Synchronicity and Emergent Self-Organisation


As far as synchronicities ago, I have had my fair share of extraordinary ones. Sometimes they even seem to come in bursts and flurries. In any case, when you experience a powerful synchronicity it is hard to simply assume that chance alone was at play. The ‘merelyistic' arguments that wave such events aside as nothing more than happenstance and statistical probability are well worn and well boring. From my own experiences it seems to me that something else may be afoot - and I would connect this with the phenomenon of self-organization. In other words, the notion I am entertaining in this essay is that synchronicities are real and that they evince a hitherto unacknowledged instance of self-organization.

When you think about it, Nature is replete with instances of self-organization. Look at how, over time, various exquisitely ordered patterns crystallise out of the Universe. On a macroscopic scale you have stable and enduring spherical stars, solar systems, and spiral galaxies. On a microscopic scale you have atomic and molecular forms of organization. And on a psychological level, fed by all this ambient order and pattern, you have consciousness which also seems to organise itself into being (by way of the brain). Thus, patterned organisation of one form or another is what Nature is proficient at doing over time. And even when Nature elicits something that seems totally destructive - like an exploding supernova - even the spewing fallout (elements such as carbon, silicon and iron for example) can, eventually, potentiate further forms of self-organization.

Probably the most notable example of self-organization is life itself. What could be more redolent in self-organizing prowess than a living biological organism? Imagine what it is like for an individual cell in an organism. It needs water - and lo and behold water is delivered to it. What a great life saving coincidence. The cell may also need some glucose as fuel. Lo and behold glucose is delivered. Fuel is no good to the cell without oxygen to burn it with. Lo and behold oxygen is delivered - yet another coincidence. Or maybe the cell needs a certain crucial protein in a certain crucial place. Ah, there it is again - the nifty providential coincidence in which what is needed is provided for.

Of course, I am fooling around here. A cell is able to sustain its highly organized pattern not through the coincidental arrival of what it needs but by the deliberate arrival of what it needs. For the cell is part of an exquisite self-organizing system - namely a living creature - which itself has arisen due to the amazing self-organizing process we call evolution.

In short, whether it be living things like organisms and ecosystems, or non-living things like snowflakes and rolling ocean waves, Nature has, through its lawful configuration, a striking ability to promote order and organization. This being the case, is it possible that the amazing synchronicities many of us experience represent an emerging ‘higher level' manifestation of self-organization? To make use of an alluring metaphor, are certain events and cultural processes akin to iron filings coming under the organising influence of a powerful magnet? Such a ‘magnet' could be seen, perhaps, to be synonymous with the Whole which forces component parts to synchronise in a specific way.

Leaving that quixotic contention on the backburner, let me focus on the staggering synchronicity that propelled me into writing this essay. Before I detail it, let me just mention another synchronicity of note. I am what they call a mushroom man, a psilocybin researcher. Once, when I was doing some historical research in this field, I came across a very curious synchronicity involving the author Arthur Koestler. Here is what I wrote about this strange synchronicity in a multimedia item that I used to produce. To give the reader the proper context, the following quote comes after material about the British history of the psilocybin mushroom in which I noted key news articles that made it to the pages of the Times newspaper (these news articles related to the sub-cultural use of Britain's indigenous psilocybin mushroom that emerged during the 1970's and 1980's):

"I should like to relate an uncanny synchronistic twist to the story so far. Right alongside one of the mushroom articles appearing in the Times in 1981 there appeared a large picture of the author Arthur Koestler in conjunction with a short feature about him. The significance of Koestler is that he experienced psilocybin in the early 1960's but had bad experiences and thence severely derided psilocybin in his subsequent writings. However, no connection was made between the Koestler feature and the mushroom feature although they were both printed on the same page. This was not surprising though as the link was tenuous and would only be known to a dedicated student of psilocybin history. A mere interesting coincidence then and nothing more. Two years later, printed right next to a Times story on the acquittal of a psilocybin mushroom possessor (which became a test-case whereby the unprocessed mushroom was deemed to be egal to possess) was a short piece announcing the suicide of Koestler. This was a startling piece of synchronicity, given a decidedly fractal depth since Koestler had written two books chiefly about synchronicity entitled The Roots of Coincidence and The Challenge of Chance. He even ran a competition in the Sunday Times in 1974 to find the most interesting case of synchronicity. Indeed the Koestler Foundation exists to this day which still documents cases of synchronicity. Perhaps someone should inform them of the above case. It certainly seems more than chance."

I well recall what it felt like when I became privy to these synchronistic psilocybinetic juxtapositions. It felt like reality was a kind of narrative or story, that there were plots and themes which, like currents and eddies in a river, were coalescing certain events together. In fact, this is what I really mean when I talk of higher level self-organization. It is the idea that there are natural forces afoot that are weaving together events and people in subtle ways that science does not yet acknowledge. In any case, let me briefly detail the main synchronicity that occurred recently.

Back in 1985 I met this chap that ended up being a guru to me. He introduced me to the ideas and teachings of Gurdjieff. And I rate Gurdjieff as the single biggest influence of my inner life (notwithstanding the influence of the psilocybin mushroom!). Ever since then, the guru and I have discussed Gurdjieff and his practical psychological teachings. And in the mid-1990's the guru and I made a number of important pioneering psilocybin treks around various wilderness areas of the UK. So we have always been, as Gurdjieff would say, essence friends.

Now, back in 1985 after I first met the guru and he first told me about Gurdjieff, the first book I read about him (and I eventually went on to read just about every available Gurdjieff book) was The Gurdjieff Work by Kathleen Riordan Speeth - and it had such an impact that I can even now recall certain pages of that book.

Fast forward 25 years. Due to the death of a distant relative and the necessity for a small inheritance to be shared out, the guru, who I am still in touch with, was contacted by his long lost cousin who, on a trip to London, paid him a visit. They had never met before - but were pretty much forced to meet due to the aforementioned death of a relative. It transpires that they are rather like chalk and cheese. The guru is uneducated (in the traditional sense) and has pretty much always been extremely poor (in the material sense). The long lost cousin on the other hand appeared to be very educated and even rather wealthy. In other words, the guru and his long lost cousin had lived totally different lives in different countries and had never been aware of one another's existence.

Well, after an initial meeting and certain discussions, it transpired that this long lost cousin spent time in the mid-1970's living with, and being romantically involved with.... none other than Kathleen Riordan Speeth, the Gurdjieff author mentioned above! As if that was not amazing enough, I soon learned that this Kathleen Riordan Speeth, after the relationship ended with the guru's cousin, went on to have some sort of a relationship with Claudio Naranjo (a scholar of South American psychedelic shamanism). This too was synchronistic as I mention, and quote, Naranjo in a forthcoming psilocybin book of mine. To be sure, the quote pertains to self-organization - although in this case the self-organization of vast amounts of psychological information into powerful visionary symbols.

So, all in all, these unfolding synchronicities have had a big impact on me of late. Being highly personal however, no one will likely feel them as forcibly as me. These events also made me ponder more deeply what I say about self-organization in my psilocybin book - namely that reality consists of a flow of self-organizing information. If so, then it is no wonder that we may become embroiled in curiously profound synchronistic events. As I have said elsewhere, life on Earth is akin to a self-writing self-righting story. There are plots and themes and convoluted sub-plots. And we may be characters - being woven together in ways we never dreamed were possible. So keep your eyes and minds open. And trust that Pachamama be a cool author.