first. The scientific genius impinges on humanity, for good or ill, far more than any statesman or warlord.

Although the implications of synchronicity are enormous, it is an emerging philosophy yet to be developed by an authoritative voice. No Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton or Einstein has arrived to introduce synchronicity to humanity.

Synchronicity has a humble origin in the study of meaningful coincidences. As Arthur Koestler described it: “There exists a type of phenomenon, even more mysterious than telepathy or precognition, which has puzzled man since the dawn of mythology: the seemingly accidental meeting of two unrelated causal chains in a coincidental event which appears both highly improbable and highly significant.”

Mainstream science has remained rather apathetic about synchronicity, partly because it is still strongly associated with the first person to speak and write about it; Carl Jung.

I recommend two books, both titled Synchronicity. One is by Dr. F. David Peat, and the other is by Allan Combs and Mark Holland.

Peat seems to have a sure grip on those portions of his text that focus on hard science. With a Ph.D. from Liverpool University, he has taught at Queen’s University in Canada, and worked at the National Research Council of Canada studying quantum mechanical structure.

Despite being grounded in hard science, Peat also explores certain new-age ramifications of the topic. Subtitled “The Bridge Between Matter and Mind,” some of his book consists of bright-eyed speculation. Overall, however, his writing maintains the kind of tightly-wound logic characteristic of someone who has spent years exploring every aspect of a subject.

Allan Combs and Mark Holland are professors of psychology and English, respectively. They do a sensible job of dividing the topic into “Synchronicity and Science” and “Synchronicity and Myth.” I found the section on myth especially compelling, because it shows how antiquarian philosophers and primitive cultures have for centuries dealt with synchronicity. Several of the more interesting discussions:

Morphic fields. A hypothesis of formative causation proposing that the development of a living organism is controlled by a kind of field. This contrasts with the traditional reductionist view of growth as a strictly biochemical system to be studied on molecular level. From the book:

In embryological development, the morphic field acts on the DNA molecule much like a radio wave acts on a radio, giving its output a specific form without actually altering its hardware. An important aspect of the radio wave is that is supplies very little of the actual energy needed to produced sound from the radio. Rather, the wave supplies a minute amount of energy patterned in such a way as to guide and structure the final output that itself may involve considerable amounts of energy. Likewise, morphic fields require minute energy to exert dramatic influences upon nature.

Synchronicity and probability. Opponents of synchronistic study sometimes attempt to use probability to explain away synchronistic events or reduce analysis of those events to a mechanistic explanation. As Combs and Holland illustrate, we live in an indefinite reality.

Trickster, Coyote, Hermes. Through these and other archetypal legends, the ancients sought to understand synchronistic aspects of their world. Hermes, the Greek master of borders and transitions, is the most sophisticated of these examples.

The authors’ language skills and rational processes are particularly appropriate for this kind of topic. Their lucidity unites otherwise disparate elements: “The fact that synchronistic coincidences may express a common form and meaning in both human consciousness and in the physical world ... implies that the origin of such coincidences stands behind both of these realms.”

The most practical application of a synchronistic philosophy would seem to be in social sciences, where quantitative thinking has degenerated into machine culture. Synchronicity has a dual appeal that might serve as a means of opening a dialogue between opposite camps.

The two most rancorous of the opposing camps are science and religion. However, if theologians learn to appreciate the science in creation as the same rate some scientists are learning to appreciate the spiritual in science, the two groups will inevitably arrive at the same location.

The possibility that synchronicity is a principle that could link science and religion is apparent in the two books mentioned here. A “creative universe”? “Higher order structures from lower order structures”? Let’s not tiptoe around the issue. How far removed are these statements from the idea that the entire universe is not just a mass of colliding particles, but instead a coherent whole that originates from a center which manifests patterns consistent with sentient presence?