Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012.04.28 — Jung On Synchronicity and the Paranormal edited with an introduction by Roderick Main

C.G. Jung, Roderick Main (Editor)
Jung On Synchronicity and the Paranormal. Princeton, NJ, 1998 by Princeton University Press, ISBN 069105837.

Began 2012.02.01; Finished 2012.03.20


Jung On Synchronicity and the Paranormal (JoS&tP) is an important collection because it brings together in one short and well representative book, in Jung's own words, his interest in and experiences of the paranormal to a degree until now I'd read hints of but had never so plainly seen stated and elaborated. JoS&tP book goes far beyond what Jung included in his near-autobiographical, Memories, Dreams and Reflections. In MD&R there are included some paranormal activities, but my reading between its lines suggested to me that there was much more than was disclosed there. JoS&tP confirms that and then some.

In this anthology Roderick Main has done something quite interesting: even as Jung discloses a personal encounter with a ghost and other paranormal activities, including seances, Main provides linkages to some of the more under-discussed implications of quantum mechanics as they may apply to possible theories of paranormal experiences. Jung was very interested in the modern theories of physics because he saw a tangible theoretical and/or philosophical link between them and what his experiences with and ideas about paranormal experiences were leading him to think and theorize about psychology and the paranormal.

I particularly and thoroughly enjoyed the letters that were included, and not just because I love writing and reading 'heavy' philosophical letters too, but because Jung's informal writing is delightful to read. He relaxes his careful official persona, and expresses some of his unsupported speculations and ideas as to the nature of things inexplicable, such as the meaning of life, in ways always thoughtful, but frequently funny, too.
His face-to-face encounter with a ghost in a British farm house is particularly interesting because my reading of the encounter entangled it to me in one of the most interesting and quite frankly bizarre fushigis I've ever experienced. I have blogged it in 2012.02.02 — Half Face and More fushigis.

Despite this being about the 'airy fairy' concepts of synchronicity and ghosts, mediums and seances, Jung kept his writing and speculations and experiences 'real'. He doesn't leap to conclusions with his experiences, but allows them to challenge and question his pre-formulated beliefs about what may or may not be so-called reality. And in the process he challenges the validity of our ideological fixation on a rationalistic causal — 'Descartian' science. Unlike much of western science, perhaps especially the behaviourists who dismiss as unreal that which falls outside the bounds that their theories delineate, Jung proves his stature as a real scientist by neither dismissing nor idealizing his paranormal experiences: they become simply a part of the chisel that Life provided him to chip away at our false ideas and thinking, even if it is stingy in providing additional clues.

This is a solid five stars.

Now for some text I found to be particularly interesting for one reason or the other.

Pages 108-9
From 'The theory of synchronicity and Jung's astrological experiment. (Letter to A.D. Cornell (9 February 1960), Letters, vol. 2 pp.537-43.)

Jung points out that our perception of the an event is not the event, and that it is irrational — unscientific — to dismiss events because our perception is skewed or limited by our rational understanding of what is perceivable or possible. I laughed at how elegantly he used statistics to refute the completeness of causality's ability to explain 'everything.'

… My emphasis — as in all such cases — lies on the reality of the event, not on its having been perceived. This point of view accords with the hypothesis of an causal connection, i.e., a non-spatial and non-temporal conditioning of events.

Since causality is not an axiomatic but a statistical truth, there must be exceptions in which time and space appear to be relative, otherwise the truth would not be statistical. On this epistemological basis one must conclude that the possibility does exist of observing non-spatial and non-temporal events — the very phenomena which we actually do observe contrary to all expectations and which we are now discussing.

In my view, therefore, it is not our perception which is necessarily para- or supra-normal but the event itself. This, however, is not 'miraculous' but merely 'extra-ordinary' and unexpected, and then only from our biased standpoint which takes causality as axiomatic. From the statistical standpoint, of course, it is simply a matter of random phenomena, but from a truly realistic standpoint they are actual and significant facts. Exceptions are just as real as probabilities. The premise of probability simultaneously postulates the existence of the improbable.

