The following originally appeared on The Nightshirt.
You don’t have to be a hardheaded materialist skeptic or an atheist to be troubled by the idea of synchronicity. The fundamental mystery—or really, outrage—of synchronicities is they seem arranged, stage managed, in a way that is impossible without imagining an active higher intelligence taking interest in guiding us and arranging the events of the wider world to produce unmistakeably uncanny outcomes. Even if we believe in God, many people aren’t comfortable living in a world of miracles and signs.
This was the problem faced by Philip K. Dick, whose Christianity couldn’t countenance fully divine meddling in his psyche and life. The story had to be more complex and also more rational. Hence, he tended to think that the synchronicities he experienced in 1974 reflected his own enlarged self haunting him from an orthogonal dimension of time, perpendicular to the four spacetime dimensions we ordinarily experience.
My last article sparked an interesting discussion in my blog’s comments section about the apparent role of coincidence in synchronicities if they are really, as I argued, cases of misrecognized precognition or premonition. For instance, even if Jung’s famous scarab arriving at the window of his office was a purely random event that his patient had dreamed about the night before, there is still a coincidental element to it: Why a scarab, which has an archetypal meaning connected to the patient’s therapeutic situation, as opposed to some other insect?
Here’s where I think we really need to take seriously the revised picture of time that Dick grappled with through his 8-year frenetic journaling in his Exegesis: What is the connection between the archetypal world and the multidimensional nature of time? In a Eureka moment (not unlike the hundreds recorded by the manic Dick), I think I figured it out: Archetypes are an illusory effect produced by our failure to recognize self-confirmatory actions (feedback loops) made possible by the looping nature of time. Temporal feedback loops amplify the personal significance of symbolic formations, which (because we fail to recognize psi) appear as somehow objective or external to us.
For reasons I have discussed elsewhere, most information from the future should be negated by one’s own and others’ willed actions; but in a minority of cases, a self-confirming feedback effect could arise which would actually intensify or amplify the significance of the stimulating event in the future. This would happen specifically when that event involves a minor random coincidence (which are myriad) and/or fulfills some kind of unconscious thought or desire we had harbored.
Through this time-loop mechanism, minor coincidences, when they resonate with our own personal meanings and priorities, can be the nuclei of major significant moments (synchronicities) as well as meta-symbols (archetypes). Small coincidences, in other words, may be like grains of sand around which time’s oyster builds Platonic-Jungian pearls.
Bootstrapping Ourselves Toward Meaning
The idea of information from the future reaching us in the present should be unproblematic to parapsychologists and Forteans, yet we still tend to think of it somehow as a very special case. But if we grant the experimental results of Daryl Bem and Dean Radin and the observations of J.W. Dunne and others, then information must indeed be constantly rippling backwards in the time stream; this would have to produce all the paradoxical effects familiar from time travel stories in science fiction: doubling or multiplication or intensification of information (not unlike what happens in the interesting 2004 sci-fi film Primer), as well as self-cancelling effects such as I discussed in the context of Dune Messiah, and perhaps even wholesale self-negation (the famous grandfather paradox). If I am right about the future not being etched in stone (or glass, as in the Minkowski glass football)—that is, as subject to free will—then precognitive material cannot be about what is definitely going to happen but about what is probabilistic, and much of that information will be rendered inaccurate by our willed actions, and thus we would have no way of knowing it (i.e., because it didn’t come true or wasn’t close enough to how events unfolded to be discernible). It wouldn’t even be information, just noise.
However, in special circumstances, for instance when there is a slight perceived (and random) coincidence, such as between a specific genus of insect and the theme of therapeutic rebirth, it could instead have the effect of entraining our actions to the signal, in turn amplifying the felt significance of the signal into the past, generating a precognitive or premonitory experience which in turn feeds forward to intensify the uncanniness of the stimulating event, in turn boosting the signal into the past, and so on … The result would be an informatic/emotional time-loop feedback effect centered on what emerges as a truly uncanny, meaningful, and even decisive coincidence (the ’synchronicity’) that could even alter the course of a person’s life in a significant fashion going forward.
