Excerpted from Chapter 9 ‘Synchronicity’ in TAROT AND PSYCHOLOGY: SPECTRUMS OF POSSIBILITY
“Science comes to a stop at the frontiers of logic, but nature does not–she thrives on ground as yet untrodden by theory.” C. G. Jung
Even after reading and accepting (albeit provisionally) the foregoing discussion pertaining to the meeting of Psychology and Tarot, the responsible psychotherapist will still properly wonder: How could these spiritually-based, randomly-selected Tarot cards be reliable and valid in psychological treatment? It is one thing to establish a Tarot lexicon based on sound psychological principles, or even stunning metaphysical insights, but quite another to actually bring this arcane instrument into one’s livingroom, much less one’s consulting room. Particularly as the Tarot method requires placing supreme trust in the natural intelligence that collects around sacred or “empowered” randomness, many will feel hesitant, fearing the method’s lack of reliability. Before being sufficiently comfortable to introduce so unorthodox a tool into actual practice, the therapist will need to better understand the mysterious mechanism of its operation. How on earth, she well asks, does it work?
Little assurance will be drawn from so unlikely an apologist as Fred Gettings, occult author and compiler of the voluminous Fate & Prediction: An Historical Compendium of Palmistry, Astrology, and Tarot , who himself allows an echoing, if not disconcerting, sentiment: “Although the Tarot method works,” he writes, “it must be admitted from the outset that no one has ever been able to explain how it works [italics mine].”2 Perhaps a more precise summation of Mr. Gettings’ factually correct assertion would grant that although the mechanism behind Tarot has been speculated upon in multiple arcane and exotic ways, from nonlinear postulates of theoretical physics to ancient wisdom myths like Indra’s Net (and everything in between), still no one to date has empirically demonstrated to any satisfaction how or even “that” the Tarot method works.
To do so scientifically, one must clearly demonstrate a causal relationship linking method and effect, a linkage that can be repeated under similar conditions by different observers. The inherent problematics of scientific proof for a subjective, invisible, and irregular effect present a real challenge to the would-be Tarot empiricist, much as is encountered with related depth techniques or even in the fierce “brain versus mind” debates brewing in the emerging science of consciousness. It is widely agreed that scientific study is not well-equipped to penetrate the subjective dimensions of the human mind. The problem with classical scientific method when dealing with intrapsychic states is that mental events are not always clearly distinguished, nor are they independent from each other. Subjective effects in some cases are not easily translatable into precise language, nor are they consistently or objectively reported. There is no clear flowing of influence from one event to the next as (allegedly) with outer behavior, and finally, “psychological time” is neither linear nor unambiguous, but irregular, observer dependent, and contextually shaded. All of which makes direct quantification and measurement especially troublesome.
The Theory of Meaningful Chance
Such inherent difficulties notwithstanding, I believe an empirical explanation for the Tarot method can indeed be demonstrated in Jung’s theory of synchronicity. As we suggested earlier, many explorers today believe synchronicity carries the key not only to divinatory practices but to paranormal phenomena and certain anomalous physical phenomena as well. Herein lies a region we may refer to as “metascience,” the study of invisible, acausal, non-linear relationships between inner and outer worlds.
As was briefly discussed [in Chapter Four], the term “synchronicity” made its first introduction into the world’s lexicon in 1938 by Carl Jung, in his quite famous foreword to sinologist Richard Wilhelm’s classic translation of the I Ching. For those not familiar with the Book of Changes, it has been without rival the fundamental text of traditional Chinese culture and continues to capture the imagination of intuitively-inclined Westerners today. The text is a divinatory system with 3000 year old roots in the traditions of magic and shamanism. Nearly all that was significant in traditional China–philosophy, science, politics and popular culture–was founded on interpretations and adaptations of the I. The core of the book is considered the oldest and most complex divinatory system to survive into modern times.