Wherever and whenever the collective unconscious (the basis of our psyche) comes into play, the possibility arises that something will happen which contradicts our rationalistic prejudices. Our consciousness performs a selective function and is in itself the product of selection, whereas the collective unconscious is simply Nature — and since Nature contains everything it also contains the unknown. It is beyond truth and error, independent of the interference of consciousness, and therefore often completely at odds with the intentions and attitudes of the ego.

So far as we can see, the collective unconscious is identical with Nature to the extent that Nature herself, including matter, is unknown to us. I have nothing against the assumption that the psyche is a quality of matter or matter the concrete aspect of the psyche, provided that 'psyche' is defined as the collective unconscious. In my opinion the collective unconscious is the preconscious aspect of things on the 'animal' or instinctive level of the psyche. Everything that is stated or manifested by the psyche is an expression of the nature of things, whereof man is a part.

Just as in physics we cannot observe nuclear processes directly, so there can be no direct observation of the contents of the collective unconscious. In both cases their actual nature can be inferred only from their effects -just as the trajectory of a nuclear particle in a Wilson chamber8 can be traced only by observing the condensation trail that follows its movement and thus makes it visible.

In practice we observe the archetypal 'traces' primarily in dreams, where they become perceptible as psychic forms. But this is not the only way they reach perception: they can appear objectively and concretely in the form of physical facts just as well. In this case the observation is not an endopsychic perception (fantasy, intuition, vision, hallucination, etc.) but a real outer object which behaves as if it were motivated or evoked by, or as if it were expressing, .a thought corresponding to the archetype. Take for instance my case of the scarab: at the moment my patient was telling me her dream a real 'scarab' tried to get into the room, as if it had understood that it must play its mythological role as a symbol of rebirth. Even inanimate objects behave occasionally in the same way — meteorological phenomena, for instance.

Since I assume that our instincts (i.e., archetypes) are biological facts and not arbitrary opinions, I do not believe that synchronistic (or Psi-) phenomena are due to any supra-normal (psychic) faculties but rather that they are bound to occur under certain conditions if space, time, and causality are not axiomatic but merely statistical truths. They occur spontaneously and not because we think we possess a special faculty for perceiving them. For this reason I do not think in terms of concepts like 'telepathy', 'precognition', or 'psychokinesis'.

In the same way, the archetype is not evoked by a conscious act of the will; experience shows that it is activated, independently of the will, in a psychic situation that needs compensating by an archetype. One might even speak of a spontaneous archetypal intervention. The language of religion calls these happenings 'God's will' — quite correctly in so far as this refers to the peculiar behaviour of the archetype, its spontaneity and its functional relation to the actual situation (108-9).
The theory of synchronicity and Jung's astrological experiment. (From 'An Astrological Experiment' CW18 1958.)

Jung argues that the 'truth' of causality relies on the existence of acausality. Again, he cites the use of statistical proofs of scientific truth as an inferred proof of causal relativity. He makes an interesting claim: Meaning arises not from causality but from freedom, i. e., from causality. His arguments are often appear, superficially, to be philosophical, but rest on a scientific attitude: … science gives us only an average picture of the world, but not a true one. If human society consisted of average individuals only, it would be a sad sight indeed.

1186 Naturally I do not think that [the astrological] experiment or any other report on happenings of this kind proves anything; it merely points to something that even science can no longer overlook — namely, that its truths are in essence statistical and are therefore not absolute. Hence there is in nature a background of acausality, freedom, and meaningfulness which behaves complementarily to determinism, mechanism and meaninglessness; and it is to be assumed that such phenomena are observable. Owing to their peculiar nature, however, they will hardly be prevailed upon to lay aside the chance character that makes them so questionable. If they did this they would no longer be what they are — acausal, undetermined, meaningful.

1187 Pure causality is only meaningful when used for the creation and functioning of an efficient instrument or machine by an intelligence standing outside this process and independent of it. A self-running process that operates entirely by its own causality, i.e., by absolute necessity, is meaningless. One of my critics accuses me of having too rigid a conception of causality. He has obviously not considered that if cause and effect were not necessarily5 connected there would hardly be any meaning in speaking of causality at all. My critic makes the same mistake as the famous scientist6 who refuses to believe that God played dice when he created the world. He fails to see that if God did not play dice he had no choice but to create a (from the human point of view) meaningless machine. Since this question involves a transcendental judgment there can be no final answer to it, only a paradoxical one. Meaning arises not from causality but from freedom, i. e., from acausality.

