Revisioning Jung’s Idea of Synchronicity
Synchronicity is considered to be one of the most important ideas emerging out of the twentieth century. Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe a category of experience that defied and had an altogether different logic than the widely accepted and virtually unquestioned logic of linear sequential causality (in which a cause precedes an effect in linear time), which was generally thought to be the only kind of causality operating in the universe at the time. Bringing forth the notion of synchronicity was a bold and heretical act by Jung that was a radical departure from and challenged one of the most inviolable, sacrosanct, and seemingly unassailable foundations of the modern scientific materialistic worldview. In his idea of synchronicity Jung was proposing a completely different kind of organizing principle at play in the universe that was quite alien to the widely accepted western worldview of how the universe worked.
In order to break free from and distinguish synchronicity from the limiting logic of linear causality, Jung chose the word “acausal” (calling synchronicities an “acausal connecting principle”) in order to characterize how synchronicities didn’t have to do with causality as it had been generally understood. There was an unforeseen problem, however, that had to do with Jung’s choice of the word “acausal”—and what he meant by this—that has caused a rift and created conflict among a number of theorists, researchers, scientists and psychologists in their accepting Jung’s idea of synchronicity. Some people have even dismissed Jung’s work on synchronicity, thinking his conception of synchronicity is incoherent or flawed.
To cite one example, J. B. Rhine, who is widely considered to be the father of parapsychology, and was one of Jung’s inspirations for his work on synchronicity, couldn’t accept Jung’s idea of synchronicity being “acausal,” and thereby rejected Jung’s understanding of synchronicity. Jung thereby lost an important potential ally in helping him bring forth his concept of synchronicity to the world.
The dictionary definition of the word acausal is “not involving causation or arising from a cause; not causal. Synonym: noncausal.” For example, in describing synchronicities, Jung writes that they are “a modality without a cause, an ‘acausal orderedness.’” Being called an acausal connecting principle therefore implies that there is no causality operating in a synchronicity. Jung was of the opinion that it is our strongly “ingrained belief in the sovereign power of causality” that makes it seem unthinkable that “causeless events” could ever happen. But if events without a cause actually do exist, Jung regarded them as “creative acts” that are “not derivable from any known antecedents.” The type of causation we are dealing with in synchronicities were totally unfamiliar and unknown to the prevailing western scientific mindset of his day. In his theory of synchronicity, Jung was trying to articulate a radically new vision of reality—a new worldview—that was completely out of the box and off the radar of the existing scientific materialistic paradigm.
In his conception of synchronicities as being acausal, it is entirely conceivable that Jung was way ahead of his time and was tapping into, perceiving and pointing at the underlying unified quantum field which is openly hidden (from our spatio-temporally conditioned, dualistic human perception) within the very midst of our physical world. In this unified nonlocal field there is no separation whatsoever, as there are no independent “things” that interact with and hence, have causal effects upon each other. These separate parts are merely mental constructs, just ideas in our mind, human overlays or projections of our own inner state of fragmentation onto an ultimately indivisible field of reality that we then mistakenly take to be made up of separate things. In an undivided realm such as this—that is simultaneously immanent and transcendent—there can be no causality because causality implies separate entities that influence and have effects upon each other.
To illustrate this same point, quantum theorist David Bohm uses the following example: Imagine a fish swimming in a fish tank, with two video cameras at right angles to each other filming the fish’s movements, which are then transmitted to and shown on two different monitors in another room in a way that makes us think we are looking at two different fish. The fish’s movements on these two screens clearly seem related to each other, but we can’t say that the fish’s movement on one of the screens “caused” or influenced in any way the corresponding movement on the other screen. This is because the different images on the two screens are not pictures of independently existing entities that are interacting, but are in reality two images (from different perspectives) of one and the same entity. It would be an error to try to establish a causal relationship between these two images, as the notion of causality simply does not apply in this circumstance. It would therefore make sense to say that the “connecting principle” between the two different images of this single fish (representing the deeper indivisible nature of reality) is acausal. Thus, in describing the nature of a quantum universe such as ours, Bohm characterizes it as having a “non-causal” connection between its elements.
Jung’s usage of the word acausality may therefore have been intentionally referring to this intrinsically unified field which admits no separation. In any case, his choice of the word acausal has nevertheless created a lot of misunderstanding that continues to persist up through our present day that needs to be remedied.
Do synchronicities arise, as Jung seems to suggest, without a cause? Or, is there in synchronistic experiences an unfamiliar kind of causality that is operating in the world in which cause and effect are not taking place over linear sequential time, maybe not even taking place within time itself? If it does exist, how is this unknown type of causality a “connecting principle” between the inner and outer dimensions of our experience?