Perhaps more than any other divinatory tool, the I Ching’s mechanism of operation parallels that of Tarot. The Chinese term I, reminiscent of our description of the Tarot method, emphasizes “imagination, openness and fluidity” as contemporary I Ching scholars Ritsema and Stephen Karcher (1994) note:
[I ] suggests the ability to change direction quickly and the use of a variety of imaginative stances to mirror the variety of being. The most adequate English translation of this is versatility, the ability to remain available to and be moved by the unforeseen demands of time, fate, and psyche.3
The authors further summarize:
The I Ching offers a way to see into difficult situations, particularly those emotionally charged ones where rational knowledge fails us yet we are called upon to decide and act…[It] is able to do this because it is an oracle. It is a particular kind of imaginative space set off for a dialogue with the gods or spirits, the creative basis of experience now called the unconscious. An oracle translates a problem or question brought to it into an image language like that of dreams. It changes the way you experience the situation in order to connect you with the inner forces that are shaping it. The oracle’s images dissolve what is blocking the connection, making the spirits available.4
From highly personal divinatory experiments with the Chinese Book of Changes or I Ching, Jung advanced the synchronicity hypothesis. In his later works he more generally describes synchronicity in relation to certain strange curiosities of nature operating in various rare instances of inner/outer “crossovers” which defy normative constructions of reality. Such anomalies as prophetic dreams, unconnected parallel processes, paranormal oddities and chance occurrences in which subject and object mysteriously seem to collide are included in this brave literature of “acausal” connection. According to Jung, synchronicity is a special case of “acausality” that additionally produces in the observer some intimate, self-deepening, or spiritually-enhancing meaningfulness, or put in the Jungian vernacular, “unconscious compensation in the service of individuation.”
By this definition, not all acausal phenomena are necessarily synchronistic. As its name implies, ‘acausality’ simply means that no exchange of energy (the hallmark of Newtonian causality) is transmitted between related events. Examples have been shown, for instance, by experimenters like Robert Jahn et. al. at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR) that certain acausal phenomena occurs naturally and can be scientifically demonstrated as such. Through studying the interaction of human consciousness and complex machines (“sensitive physical devices, systems, and processes common to engineering practice”) Jahn has shown that a test-subject’s conscious intent could influence a machine’s operation. Such effects, though usually quite small, have nevertheless been proved to be statistically repeatable and appear to be operator-specific in their details.5
Technically however, these extraordinary findings of ‘acausal connection’ are not purely ‘synchronistic’ as they carry no particular meaningfulness to the subject unless, of course, the test-subject is lucky enough to be a race car driver, a machine-gun mercenary, or even a high-speed computer user with minimal techno-skills like myself, in which case, any clairvoyant repartee with one’s machinery would prove immensely meaningful indeed. Be that as it may, one point is certain as put succinctly by Jungian author James A. Hall: “Science without parapsychology is two-dimensional. Parapsychology without synchronicity misses psyche.”6
Therapists in all their sophistication should take heart as they search for alternative explanations for the “synchronicity hypothesis.” Jung stipulates clearly that acausality requires not merely the absence of physical energy exchange between events, but equally the absence of psychological energy exchange as well. Victor Mansfield (1995) an astrophysicist and synchronicity author, further specifies this point: “just as gravity causes the apple to fall, anxiety causes the head to shake.” Both events are easily explained by ordinary causation. Psychological causation (like physical causation) contradicts the elusive precondition of acausality itself; Jung carefully stressed that neither repressed contents, defense mechanisms, complexes, nor archetypal constellations could cause such coincidences, thereby ruling out subtler mechanisms like projective identification or conversion from slipping through the psychological cracks.7
Synchronicity And Events
Examples of synchronistic phenomena are easily illustrated in collective events, as for instance, the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19, 1995. But first, let’s examine (hypothetically) the more likely cause-and-effect scenario of this incident, which must be ruled out should we find the genuine article. Suppose several research psychologists attempted dream studies in Oklahoma City following the event. They discover significant numbers of subjects reporting dreams and fantasies involving sabotage and destruction, of buildings exploding, of hidden bombs or mass death–that is, dreams occurring shortly after reports of the tragedy. These parallels would hardly be considered ‘synchronistic’ or even ‘acausally-connected’. The psyche of such dreamers has obviously been affected by psychological causes churning throughout local and collective awareness. Anxiety dreams following shocking events of this nature are quite common. To the contrary, after the tragic news one might rather expect a great many people in all parts of the country to incorporate this upsetting imagery in their dreams. We would then obviously rule out ‘synchronicity’ to explain such clearly ‘caused’ correspondences.
If, on the other hand, a particular dreamer reports: (1) the same sort of mayhem and destruction in his dream, perhaps with lucid details of the Ryder truck, the screaming panicked government employees, The Murray Building collapsing etc.; (2) this startling dream occurred on the night preceding the catastrophe; and (3) we can be certain this dreamer bears no possible conscious or unconscious relationship to the conspirators themselves, or has not been made privy at all to their goings on whatsoever; then, (4) it is then safe to conclude that those clamoring headlines discovered on the morning AFTER the event (by said dreamer) must reasonably be considered ‘acausally-connected’ to the dream. This is simply because the actual event for which such dream content was referent had not yet taken place.