1188 Modern physics has deprived causality of its axiomatic character. Thus, when we explain natural events we do so by means of an instrument which is not quite reliable. Hence an element of uncertainty always attaches to our judgment, because — theoretically, at least — we might always be dealing with an exception to the rule which can only be registered negatively by the statistical method. No matter how small this chance is, (116) it nevertheless exists. Since causality is our only means of explanation and since it is only relatively valid, we explain the world by applying causality in a paradoxical way, both positively and negatively: A is the cause of B and possibly not. The negation can be omitted in the great majority of cases. But it is my contention that it cannot be omitted in the case of phenomena which are relatively independent of space and time. As the time-factor is indispensable to the concept of causality, one cannot speak of causality in a case where the time-factor is eliminated (as in precognition). Statistical truth leaves a gap open for acausal phenomena. And since our causalistic explanation of nature contains the possibility of its own negation, it belongs to the category of transcendental judgments, which are paradoxical or antinomian. That is so because nature is still beyond us and because science gives us only an average picture of the world, but not a true one. If human society consisted of average individuals only, it would be a sad sight indeed.

1189 From a rational point of view, an experiment like the one I conducted is completely valueless, for the oftener it is repeated the more probable becomes its lack of results. But that this is also not so is proved by the very old tradition, which would hardly have come about had not these 'lucky hits' often happened in the past. They behave like Rhine's results: they are exceedingly improbable, and yet they happen so persistently that they even compel us to criticize the foundations of our probability calculus, or at least its applicability to certain kinds of material.

1190 When analyzing unconscious processes I often had occasion to observe synchronistic or ESP phenomena, and I therefore turned my attention to the psychic conditions underlying them. I believe I have found that they nearly always occur in the region of archetypal constellations, that is, in situations which have either activated an archetype or were evoked by the autonomous activity of an archetype. It is these observations which led me to the idea of getting the combination of archetypes found in astrology to give a quantitatively measurable answer. In this I succeeded, as the result shows; indeed one could say that the organizing factor responded with enthusiasm to my prompting. The reader must pardon this anthropomorphism, which I know positively invites misinterpretation; it fits in excellently well with the psychological facts and aptly describes the emotional background from which synchronistic phenomena emerge.

1191 I am aware that I ought at this point to discuss the psychology of the archetype, but this has been done so often and in such detail elsewhere that I do not wish to repeat myself now.

1192 I am also aware of the enormous impression of improbability made by events of this kind, and that their comparative rarity does not make them any more probable. The statistical method therefore excludes them, as they do not belong to the average run of events (116-7).
Page 147
Life after death

Jung argues that so-called 'real' scientific experiments like those of J.B. Rhine suggest that consciousness is comprised of or rests upon a continuity beyond our normal observation of space and time. Jung doesn't say outright there is life beyond death, but the more cautious … there is no way to marshal valid proof of continuance of the soul after death, there are nevertheless experiences which make us thoughtful.
… When one has such experiences — and I will tell of others like them — one acquires a certain respect for the potentialities and arts of the unconscious. Only, one must remain critical and be aware that such communications may have a subjective meaning as well. They may be in accord with reality, and then again they may not. I have, however, learned that the views I have been able to form on the basis of such hints from the unconscious have been most rewarding. Naturally, I am not going to write a book of revelations about them, but I will acknowledge that I have a 'myth' which encourages me to look deeper into this whole realm. Myths are the earliest form of science. When I speak of things after death, I am speaking out of inner prompting, and can go no farther than to tell you dreams and myths that relate to this subject.

Naturally, one can contend from the start that myths and dreams concerning continuity of life after death are merely compensating fantasies which are inherent in our natures — all life desires eternity. The only argument I can adduce in answer to this is the myth itself.

