Synchronicity and Statistics – Connections, Causality and Meaning-Making

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Research methods 101: Correlation does not prove causality.

The beginning researcher, facing his or her first foray into the world of empirical experimentation, is taught about statistical methods. One of the first things they learn about statistical results is the truism that “correlation does not prove causality.” By this it is meant that simply because two events or factors co-occur or even “vary”, that is, rise and fall together, does not prove that they are causally related in the way that the naive researcher might imagine. A may indeed cause B, but alternatively, B may actually cause A or it may even be that both A and B are varying together because of factor C which is working in ways that are not reflected by the experiment.

Synchronicity: An “acuasal” connecting principle.

Synchronicity is one of the most endlessly fascinating concepts proposed by psychological theorist Carl Jung.

By synchronicity he meant an “acausal” connecting principle. Acausal means not logically connected in the sense that we usually imagine of one object acting on another to produce the final effect. He chose the word “synchronicity” rather than the word synchronous, which means “occurring at the same time”.

“Synchronous” could include mere statistical probabilities of co-occurrence, however small. Jung chose instead, as a psychologist rather than a statistician, to focus on those cases where the internal “psychic” state of an individual– for example,their dreams, fantasies or inner questions–corresponded to an apparently simultaneous, external, objective, event. He included in his consideration of these meaningful coincidences, connections which might also be widely separated by distance, and therefore, in his pre-internet communication era, not be immediately knowable. He also included meaningfully connected events which might occur in the future and so be recognizable only in hindsight (Jung, 1951).

We find it difficult to dismiss these striking coincidences as merely “random.”

Individuals in our day, as in his, when attempting to make sense of these seemingly inexplicable coincidences using the rational processes of our conscious minds are often deeply reluctant to accept that such remarkable conjunctions of experience can be entirely random. Inexplicable “synchronistic” experiences stand out for us, they underline ideas, they answer questions, and they move our hearts. They change our lives and sometimes our fates to such a degree that we feel compelled to attribute them to some organizing power in the universe.

Rational thought tends to remain insistently in the logical realm of a causes Synchronicity is one of the most endlessly fascinating concepts proposed by psychological theorist Carl Jung. . Once driven beyond the ability of easy causal explanation, option C, the alternative force proposed to move both A and B, and create all striking coincidences varies; some propose God, some a universal and intentional connectedness of all things.

Synchronicity is not really about coincidence. Synchronicity is actually about meaning.

In Jung’s famous example of meaningful synchronicity he was sitting with a bright young client whose implacable rationalism made her impervious to understanding how her unconscious motives were driving her life. All unconscious products, including her dreams continued to be dismissed as meaningless and irrelevant to her. Her psychological treatment was stymied as a result.

One day, when dutifully reporting a dream of a golden scarab brooch, a similar, rare beetle flew in the window and landed on the desk between them. This coincidence of inner and outer worlds “punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance” (Jung Pg 512) so that treatment could progress. The coincidence convinced her that it was possible for the inner world to be symbolically translated to the outer world. The point was not the coincidence, but the new conviction that it permitted about the value of the inner world.

Meaning making is an internal event. It is not the same as logic.

Our lives are full of un-noticed coincidences. It is the meaning making that we choose to do around some of them that actually creates change. Assigning meaning creates personal relevance and motivates personal choices. It is the factor C that connects A and B in ways that change life.

Synchronicity as a special case of “Projection.”

It is one of the attributes of the unconscious that it can assemble understanding in extremely complex ways, which far surpass the possibilities of “logic” so as to serve individual growth and development.

Synchronicity can be understood as a manifestation of this unconscious work. Particularly, it might be might be considered a special case of “projection.” In projection we see in the outside world and often in other people, what we inwardly imagine or expect to see.

Cognitive psychologists might call the process “selection of stimuli.” By this they mean that out of all the myriad of possible aspects or attributes of a person, place, thing or event, we unconsciously select those specific parts which fulfill our expectation and pass over or ignore the rest. If we push the same phenomena a little further, and especially if we attribute intentionality, as did Jung, to the unconscious, we find that our psyche uses the same mechanism to communicate with our conscious minds by subtly or grossly highlighting and attracting conscious attention to those aspects of the external world that it can use to symbolize or “clothe” the proposals or objectives that it wishes us to consciously understand and adopt.

In Jung’s famous example, the young client was able to accept that there might be a value in accepting that her inner world might be reflected in her outer world of experiences, preferences and behaviors. The factor C in her experiential equation was the work of her unconscious “psyche” and its desire to begin to communicate to her about her fears and feelings.

Synchronicity is an internal experience of attributing meaning and relevance to exterior information.

It might be more accurate then to speak of the “impression” of synchronicity.

For those of us who stand in awe of the complexity and subtlety of unconscious influence but who see it as a thoroughly human attribute and a driving force in human behavior, the understanding of synchronicity as an interior experience of meaning-making may be entirely sufficient and gift enough.

References:

C.G. Jung (1951). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche: On Synchronicity, Collected Works. Vol. 8.

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Source by Susan Meindl