No exchange of energy can therefore connect these two events or account for their mutual co-arising, neither physical nor mental energy. An acausal connection is thus clearly established between dream and event. But note: “synchronicity” has not yet technically occurred. If then, (5) upon reading the dreadful report in the newspaper on the morning after, the dreamer is thus struck meaningfully (i.e. in regards to his/her own sense of psychospiritual purpose or individuation) by this eerie coincidence, and encouraged perhaps to reevaluate core beliefs (say, of the importance of family, or perhaps, the impermanence of life and death) owing to this strange coincidence, it is at that point, officially, that these two events have produced a bone fide “synchronicity.” They are now, in Jung’s famous phrase, “acausally connected through meaning.”
Of course, the parapsychologist may beg to differ. His argument would insist that a causal exchange did in fact occur: the dreamer was simply prescient, his psychic foreknowledge (precognition) would account for (i.e. caused) the seeming dream coincidence as such. It was simply a case of prescience or clairvoyance; in a manner of speaking, the ‘future’ had caused the dream! It’s simply that we have not yet the technology to measure such invisible forces. Jung himself, with his great fascination for J.B. Rhine’s groundbreaking ESP experiments at Duke in the 1930’s, entertained the impressive parapsychological evidence contributing to synchronistic phenomena. Many in the Tarot community, as well, believe divination to be a psychic phenomenon, with the cards acting as “psychic springboards” or triggers for telepathic, clairvoyant, or precognitive phenomena. Paranormal research, in fact, may one day isolate certain subtle and causal energy fields operating between Tarot cards, readers and subjects, and require major revisions of the synchronicity hypothesis.
More recently, however, Mansfield (1995) challenges this argument by making a compelling case against such paranormal attributions which, in effect, violate the technical specifics of Jung’s own treatise.3 Psychic causes, Mansfield contends, suggest some transfer of energy between bodies, albeit to date, not an “energy” clearly isolated, measured, or demonstrated as such. Psychic causal agents, of course, even unseen hypothetical ones, would veer away from Jung’s central notion of “acausality.”
Suggested in Jung’s theory of synchronicity is the presence of some underlying interior intelligence at work, some non-personal agency of wisdom which purposively guides each individual psyche towards its predestined objectives of balance and wholeness (equilibrium and individuation). Empty of the sentiment that normally muddies human perception, this higher logic flows more like a fresh running river. It is deep and clear, cool and nonpersonal, unfixed and nonlocalized. Though accessed from a mysterious source, it is nonetheless closer to the natural order. It is immune to those arbitrary habits or conventional thinking which, in the final analysis, may rest on no logic at all.
For Jung, such transcendent intelligence is viewed as the very matrix from which all psychological development and transformation unfolds; it operates through a system of compensatory self-regulations for the purpose of linking conscious and unconscious worlds with the objective of psychological wholeness. This view is quite distinct from the determinist constructions of evolutionary psychology which place more emphasis on the role of social and cognitive factors of adaptability without reference to teleology.
From a depth psychological perspective, the bridge that this transcendent intelligence uses to link conscious and unconscious worlds is the symbol. After all, one might pause to consider this: given the generally accepted hypothesis that dreams and dream symbols are significant and meaningful, and moreover, that these spontaneous unconscious narratives are revealing, multifaceted, intricately crafted, economical, restorative, poetic, and even comical– then by whose masterful intelligence are they authored? The sleeping child? Your snoring, comatose “creative side?” Who is it really, in the final analysis, that speaks to us when we sleep? After studying thousands of such dreamscapes captured from his patients and his own mind, Jung was moved to formulate the concept of “absolute knowledge” to account for their true creator:
Final causes, twist them how we will, postulate a foreknowledge of some kind. It is certainly not a knowledge that could be connected with the ego, and hence not a conscious knowledge as know it, but rather a self-subsistent “unconscious” knowledge which I would prefer to call “absolute knowledge.” 8
One needn’t be a behavioral psychologist to know that old habits die hard. These learned patterns of activity through chronic repetition become automated, fixed, and effortlessly carried out much like putting one’s left sock on first each morning. As author Umberto Eco laments
I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.