However, there are indications that at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time. Scientific proof of that has been provided by the well-known J.B. Rhine experiments. Along with numerous cases of spontaneous foreknowledge, non-spatial perceptions, and so on — of which I have given a number of examples from my own life — these experiments prove that the psyche at times functions outside of the spatiotemporal law of causality. This indicates that our conceptions of space and time, and therefore of causality also, are incomplete. A complete picture of the world would require the addition of still another dimension; only then could the totality of phenomena be given a unified explanation. Hence it is that the rationalists insist to this day that parapsychological experiences do not really exist; for their world-view stands or falls by this question. If such phenomena occur at all, the rationalistic picture of the universe is invalid, because incomplete. Then the possibility of an other-valued reality behind the phenomenal world becomes an inescapable problem, and we must face the fact that our world, with its time, space, and causality, relates to another order of things lying behind or beneath it, in which neither 'here and there' nor 'earlier and later' are of importance. I have been convinced that at least a part of our psychic existence is characterized by a relativity of space and time. This relativity seems to increase, in proportion to the distance from consciousness, to an absolute condition of timelessness and spacelessness.

Although there is no way to marshal valid proof of continuance of the soul after death, there are nevertheless experiences which make us thoughtful. I take them as hints, and do not presume to ascribe to them the significance of insights(147).
Page 159
Miscellaneous insights and speculations
(From: Letter to E.L. Grant Watson (9 February 1956), Letters, vol. 2, pp. 287-9.)

Synchronicity is the link between movement of mass in space and time and psychic energy. So-called statistical truths are made up of exceptions to the 'normal' laws of the universe.
You are surely touching upon a most important fact when you begin to question the coincidence of a purely mathematical deduction with physical facts, such as the sect aurea (the Fibonacci series. My source calls him Fibonacci, not -nicci. He lived 1180-1250) and in modern times the equations expressing the turbulence of gases. One has not marvelled enough about these parallelisms. It is quite obvious that there must exist a condition common to the moving body and the psychic 'movement', more than a merely logical corollarium or consectarium. I should call it an irrational (acausal) corollary of synchronicity. The Fibonacci series is self-evident and a property of the series of whole numbers, and it exists independently of empirical facts, as on the other hand the periodicity of a biological spiral occurs without application of mathematical reasoning unless one assumes an equal arrangement in living matter as well as in the human mind, ergo a property of matter (or of 'energy' or whatever you call the primordial principle) in general and consequently also of moving bodies in general, the psychic 'movement' included.

If this argument stands to reason, the coincidence of physical and mental forms and also of physical and mental events (synchronicity) would needs be a regular occurrence, which, however, particularly with synchronicity, is not the case. This is a serious snag pointing, as it seems to me, to an indeterminate or at least indeterminable, apparently arbitrary arrangement. This is a much neglected but characteristic aspect of physical nature: the statistical truth is largely made up of exceptions. That is the aspect of reality the poet and artist would insist upon, and that is also the reason why a philosophy exclusively based upon natural science is nearly always flat, superficial, and vastly beside the point, as it misses all the colourful improbable exceptions, the real 'salt of the earth'! It is not realistic, but rather an abstract half-truth, which, when applied to living man, destroys all individual values indispensable to human life(159).
For the next citation, I chose to append Main's extract from CW8 with a few more paragraphs that precede his. His citation from 'The Soul and Death' begins with paragraph 809, but I like how Jung leads up to that beginning with paragraph 807. So, from CW8, pars 807-8. Jung suggests that neurosis and nervous disorders derive primarily from being alienated from one's natural instincts. Rationalistic thinking as regards things like death stand in opposition to our instinctual feeling or understanding of death and its potential meaning, and therefore approaches being a neurotic symptom.
807 … it would seem to be more in accord with the collective psyche of humanity to regard death as the fulfillment of life's meaning and as its final goal in the truest sense, instead of a mere meaningless cessation. Anyone who cherishes a rationalistic opinion on this score has isolated himself psychologically and stands opposed to his own basic human nature.