Within Jung’s larger and less radical paradigm of “individuation,” the unconscious is ever seeking out opportunities to progress and develop and change toward wholeness, and its capitalization on significant coincidences provides a way for the individual to bootstrap him/herself toward integration. The unconscious has no sense of time, so it doesn’t recognize this operation of atemporal time-looping—that is, the artificiality of the apparent coincidence (i.e., the fact that the person him/herself created the apparent coincidence through his/her actions and attributed it to objective external reality). The tendency of ‘synchronistic’ events to have a recursive, fractal, or self-similar quality, in some way being ‘about’ the whole notion of synchronicity or coincidence, reflects the tendency of the coincidence-receptive person to be attuned to coincidences in the first place. It is, quite literally, self-fulfilling prophecy.
Jung and Plato Must Die (that Psi May Live)
Thus the kinds of events that spark an emotional ripple into the past will be ones that support the ‘prophetic enjoyment’ I mentioned in the last article: Synchronicities are self-confirming effects produced by misrecognized precognition within an overall attitude of receptivity to mystery, magic, and meaningful coincidence. Belief in synchronicity produces synchronicity, which further reinforces the belief. In a larger sense, this mechanism may underlie the “law of attraction” in all its forms. It really is just like the “strange attractor” in Chaos Theory (and which is also identical to what Lacan and Žižek call the “symptom”).
What this suggests—and this is my Eureka—is that “archetypes” as such—as well as the Platonic world of “forms” that Dick suggested was the “fifth dimension” (printing out archetypes on the paper of history as on an IBM Selectric typewriter)—are really an illusory or anamorphic effect produced by not seeing or recognizing these self-confirmatory time loops, these informational/emotional eddies in the spacetime continuum, and failing to see our own role in feeding them through our perceptions and actions. We ourselves make meaning, including the intensified meaningful nuclei in the collective unconscious that so fascinated Jung and that formed the centerpiece of Platonic metaphysics.
At times, Dick came close to saying this: He suggested that synchronicities occur because we in the future are time traveling, cultivating our own development; that our own enlarged consciousess has the power to “stage manage” not because it is a white-bearded deity sitting up in a cloud reaching down and playing with us like chess pieces, but because of the nature of time itself. Coincidences may be the product of time tampering, our own time tampering in the future.
Where I’m departing from this notion is in emphasizing misrecognition and the role of the unconscious: Instead of our future (conscious) selves meddling in the past, our unconscious minds are constantly receiving and reacting to future information without knowing it comes from the future; through our actions, we thus sometimes confirm this information, particularly when it resonates with our priorities and unconscious beliefs about meaning or our own significance in the bigger cosmic picture. That sort of information will act as an ‘attractor’ in the Chaos Theory sense and give rise to the illusion of BIG coincidences and the meta-symbols that are necessary (in Jungian thinking) to make sense of them.
We live in a world that curves and bifurcates and loops back on itself, and these loopings and crossings and doublings and cancellations exert a shaping force on our lives and larger events via what we call psi, but we (a) think linearly and do not believe in time travel, (b) generally disbelieve in psi, and (c) fail to include the knower in the known even when we do believe in those possibilities. Consciously being open to coincidence and ‘larger meaning’ but failing to recognize our own role in creating significant moments, we inevitably imagine a Higher Knower who recognizes and certifies these eternal forms or archetypes, stage-managing these amazing occurrences as signals or signposts for us. But this is a mistake.
I’m suggesting we kill both Jung and Plato here in one stroke … maybe even God. Not only synchronicities but also archetypes and Ideal Forms are illusions caused by our failure to recognize the truly science-fictional way that informational-emotional time loops may intensify the potency of confluent events and symbols in our lives, and the role we ourselves play in the process.
We live in a science-fictional universe. To move forward, we need to recognize that fact.
Image by Michelle Barth, courtesy of Creative Commons license.