To address this problem, I thus propose coining and bringing forth the word “simulcausality” as an alternative term to more accurately describe the kind of atemporal causality that might be happening in synchronicities. The notion of ‘simulcausality’ remedies the confusion around the word ‘acausal’ by acknowledging, rather than a linear-sequential or temporal form of causality—or no causality at all—that a new and different kind of simultaneous causality which acts as a ‘connecting principle’ is taking place in synchronicities.
This unfamiliar kind of causality that mysteriously links the inner and outer contents of our experience together is brought into focus through the notion of simulcausality. In synchronicities, these two realms—the inner (subjective) and the outer (objective)—are connected in a way that is not sequentially causal but simulcausal. These two realms—the internal and the external—are what synchronicities act as a connecting principle between. Simulcausality implies that there is a different kind of causality operating than we are accustomed to, but this other kind of causality occurs between the two seemingly distinct realms of mind and matter while taking place outside of time, in no time—i.e., simultaneously!
Introducing the word simulcausal involves, of course, more than the mere changing of a word. Replacing the word acausal with simulcausal is symbolic of shifting into a new, more expansive mode of seeing that previously was unavailable to us because of our unconscious conditioning. With this new kind of vision comes a new way of understanding ourselves and the world that helps us to see how our self-reflecting and potentially self-reflective universe actually operates, rather than how we had been hallucinating that it operates while being conditioned and blinded by the spell of linear time and its natural correlate, linear causality.
We can now redefine synchronicity as “a simulcausal connecting principle” in which causality happens vertically (simultaneously) rather than horizontally (over linear time). Vertical causality refers to a kind of causality that occurs between different dimensions or domains of our experience that are inseparably embedded and inter-nested within each other in the same moment. This perfectly describes the interdimensional relationship between the inner subjective world within us, which takes place in a higher dimension (‘in’ is ‘up’ dimensionally), compared to the lowerdimensions of the seemingly outer 3D world of matter, time and our physical sense perceptions (commonly known as the spacetime continuum).
The higher dimension and the lower dimensions of our experience interpenetrate each other so fully such that there’s an intrinsic connectivity between them—through the simulcausal connecting principle—that allows these two realms to instantaneously influence each other interdimensionally in no time at all. Because this is an interdimensional connection, this process happens simultaneously—in the present now moment—without time being involved whatsoever. Mind and matter are thus connected through a simulcausal interdimensional communication link which takes place outside of and independent from linear time.
These different dimensions (of mind and matter) that are conceived of as influencing each other interdimensionally are, ultimately speaking, not two separate dimensions that are interacting with each other, but rather, a multidimensional continuum that is inseparably one. To recognize this is to begin to see the dreamlike nature of our universe where, just like our dreams at night, the physical world we are experiencing is not separate nor separable from our consciousness.
Synchronicities thus operate through an instantaneous simulcausal resonance or interdimensional coordination between the contents of our inner (higher dimensional) life—our minds—and the outer events taking place in the (lower dimensional) 3D physical universe. These two domains—our inner “subjective” and outer “objective” life—are conventionally thought to be distinct and non-interacting but are in fact inseparably interconnected parts of a unified multidimensional whole system. These two domains—mind and matter—which since Descartes have been traditionally understood in the West to be operating independently and separately from each other are, in synchronicities, revealed to have a mysterious correlation that clearly defies the strict Cartesian dualism that requires mind and matter, the subjective and objective realms, to remain separate and non-interacting.
The coordination between these realms takes place instantaneously in the implicit interdimensional simulcausal dynamics constituting each and every moment of our experience. This accounts for the uncanny correspondences between the inner and the outer worlds that are the central and most notable feature of synchronistic phenomena. Because simulcausality operates instantly, outside of time—in the realm of “no time”—its very existence is easy to miss, which is why it has been left out of the western scientific materialistic worldview, which is more outwardly focused and not as introspective as the eastern worldview.
From the materialistic point of view, synchronicities are inexplicable not only because their cause is unknown, but because, presupposing third-dimensional space and time as being objectively real, their cause, to use Jung’s word, is “unthinkable.” This is to say that we can’t comprehend the unfamiliar type of causality involved in synchronicities if we are stuck in our thinking mind. In other words, synchronicities force us out of our (cognitive, conceptualizing) minds.