808 This last sentence contains a fundamental truth about all neuroses, for nervous disorders consist primarily in an alienation from one's instincts, a splitting off of consciousness from certain basic facts of the psyche. Hence rationalistic opinions come unexpectedly close to neurotic symptoms. Like these, they consist of distorted thinking, which takes the place of psychologically correct thinking. The latter kind of thinking always retains its connection with the heart, with the depths of the psyche, the tap-root. For, enlightenment or no enlightenment, consciousness or no consciousness, nature prepares itself for death. If we could observe and register the thoughts of a young person when he has time and leisure for day-dreaming, we would discover that, aside from a few memory-images, his fantasies are mainly concerned with the future. As a matter of fact, most fantasies consist of anticipations. They are for the most part preparatory acts, or even psychic exercises for dealing with certain future realities. If we could make the same experiment with an ageing person—without his knowledge, of course— we would naturally find, owing to his tendency to look backwards, a greater number of memory-images than with a younger person, but we would also find a surprisingly large number of anticipations, including those of death. Thoughts of death pile up to an astonishing degree as the years increase. Willynilly, the ageing person prepares himself for death. That is why I think that nature herself is already preparing for the end. Objectively it is a matter of indifference what the individual consciousness may think about it. But subjectively it makes an enormous difference whether consciousness keeps in step with the psyche or whether it clings to opinions of which the heart knows nothing. It is just as neurotic in old age not to focus upon the goal of death as it is in youth to repress fantasies which have to do with the future.
Now I return to the text in JoS&tP.

Pages 142-145
From 'The Soul and Death' (1934) (CW8)

Does death have meaning? Jung's experiences with people and their dreams who are approaching death have provided him with evidence that the unconscious remains unperturbed by its arrival and seems to view it as relatively unimportant. However the unconscious does seem to put importance on how one dies.

809 In my rather long psychological experience I have observed a great many people whose unconscious psychic activity I was able to follow into the immediate presence of death. As a rule the approaching end was indicated by those symbols which, in normal life also, proclaim changes of psychological condition — rebirth symbols such as changes of locality, journeys, and the like. I have frequently been able to trace back for over a year, in a dream-series, the indications of approaching death, even in cases where such thoughts were not prompted by the outward situation. Dying, therefore, has its onset long before actual death. Moreover, this often shows itself in peculiar changes of personality which may precede death by quite a long time. On the whole, I was astonished to see how little ado the unconscious psyche makes of death. It would seem as though death were something relatively unimportant, or perhaps our psyche does not bother about what happens to the individual. But it seems that the unconscious is all the more interested in how one dies; that is, whether the attitude of consciousness is adjusted to dying or not. For example, I once had to treat a woman of sixty-two. She was still hearty, and moderately intelligent. It was not for want of brains that she was unable to understand her dreams. It was unfortunately only too clear that she did not want to understand them. Her dreams were very plain, but also very disagreeable. She had got it fixed in her head that she was a faultless mother to her children, but the children did not share this view at all, and the dreams too displayed a conviction very much to the contrary. I was obliged to break off the treatment after some weeks of fruitless effort because I had to leave for military service (it was during the war). In the meantime the patient was smitten with an incurable disease, leading after a few months to a moribund condition which might bring about the end at any moment. Most of the time she was in a sort of delirious or somnambulistic state, and in this curious mental condition she spontaneously resumed the analytical work. She spoke of her dreams again and acknowledged to herself everything that she had previously denied to me with the greatest vehemence, and a lot more besides. This self-analytic work continued daily for several hours, for about six weeks. At the end of this period she had calmed herself, just like a patient during normal treatment, and then she died.

810 From this and numerous other experiences of the kind I must conclude that our psyche is at least not indifferent to the dying of the individual. The urge, so often seen in those who are dying, to set to rights whatever is still wrong might point in the same direction.

811 How these experiences are ultimately to be interpreted is a problem that exceeds the competence of an empirical science and goes beyond our intellectual capacities, for in order to reach a final conclusion one must necessarily have had the actual experience of death. This event unfortunately puts the observer in a position that makes it impossible for him to give an objective account of his experiences and of the conclusions resulting therefrom.

