Monday, August 29, 2005

Synchronicity, Symbols and the Christian

Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity, published in his 1952 paper "Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle", postulates that the "meaningful coincidences" that occur in every human life should be understood as something more than random coincendence. Rather they point beyond themselves to reveal a realm of ordered, a-causal meaning parallel to, or outside of, the realm of causality. Synchronous events hint at a unity underlying psyche and matter, a unity of existence that Jung called the unus mundus. They are flashes of insight into the deep structure of life, tying together chains of events into meaningful cross-connections. As such, their investigation suggests a way of tapping into the archetypal psychological forms that together make up the collective unconscious of the human species. This knowledge prior to conciousness exists, he postulated, as a kind of foreknowledge encoded genetically or otherwise into all human beings.

Jung found support for his idea in the Tao, the I Ching, and J.P. Rhine's investigations into ESP. He also noted recent advances in physics, which demonstrated that the iron-clad law of cause-and-effect, the very basis of all natural law, is porus. In other words, that statistics and probability, rather than Newtonian certainty underlie all natural process. In the present day, however, Jung's synchronicity has been preached most effectively by the late Joseph Campbell of Star Wars fame.

Joseph Campbell equated Jung's collective unconcious archetypes with myth. Campbell said "[Myth] puts you in touch with a plane of reference that goes past your mind and into your very being, into your very gut. The ultimate mystery of being and nonbeing transcends all categories of knowledge and thought." Campbell understood myth to be encoded in the symbolic-systems that make up all religions, modern or ancient. "It's a natural thing," he said, "but that's the whole problem with Western religion. All of the symbols are interpreted as if they were historical references. They're not." Campbell described a symbols as, "a sign that points past itself to a ground of meaning and being that is one with the consciousness of the beholder." He went on to say, "What you're learning in myth is about yourself as part of the being of the world." Indeed, Campbell instructs meaning-seekers to re-discover the transcendet, spiritual dimension which these symbols reveal, to decode the symbols, to go on a "grail quest." In doing so, one "would discover the very essence of your own being, so you're resting on it and you know it. The function of mythological symbols is to give you a sense of "Aha! Yes. I know what it is, it's myself." This is what it's all about, and then you feel a kind of centering, centering, centering all the time. And whatever you do can be discussed in relationship to this ground of truth." As he said, "No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. It's a shame to waste those by doing what someone else has done." Campbell's view ultimately leads to a total deconstruction of propositional religious truth, as he said, "By getting to know your own impulse system and its images and the things you really are living for, and then to get support for - you might say - universalizing and grounding this personal mythology, you can find support in the other mythologies of mankind."

To summarize Campbell's program, Joseph Campbell taught the responsiblity of each person to live their lives based on transcendent insights derived from rivers of deep-human wisdom, a wisdom encoded collectively in human mythmaking and story-telling, and which is made available in symbols collected within the world's stories and religious texts and rituals. Becoming aware of the deeper "spiritual" text in which your life participates and actualizing this in your choices is the way to wholeness and to becoming a truly authentic human being living out of "the mystery of their own being."

So, how far is this from Carl Jung's synchronicity? The synchronicitous event, like Campbell's symbol, reveals levels of unconcious meaning encoded biologically or otherwise (Campbell emphasized text & ritiual over biological/genetic) in the human species. Like Campbell, Jung understood these events as possiblities of orientation toward a deep, mysterious unity of existence, a spiritus mundi or oversoul which grounds all the living.

In my mind this is exactly the platonic/stoic gospel of cosmic harmony, whereby the wise orient their lives into harmony with the rhythmns of nature and cosmos and thus correctly participate in the unity of all things. The two systems of meaning-making are remarkably similar, though Jung is more scientific in his approach.

Similarly, it is common practice in at lease the evangelical subculture to structure one's life according to the often-difficult-to-interpret insights garnered from God-directed moments of synchronicty uniquely shaped by God (the sender) to be meaningful against the context of each person's (the intended receiver's) personality, influences, and background. The legitimacy of this process is garnered from three sources: the doctrine of providence, instances of interpretation of dreams recorded in the Bible, and anecdotal evidence, typically good-results which have accompanied personal obedience to the revelation given. (I'm going to coin a name for these instances, and call them revelati.)

In my opinion, none of these proofs support the inclusion of revelati in the Christian hermeneutical circle. And, as a matter of fact, I believe dependence on them may even leave one open to the charge of divination.

Mystery of Matter: Carl Jung's Synchronicity
"synchronicity" Skeptics Dictionary
Mythic Reflections, Interview with Joseph Campbell

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