Our experience of the world—composed of a combination of both linear causality and simulcausality—can be represented by a symmetric cross that can be called “The Cross of Linear and Simultaneous Causality.” In this image, the horizontal axis of the cross represents the realm of linear time and linear sequential causality in which cause precedes effect, which then becomes the cause of a subsequent effect and so on and so forth. This is the common and conventionally understood “timeline” in which the flow of sequential time moves from left to right with the “past” or earlier events being to the left, the present moment of a linear “now” is a single point in the center and then the “future” lies to the right or ahead of the single point representing the now or present moment. This represents the process of horizontal (linear) causality.
The vertical axis represents the timeless now moment in which there is no linear sequential (horizontal) time occurring, but rather, is the domain in which a timelessly operating simulcausality is at work in a way that connects the inner (higher) and outer (lower) dimensions through a kind of instantaneous interdimensional resonance. Each point on the horizontal timeline has a vertical line (representing the interdimensional axis) that can be drawn perpendicular to it. Each and every point of intersection between the two axes represents a specific moment in linear time that is being influenced by—and is an expression of—the connection between the higher and lower dimensions of our experience (via the simulcausal connecting principle that is operating outside of time through each and every moment).
These two modes of causality—the linear causal and simulcausal—co-exist and interpenetrate in an elegantly integrated harmony that is an expression of the wholeness of our universe (as well as reflecting our own intrinsic wholeness as multidimensional beings).
In suggesting the notion of simulcausality I am merely offering a new possible way of contemplating the nature of synchronistic phenomena that has some novel features and some significant conceptual advantages that bypass the set of problems that Jung’s notion of acausality and “acausal orderedness” brought with them. The notion of simulcausality enables us to describe the way that synchronicities operate in a new way that opens up fresh possibilities for us to envision the nature of our universe (as well as our own nature).
One of the key aspects of this revisioning of our scientific conception of reality is the recognition that reality as a whole is a profoundly nonlinear affair with linear dynamics only comprising a small subset of the total dynamics that make up the cosmos. Since the time that Jung introduced the concept of synchronicity there has been an explosion of new scientific theories and creative maps and models of reality that push our understanding far beyond the logic of linear causality. These new insights have moved the scientific imagination of the world into vast new realms of nonlinearity that are now recognized to be fundamental and essential features of the nature of nature, of the universe and of reality itself. For example, nonlinear whole systems sciences like Chaos Theory—more accurately described as the science of nonlinear order—and Complexity Theory have made many groundbreaking inroads into the nonlinear frontier that have changed our scientific picture of our world and of our understanding of reality in extremely profound and fundamental ways.
Simulcausality is, however, not really anything new at all. It is referred to in multiple esoteric, wisdom traditions across the world throughout recorded history. For example, simulcausality is equivalent to what in Buddhism is called “the simultaneity of cause and effect.” At the very heart of the Buddha’s teachings, the simultaneity of cause and effect points to the dynamic in which we are creating our experience of the seemingly outer world (which is not separate from ourselves), while—at the same time—being influenced by our creation in a reciprocally co-creative feedback loop. Contrary to linear cybernetics, in which feedback loops take place through space and over time, simulcausality is characterized by a process of synchronistic cybernetics in which the feedback loops are beginningless, circular, instantaneous, and timeless.
The principle of simulcausality does not negate the possibility of linear causality, nor does linear causality disallow simulcausality. These two fundamentally different types of causality naturally co-exist with each other. This is reflected in the Buddhist understanding of how the simultaneity of cause and effect (instant karma) does not negate but harmoniously co-exists with linear cause and effect (karma that unfolds over time). Their co-existence produces a much more complete view of reality that recognizes and embraces both types of causality.
The Buddhist teaching of “As Viewed, So Appears” is another example of simulcausality. As Viewed, So Appears can be thought of as the mystic law or a mystic equation describing how we formulate and cocreate reality instantaneously within—and with—our dreamlike universe. Think about the nature of a night dream: it is a reflection—a projection—of the mind that is observing it. In a dream, the very moment we connect the dots on the inkblot of the dream (interpreting and placing meaning on it), the dream has no choice—instantaneously, in no time whatsoever—but to reflect back to us our perception/interpretation (for a dream is nothing other than a reflection of the mind that is dreaming), which then confirms to us the “objective” truth of whatever we happen to be seeing (as we now have all the evidence we need to “prove” that what we are seeing is “true”).
This becomes a self-confirming and (potentially) never-ending instantaneous feedback loop that is self-referential and self-generated by our own mind that (since it is happening in no time and unfolding over time at the same time) continually feeds back into itself until it is seen through. Not seeing how simulcausality operates in our moment to moment lives is one of the main reasons why we are prone to get stuck in insidiously self-reinforcing feedback loops that seemingly trap us in all sorts of self-limiting double binds, self-bewitching spells, infinite regressions and dead ends within our own minds. Becoming conscious of the simulcausality principle that is continually at work crafting our experience (of both ourselves and the world) can prevent us from falling under these maddening self-created spells while, at the same time, immediately puts immeasurable, otherwise unavailable creativity at our disposal.