812 Consciousness moves within narrow confines, within the brief span of time between its beginning and its end, and shortened by about a third by periods of sleep. The life of the body lasts somewhat longer; it always begins earlier and, very often, it ceases later than consciousness. Beginning and end are unavoidable aspects of all processes. Yet on closer examination it is extremely difficult to see where one process ends and another begins, since events and processes, beginnings and endings, merge into each other and form, strictly speaking, an indivisible continuum. We divide the processes from one another for the sake of discrimination and understanding, knowing full well that at bottom every division is arbitrary and conventional. This procedure in no way infringes the continuum of the world process, for "beginning" and "end" are primarily necessities of conscious cognition. We may establish with reasonable certainty that an individual consciousness as it relates to ourselves has come to an end. But whether this means that the continuity of the psychic process is also interrupted remains doubtful, since the psyche's attachment to the brain can be affirmed with far less certitude today than it could fifty years ago. Psychology must first digest certain parapsychological facts, which it has hardly begun to do as yet.

813 The unconscious psyche appears to possess qualities which throw a most peculiar light on its relation to space and time. I am thinking of those spatial and temporal telepathic phenomena which, as we know, are much easier to ignore than to explain. In this regard science, with a few praiseworthy exceptions, has so far taken the easier path of ignoring them. I must confess, however, that the so-called telepathic faculties of the psyche have caused me many a headache, for the catchword "telepathy" is very far from explaining anything. The limitation of consciousness in space and time is such an overwhelming reality that every occasion when this fundamental truth is broken through must rank as an event of the highest theoretical significance, for it would prove that the space-time barrier can be annulled. The annulling factor would then be the psyche, since space-time would attach to it at most as a relative and conditioned quality. Under certain conditions it could even break through the barriers of space and time precisely because of a quality essential to it, that is, its relatively trans-spatial and trans-temporal nature. This possible transcendence of space-time, for which it seems to me there is a good deal of evidence, is of such incalculable import that it should spur the spirit of research to the greatest effort. Our present development of consciousness is, however, so backward that in general we still lack the scientific and intellectual equipment for adequately evaluating the facts of telepathy so far as they have bearing on the nature of the psyche. I have referred to this group of phenomena merely in order to point out that the psyche's attachment to the brain, i.e., its space-time limitation, is no longer as self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led to believe.

814 Anyone who has the least knowledge of the parapsychological material which already exists and has been thoroughly verified will know that so-called telepathic phenomena are undeniable facts. An objective and critical survey of the available data would establish that perceptions occur as if in part there were no space, in part no time. Naturally, one cannot draw from this the metaphysical conclusion that in the world of things as they are "in themselves" there is neither space nor time, and that the space-time category is therefore a web into which the human mind has woven itself as into a nebulous illusion. Space and time are not only the most immediate certainties for us, they are also obvious empirically, since everything observable happens as though it occurred in space and time. In the face of this overwhelming certainty it is understandable that reason should have the greatest difficulty in granting validity to the peculiar nature of telepathic phenomena. But anyone who does justice to the facts cannot but admit that their apparent space-timelessness is their most essential quality. In the last analysis, our naive perception and immediate certainty are, strictly speaking, no more than evidence of a psychological a priori form of perception which simply rules out any other form. The fact that we are totally unable to imagine a form of existence without space and time by no means proves that such an existence is in itself impossible. And therefore, just as we cannot draw, from an appearance of space-timelessness, any absolute conclusion about a space-timeless form of existence, so we are not entitled to conclude from the apparent space-time quality of our perception that there is no form of existence without space and time. It is not only permissible to doubt the absolute validity of space- time perception; it is, in view of the available facts, even imperative to do so. The hypothetical possibility that the psyche touches on a form of existence outside space and rime presents a scientific question-mark that merits serious consideration for a long time to come. The ideas and doubts of theoretical physicists in our own day should prompt a cautious mood in psychologists too; for, philosophically considered, what do we mean by the "limitedness of space" if not a relativization of the space category? Something similar might easily happen to the category of time (and to that of causality as well). Doubts about these matters are more warranted today than ever before (142-145).
On reflection I am not sure what I expected to read before I began reading JoS&tP, but it turned out to be a far, far better read than I'd anticipated. Perhaps it was the inclusion of so many letters and extracts from letters, which I'd not read before except in tiny citations.

Also, my prejudice regarding the word 'paranormal' lead me to anticipate something other than what Jung explored, which is a very scientific, coherent, and sound argument that our scientific foundation in causal biased rationalism is not just misguided, but inadequate to explain the full range of what happens within the so-called bounds of life.

I highly recommend this book.