Why must synchronicities be meaningful?

By synchronicities we do not mean any old instance of an unlikely event, i.e. one that has a very small probability of occurring. That is necessary, but not sufficient. An event (or circumstance) qualifies as a synchronicity only if it is ‘meaningful’, if it invokes in a subject a sense and feeling of some deeper significance.

But that poses a tricky problem already at the outset: the very phenomenon we want to investigate is not well-defined. For an event to be a synchronicity, first of all there must now a conscious subject be present and aware of it. Roughly put: if the same thing happens and nobody watches, it cannot be a synchronicity; but if there is someone who notices, it might. Secondly, that subject must feel that the event is meaningful to them, which is a very subjective judgment. Different people may differ in whether they take something to be meaningful. In fact, it is frequent for synronicities to be meaningful only to a small group, or even to only a single person. And thirdly, of course, since there is no way to independently verify whether a subject had a certain experience or not, we must rely on the subject’s reports, which depend on memory, willingness to say, capability of self-expression, and so on.

Thus to define synchronicities by the old logical rule, per genus proximum et differentiam specificam, will lead us into trouble, for our specific difference is just this criterion of ‘creating a sense of deeper meaning in a subject’. And how can we even get going with our investigation if we cannot clearly delineate the scope of the phenomenon we want to look into?

1. The solution for this conundrum lies in taking the characteristic ‘meaningfulness’ not as a definitional criterion, but as a symptom. As a placeholder, we might say that synchronisties are unlikely events correlated with ‘something else’ which is concurrently going on (that is our definition), and this ‘something else’ has among its consequences that a conscious subject, if one is present, might have certain feelings of deeper significance (that is taking the impression of ‘meaningfulness’ as a symptom).

Of course, this still requires us to do all the work of finding out what precisely this ‘something else’ is, and how it entails the feelings of significance. It is merely a shift in perspective, and not a substantial step forward. Still, it opens the door for a more patient style of investigation, one in which we are aware that we are at a very early stage. All we know so far is a few strange symptoms. They allow, at best, a preliminary hypothesis for an explanation; but we should expect that such a hypothesis will not stand up for a long time to new incoming data, and will have to be revised soon. (It will also save us from prematurely dismissing the whole phenomenon as ‘unreal’ merely for the formal reason that we cannot define it using our current conceptual frame. The task is precisely to develop new conceptual frames in which we can.)

2. Then what is this obscure ‘something else’?

So far, we have only one clue: it leads to the experience of ‘meaning’. If that were the only clue, we would be back to square one. In that case, there would be no difference between taking the ‘something else’ as either a definitional criterion or a symptom. Therefore, I shall put it aside for a moment, and look for other clues. (Later on, we will have to bring it back and test whether it coheres with any other clues we might come up with.)

Luckily, there is at least one: in my previous post on synchronicities, I have already started to chase it down. In synchronicites, as I have preliminarily put it, the unconscious communicates ‘from without’, by arranging, first, for events in the outside world to have certain similarities, and for other people of a certain characteristics to appear, and then, secondly, for the subject to become aware of these similarities and characteristics.

This communication of the unconscious ‘from without’ seems to be a feature of synchronicities; and I shall explore the idea that this (or something behind it) is our ‘something else’. (In that earlier post, I have dubbed this the ‘second hypothesis’.)

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By Leif Frenzel

Leif Frenzel is a writer and independent researcher. He has a background in philosophy, literature, music, and information technology. His recent interest is Jungian psychology, especially synchronicities and the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious.

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