In essence, we have entranced/hypnotized ourselves—putting ourselves under a spell—through our own creative genius of how we are participating in creating our dream (sleeping or waking). This dynamic—which can be clearly seen in our night dreams—is reflecting and teaching us something about how simulcausality acts as a connecting principle between the inner and outer dimensions of our experience that is intrinsic to how we dream up (and create) not only our sleeping dreams, but our waking life as well.
In our universe everything is simultaneously intercausing (causing and being caused by) everything else in a cybernetic chain that recursively loops back on itself in no time. Everything that manifests is reciprocally co-arising with everything else in a nonlinear and nonlocally coordinated way in the one singular and eternal “now” moment. In Buddhism this process of intercausality (a third type of causality) is called “dependent co-arising” (also known as “interdependent co-origination”), which is considered to be the fundamental dynamic by which empirical reality is continually reconstituted in each and every moment.
At the heart of the Buddha’s realization, the notion of dependent co-arising helps us to awaken from the spell of linear causality and enables us to see how our experience of the world—and ourselves—actually arises (via the process of intercausality) in the present now moment while (at the same time) giving the very convincing appearance that it is unfolding in a linear sequential way. Each new configuration of the outer universe as well as of our inner subjective life in each moment (which is always happening in the same eternal now moment) is thought to be—and subjectively experienced as—another (separate) moment, which gives birth to the idea of a linear sequence of distinct moments that arise one after the other (like a conveyor belt). Emerging out of this way of looking at things is our (illusory) conception of linear sequential time, which as physics has pointed out, is in essence nothing other than a construct(ion)—a creation—of our minds. Jung suggests that what happens successively in and over linear time could be conceived of as occurring simultaneously—all at once—in the mind of God. In fact, based on our experience, we always find ourselves in the one and the same singular unchanging now moment, which is a realization that can’t help but to transform the very consciousness that has realized this.
An expression of the interconnectedness, interdependence and undivided wholeness of the universe (where not only there is no separate self to be found, but no separate things of any sort as well), dependent co-arising is operative all throughout space at any given moment in time as well as in each moment. Simulcausality, on the other hand, operates in a realm outside of time, in that it connects the different dimensions of our experience, such as inner (mind) and outer (matter) in a way that does not take place over time. Transcending linear causality, both intercausality (happening throughout space in any and every moment in time), and simulcausality (happening outside of time altogether) mysteriously come together in a timeless embrace, as they reveal themselves in a singular synchronistic moment in time.
There are a number of phenomena that seem to defy our ordinary sense of spacetime based logic—such as, for example, nonlocality (quantum entanglement), dependent co-arising (intercausality), simulcausality, synchronistic phenomena, and psi phenomena. Because they all appear to violate the third-dimensional laws of space and time, these phenomena tend to mistakenly be conflated as being equivalent, which results in confusion and misunderstanding. They are all somehow related, as they are interconnected aspects of the sentient dreamlike universe that we inhabit, but exactly how they are related has yet to be fully established.
Bringing more and more consciousness to the experience of simulcausality enables us to deepen our understanding of how we are playing a key role in creating ourselves and our experience of the universe in each and every (now) moment. This process is similar to how a dream (in which the seemingly inner and outer realities are unified) is constructed. Dreams are literally revealing to us that the primary dynamic of how we co-create the reality we experience is simulcausal in nature. Sequential (linear) causation can be recognized to be a secondary dynamic that builds upon, extends and transforms through and over time that which has already—and always is—being instantaneously simulcausally created.
The tragic and unnecessary self-confinement of our minds to a linear-sequential logic can be seen as a parallel or symbolic reflection of what has happened to much of humanity as a whole with its fall into an overly rationalistic materialist paradigm. Although granting humanity immense power over the physical universe, our entrainment into the scientific materialistic point of view has sadly also brought about an atrophy of the immensely powerful inner psychic/spiritual faculties of humanity, making many of us into misshapen, one-sided and imbalanced creatures.
Similar to how the unconscious compensates a one-sidedness in us by sending us dreams, Jung considered synchronicity to be an indispensable counterpart to linear causality that is compensatory in nature. As a connecting principle, synchronicity can thus help us to connect back with ourselves and our own creative power. The compensation for the one-sidedness of humanity as a whole must come through the reawakening of these atrophied and dormant inner faculties of our minds.
About the Author
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. Among his books are The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (SelectBooks, May 2018) and Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over 35 years. He was the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections.