Philosophical Discussion

Synchronicity: A Probabilistic Time Ordering of Events

by Robert G. Howard, PhD

Abstract:  The viewpoint is that synchronicity is an expression of psyche, which orders events. Definitions of terms are given.  Jung’s psychological model  and its connections to synchronicity are briefly noted.  Synchronicity is shown to be a psychic perception responding to the rise of science, which has displaced the human need for spirituality, and the functions of religion.  The contribution of synchronicity in ordering psychic and physical events is related to spirit.

 Carl Jung’s Definition of Synchronicity

Much has been written about the notion of “Synchronicity.”  The concepts are clarified as follows.

Carl Jung invented the term, “synchronicity” based on his pursuit of  analytical psychology (Jung, 1969)and (Jung, 1955).

       Synchronicity is a meaningful coincidence, acausal parallelism, an acausal connecting principle, the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state. The “psychic state” could be refer to a dream. Not a cause resulting in an effect but “ simultaneity” connected in the observer’s mind. Meaningful is defined as “informative, emotionally charged, and the transforming observer’s  beliefs or point of view.”  Jung also pondered the psyche mechanism of precognition to explain is the simultaneous knowledge [at a distance] and in the future.

  Jung Defined Three Categories of Synchronicity

       1. coincidence of psychic state in observer with simultaneous objective external event corresponding to the psychic state or content where no evidence of cause-effect connection between psychic state and external event and where, because of limitations on velocity, time and space, connection is not conceivable.

       2. Coincidence of psychic state with corresponding, sort of simultaneous, external event happening

outside observer’s field of perception, at a distance and only verifiable afterward.

       3. Coincidence of psychic state with corresponding, not yet existent, future event, distant in time and only verifiable afterward.

Categories 2 and 3 are not within observer’s field of perception, thus  labeled “synchronistic” not synchronous.

  Other Phenomena Similar to Synchronicity in Paranormal ESP and Spirit

 Synchronicity is numinous: transcending space, time and causality, which closely resembles religious experience. “If there are uncaused events in human experience then… explanation in terms of later events being caused by earlier ones will have to be supplemented. Scientific descriptions of world  can no longer be framed solely in material terms but will account…for  psychic properties. If psyche can… transcend time and space, distant events can be now and here without [cause-effect]… We may be woven into an order that transcends [accepted world view]” (Main, 2004,  p. 7)

  Synchronicity in the I Ching

A record of synchronicity has arisen outside of psychology.  The Chinese oracle, I Ching, seems similar to the ESP in Paranormal Studies.   It is possible that when there is no experience of the spirit, nor is there an avenue to relate to spirit in a society, then the psyche expresses through synchronicity. In ancient China, some communities had no rites and rituals for contacting GOD or unconscious psyche.  The I Ching arose as an intermediary between conscious and unconscious psyche, between mind and spirit (Wilhelm, 1955).   

       Jung explored the I Ching oracle which suggested the concept of connections between perceptions where there were no causes resulting in effects  (acausal), which he later labeled synchronicity.

  Synchronicity in Physical Science

The physics of quantum theory do not relate to GOD in any way, nor does it have any rites or rituals to relate to spirit.  So there is no avenue to relate to spirit.  Jung acknowledged the influence of Einstein’s theories of length, time, light speed and relativity. He was also influenced by quantum theory principles of complementarity and probabilities. Quantum theory uses probability waves to describe connections between particles. It uses uncertainty measures to describe complementary attributes of a particle such as position and momentum.  Probability and uncertainty are more vague than concrete. This vagueness reminds us of synchronicity.  Jung sought support from physics for his psychological views.  An example was his collaboration with Pauli, 1955).

 Synchronicity is Generally Ignored in Scientific Groups

Time, length, cause-effect concerns were formerly [hundreds of years ago] part of [ordinary] and [accepted world view].  [Views that are unacceptable to scientific groups, such as synchronicity] oppose the benefits of science and [materialism] which cannot be lightly compromised by… superstition from which science [and materialism] have struggled… to free [accepted thinking]. Therefore, synchronicity is disregarded because

     1. Presentation is crude

     2. Proponents are superficial people,

     3. Implications are disturbing

     4. Current consensus worldview works ok

     5. Radical idea is unnecessary (Aziz, 1990)

 Jung’s Psychological Model and its Connection to Synchronicity

The term, “unconscious mind” was coined by the 18th century German philosopher Sir Christopher Riegel (Ellenberger, 1970).  The unconscious psyche might be defined as that part of the mind which gives rise to a collection of mental phenomena that manifest in a person's mind but which the person is not aware of at the time of their occurrence. These phenomena include unconscious feelings, unconscious or automatic skills, unnoticed perceptions, unconscious thoughts, unconscious habits and automatic reactions, hidden phobias, concealed desires, unintended acts, moods, and alien thoughts.  An individual person’s unconscious psyche may include repressed content and also  content  not consciously apprehended,  complexes of repressed feelings and, in general,  the vast unknown.  These are vague definitions of  “conscious,”  “unconscious,” and so on. These are not scientific terms because they cannot be falsified.  The vague definitions give a different meaning to the words depending on each reader. Thus, the term herein is, “non-conscious” with the slightly more definite meaning that it is all that is not conscious.  Jung coined the term, synchronicity, from his observations of the non-conscious psyche. He proposed that synchronicity expresses the perspective of the non-conscious. Jung’s objective was to elucidate and promote relationship between conscious and unconscious minds.

 The Perception of Synchronicity in the Conscious Psyche is Described

Consciousness is defined as relationship with psychic contents and ego. It is perceived by ego and it also maintains relationship with ego. Consciousness comprises experience, memories, thoughts, intentions of which ego is aware and also consciousness is a process that keeps contents related to ego and perceived by ego. Non-conscious is contents which ego is not aware of. (Main, 2004, p.9)

       Do humans know what is being delivered to the conscious psyche by the senses and the Extra Sensory Perception (ESP)?  Physicists have ordered the world delivered to the perception and also much of the world never perceived, such as atoms, and x- rays.  The order includes 3 length dimensions, one time dimension, matter, energy, causal sequence, conversion between matter and energy, and so on.  Physical science orders the world through quantum theory, which includes probable events, probable matter and probable properties of matter; so quantum theory is more closely related to synchronicity.

       Paranormal science adds ESP to this order. Howard and Kelleher add two more time dimensions,  “the Long View,” t5 (Howard, 2009, p. 125-138) and t6, ( Howard & Kelleher, 2008, p. 25-38 )  Probability of an event is ordered in time, t6.

       Causality requires that the cause event occurs at an earlier time than the effect event.  But there are non-causal connections to events of which synchronicity is one.  A way of ordering  two events is to mathematically describe the probability of the events occurring. Then one can measure or observe the event to determine what actually occurred.

       The difficult part of such a mathematical description is to identify all the probable events that could occur in an environment, what are all the probable causes of the events,  and what are all the probable non-causal connected events.

       Main interprets that Jung is concerned with expanding consciousness, aware of more of one’s psychic activity, increasing one’s ability to act intentionally.  The ego is important for consciousness to have a high degree of continuity and identity,  one could think for example, “MY field of consciousness is important to ME.”

       Psychic contents are conscious when perceived by ego. Thus ego includes the contents and condition of consciousness.  So, no ego yields no consciousness.  Ego is not equal to the entire psyche, which includes non-conscious.  Role of ego is to discriminate among objects, qualities, states  that are undifferentiated.  Ego must discriminate to identify synchronicity and meaning of synchronicity. To be helpful, ego must discriminate between  her attitude and synchronicity or to reflect [ponder] on the significance of synchronicity.  Extreme rationalism can limit the ego.  So it obstructs realization of meaning of synchronicity. Reason can explain away rather than explore synchronicity. Synchronicity bypasses tools of ego: defense and control.

       Synchronicity that is recognized must be conscious. Synchronicity enhances consciousness by disclosing non-conscious contents and connections to the outer world.  It is somehow connected to archetype.  Synchronicity event depends on a person’s psychological type.

       Consciousness varies by psychological type. Jung described two attitudes and four functions of consciousness. Attitude is the readiness to act in a certain way: for example,

     1.  introversion  directs action toward internal world or

     2.  extroversion directs action toward external world.

Function is particular form of psychic activity. It remains the same  under different conditions:

     1. thinking,

     2. feeling,

     3. sensing,

     4. intuiting.

So the personality type = a major attitude  + a major function (Main, 2004, p. 15)

All types of personality may not be conscious of synchronicity because a person’s mix of functions tells her what the possibilities are. 

 Relevant Aspects of the Non-conscious Psyche

Main interpreted Jung’s writing of the non-conscious psyche. The non-conscious does not have conscious contents. One could infer that a part of psychic life proceeds unrelated to ego, where ego is the  center of conscious psyche. 

  Synchronicity Enriches the Knowledge of Non-conscious Psyche

Another mental construct about the non-conscious psyche is that it is the  contents from one human life (personal non-conscious)  and also the  contents from all human life (collective non-conscious) and the vast  unknown.

       Within the context of religion in the last 100 years, a person could conceive of Self as GOD within man.   Then GOD is one side of opposites such as good, not evil; matter, not void; and man, not woman. This conception is incomplete because it excludes one of the opposites.  Synchronicity may  express unity of being, so it  relates, often, to self archetype and integrates opposites to realize self  (Main, 2004, p. 17).

The relationship between conscious psyche  and  non-conscious psyche

       Main interpreted Jung’s concepts as follows.  Archetypes are mental  images that can spring up independent of a person’s history, unknowable and inherited from beyond  the collective non-conscious.  When an archetype is active, the archetypal image within the non-conscious psyche has more “chi”  and the conscious psyche has less “chi.”  So there is a potential difference between chi  levels and this is the gradient that moves the synchronicity image into consciousness. Synchronicity manifests through opposites.

       The principle of opposites is the indispensable pre-condition of psychic life [ which may be GOD]; think vs. feel, conscious vs. unconscious, sensing vs. Intuiting, introversion vs. extroversion, persona (mask to outer world) vs. anima or animus (idealization of inner world).  Archetype is the synthesis  plus the harmony of opposites, for example the good nurturing mother vs. bad devouring mother.  Opposites are part of definition of synchronicity, example: synchronicity vs. causal  effect. Psyche regulates balance of opposites through compensation process [when a lack is made up to satisfaction]. Conscious psyche is balanced by non-conscious, Compensation has the objective of individuation.  Individuation is defined as innermost incomparable uniqueness or coming to Selfhood or Self realization or continuous integration of conscious psyche  and non-conscious psyche.   In the event of tension between opposites, synchronicity symbols could arise expressing both  opposites.

       Symbol is not just a shorthand, it is formulation of an unknown fact, a living thing, pregnant with meaning. Symbol compels observer’s non-conscious participation and also has a life giving effect. This is the transcendent function. (Main(2004) p. 20)

 Alternative Theoretical Perspectives

If synchronicity is not relevant to a particular case, what alternatives explanations are there?

Main listed:

     1. Mere chance and the law of truly large numbers

Based on probability and psychology with a large enough sample any outrageous thing is likely to happen. People are poor judges of probability without any math calculations of probability. So coincidences are far more frequent than we judge.

     2. Misjudgment of probabilities ( peoples’ incredible ignorance of the concept of probabilities)

     3. Psychological considerations

Beliefs, expectation of perception, judgment on recall, illusory correlations, overconfidence in a mere theory, selecting the wrong theory, using ambiguous information, fallacious thinking, not allowing facts to influence beliefs, adopting a fixed  belief or theory on false information, distorted recall of memory, reconstructing memory to suit belief or expectation or group consciousness.

     4. Normal causes.  coincidence of two people because of common source of experience

     5. Undetected cause -effect relationship

     6. Brain registers a memory  but memory is still not available to be  known by person because  the sense data enters memory without conscious attention.  So sense  data was registered on a subliminal level. (Main, 2004, p. 27)

 Consider  a Subliminal Memory or Memory During a Heightened Perception Such as ESP

Subliminal or heightened perception can be interpreted as “psychic phenomena” as opposed to data received from  five sense data.  Zusne  (Zusne, 1989) gave examples of heightened perception

     1. Hearing  a person talk due to person’s involuntary sub vocal expression of larynx.

     2. Observing  muscles and facial expression of a person, even very subtle flashes of involuntary movement. This is also described by  Gladwell who describes 5000 facial expressions (Gladwell, 2000) .  These two cases could be interpreted as synchronicity.  The interpretation of synchronicity can result from self-deception, for example,  in stage magic when the effect is 100% believed simultaneous to the audience knowing it is fakery.

  Several People have Explained Synchronicity

 For more of the  literature, including controversy,  about synchronicity, see  (Bolen, 1979 ), (Grattan-Guinness, 1978), (Grattan-Guinness, 1983 ),  (Handy  and Koestler, 1973), (Hopcke, 1997), (Various, 1997).

 Synchronicity is a Psychic Perception Responding to the Rise of Science

The scientific industry from about 1700 to 1950,  concentrated on materialism  excluding the psyche and the spiritual.  The scientific approach emphasized  reductionism,  excluding the whole and avoiding expansion  of hypotheses into the unknown underlying reality.  Scientific  consensus approved of the empirical approach to the acquisition of knowledge and any systematic study based on careful observation of facts within existing branches of science  except psychical  science. 

       This was also the era when the  probability laws were accepted in most sciences including quantum physics.  The probability laws expect and tolerate that some events are connected by acausal factors. This is the ordering of events with the time, t6 , ( Howard & Kelleher, 2008, p. 25-38 ). One  acausal factor is synchronicity.

       For most of the history of humankind, people were dependent on families, communities, and authorities for nurture and protection.  The industrial revolution was the result of science, which bred technology and industrial production. As a result of the revolution, the father was removed from  the family circle and  injected into the economic order.   The mother was often segregated from wider social involvement, and  confined  to the home and family circle.   The children were removed  from their parents and placed  in schools where  government organizations could control their minds with propaganda. The result, in about 200 years, is the destruction of the family function. This  included the approval of divorce and single mother families.  But family, which provides frequent interaction with a mother, and father in an ordered environment,   is vital to the normal and healthy psyche of individuals. Science produced a revolution, which, by many avenues including loss of family,  denigrating the value of feelings, and  giving top priority to the intellect.  Generations of children were  taught to  dissociate the emotional functions from  abstract mental functions.  However, there is a human spiritual need for integration of emotional and mental functions.

       Jung interpreted synchronicity as the result of dissociation.  Jung stated that modernity, about 1790 to 1960,  created a culture  of dissociation and sickness in which no one feels comfortable. There has been a dangerous break with tradition, which has led to a condition of uprootedness, disorientation, meaninglessness and profound uncertainty. Vitally necessary things have become obsolete , including tools for contact with spirit such as Christianity. In the absence of a vital religious tradition we find spiritual confusion, loss of myth, and alienation from nature.  What remains is, for many people,  the  trivial parts of  life such as  seeking distraction in activities such as cinema, radio, phones, television, cars, airplanes, and boundless extraversion, all of which  prevents them  from concentrating, from focusing on their feelings and spiritual yearnings.  No longer sustained and restrained by the moral force of religion, the modern person succumbs to unbridled materialism coupled with either maniacal arrogance or else the extinction of the autonomous personality, loses the capacity for introversion, feels totally dependent on his environment and looks to the state for salvation.  This condition makes individuals vulnerable to the spiritual and moral darkness of state absolutism such as had existed in NAZI Germany, still exists in communist Russia and China,  and is  rising in  America.  The dissociation and sickness has accelerated until 2010.

       Much of this dissociation  is caused by scientific rationalism; a new one-sidedness; the over valuation of scientifically attested views.  Because scientific knowledge not only enjoys universal esteem, but counts as the only intellectual and spiritual authority, it  has replaced the authority of religion. Thus  there is no adequate symbolic container for the irrational forces of the unconscious. These irrational forces then play havoc with culture and society. The tempo of the development of consciousness through science and technology was too rapid and left the non-conscious, which could not keep up, far behind, thereby forcing it into a defensive position which expresses itself in a universal will to destruction, epitomized in the development  of the atom bomb. Jung elaborated these themes in The Undiscovered Self, published after his experience of  two world wars and the cold war (Jung, 2006).

       This view of humankind as a whole was described in great detail by  Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness ( Fromm, 1973 ). 

       People turn away from religion, turn away from obedience to a transcendent GOD,  and turn away from  a tradition, which mediates GOD’ s authority. A large part of humanity no longer has  the unquestioning acceptance of the power of church officials and dogma.   They turn toward spirituality, experience of the divine as immanent in life. While religion relates to commandments of ancient texts and the subservience to church hierarchy, spirit relates to a personal experience of the living  sacred unknown.  Jung related synchronicity to miracles, mystical unity, self-realization, self transformation, life after death, images of GOD, and the meaning of life(Jung, 2006).


                    The contribution of Synchronicity to Ordering Psychic and Physical Events

       Main reported Jung’s hallmarks of the spirit (Main(2004) p. 131).

     1. Principle of spontaneous movement

     2. Spontaneous capacity to produce images independently of sense perception

     3. Autonomous manipulation of these images

Synchronicity  provided a theoretical framework for appreciating one of the most distinctive and important notions in Jungian psychology: the autonomous psyche. Synchronicity takes the form of paralleling psychic and physical events.  Jung equated synchronicity with numinous experience which was  Jung’s experiential approach to religion.


Carl Jung invented the concept of synchronicity and also his interpretation if its etiology. There has been controversy over this concept ever since.


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Fromm, E.  The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness   Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1973.

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Jung, C. G.  “Synchronicity, an Acausal Connecting Principle” in Jung, C. G. & Wolfgang Pauli Interpretation of            Nature and the Psyche  R. F. C. Hull, trans., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1955.

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Main, R.  The Rupture of Time: Synchronicity and Jung’s Critique of Modern Western Culture Brunner -   Routledge, New York, 2004.

Various Soul Moments : Marvelous Stories of Synchronicity--Meaningful Coincidences from a Seemingly Random World Cousineau, P., ed.;  Conari Press, Emeryville, CA, 1997.

Pauli, W.  “The Influence of Archetypal Idea on the Scientific Theories of Kepler” in Jung. C.G. and Pauli, W.  The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche  R. F. C. Hull, trans., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London,              1955.

Wilhelm, Ri. The I Ching, or Book of Changes  Cary F. Baynes, trans.,  Foreword by Jung, C.G. Pantheon Books,          New York,  1955.

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