Given the undeniable fact of our own nearly intractable, causally pre-conditioned, modern habits of explanation– the cognitive reflex that needs to discern “this is so because of______,” I think it is safe to surmise that many reading this brief synopsis of the synchronicity hypothesis, and even Tarot divination in general, will find it bordering on the ungraspable. I myself feel this way often. There will likely be a gnawing urge to restate the obvious, at least to oneself, as almost everything learned throughout our scientifically-constructed lives has taught us not to presume otherwise. Be it parlor trick, clairvoyant reader, psychological illusion, misattribution, projective identification, accident, meaningless coincidence, miracle, or loaded deck: something surely must be given credit (or blame) as the “real cause.”
Jung’s puffy phrase “absolute knowledge,” a cause without a cause, will smack of fuzzy theology and leave the scientifically-grounded and metaphysically-squeamish (i.e. most therapists) whining about Ouji boards. His or her gut will continue to encourage rational assurances: “There can be no reliable effects resulting from non-existent or indiscernible causes.” Of course, the corollary to this logic is equally tenacious: “if no reliable cause can be established, then the effects of the reading cannot be valid.” A short while later, after the Tarot reading one has just witnessed does appear to be unambiguously accurate, “amazing” by some accounts, or at least, strikingly meaningful to its subject, then and there, as a matter of habitual reflex, the explanatory litany of accidental factors, suggestibility, projection, fraud, or “coincidence” is causally assigned. We are relieved. Phew… “It was merely an instance of _________.”
But no matter. In defiance of our reassuring rationality, the synchronistic hypothesis reasserts its ugly head: All energetic exchanges between reader/querent/card are categorically ruled-out and unrelated to the effect! That is, no parlor trick, no clairvoyant reader, no psychological illusion, no misattribution, no projective identification, no accident, no meaningless coincidence, no miracle, and no loaded deck has caused the reading’s accuracy. Indeed, there are NO BECAUSES.
To the contrary, one finds instead only the disquieting reminder that the world moves in mysterious ways. Meaning has arrived acausally as a function of the method itself, involving no extrinsic influence whatsoever. Instead, an agent presumably of ‘higher intelligence’ or ‘absolute knowledge’ (at least from our limited vantage points) has delivered the correct cards for this moment much as it delivered the correct dream in all its well crafted complexity last night. Although in Tarot, unlike the dream, the agent is deliberately called forth. Sagaciously, and in concert with the emotional motivation of the querent, the Tarot method itself creates conditions for the probability of synchronicity to occur. And as mentioned in a previous chapter, psychologists will likely locate this innate, guiding agency as residing within the psyche, while metaphysicians, theologians, and perhaps quantum physicists will place its residence in nature or in god.
In the Tarot method, a procedure that intentionally disrupts and confounds linear assumptions, the meaningful coincidence that occurs between cards and querent can not be causally explained, because in the final analysis, there is no conventional causality operating. A linkage between mind and matter, subject and object, has been facilitated by what has been deemed ‘empowered randomness,’ the vehicle of oracularly-intended synchronicity. This phenomenon is likely to be simply an occurrence of nature– related perhaps to “The Force” (of Star Wars fame)–though typically unrecognized due to our vast inculcation of scientific realism and habitual causality. When it occurs spontaneously we deem either fraudulent or else categorize it as “some religious miracle.” Such describes the so-called “apex problem” of the Tarot practitioner, mentioned earlier with Thought Field Therapy.
We should regard such things in keeping with our earlier theme of opposition: that is, so-called ‘acausal/synchronistic’ phenomena are merely the other side of conventional causality, “like the different, but inseparable, sides of a coin, the poles of a magnet, or pulse and interval in any vibration (Watts).” The apparent rarity of synchronistic occurrences reflects more than anything our habit of causal explanation. If we can’t explain it, it probably doesn’t exist. But it is important to remember that the concept of so-called “randomness” is itself a modern invention that developed out of the dogma of causation. Of course, that well-oiled band of naysayers–the professional skeptics and debunkers–who bravely embrace the scientific realism of the 19th century, will not be deterred by such unbridled “metaphysical hogwash” but instead will salivate over such claims like greedy jackals over wounded rabbits. “Blatantly unscientific!” they hoot and snarl with great assurance. “Prove it! Prove it! The method is flawed, it’s entirely random. It can never be re-peat-ed!”
Little do these smug evaluators realize that Tarot’s random selection is precisely what makes it Tarot. Repeatability is hardly the point. Like each unique fingerprint or signature of human identity, no two Tarot readings are ever identical or repeatable per se. Though what does repeat, should we call it that, is the consistent and striking experience of meaning for the subject. John Van Eenwyk notes in Archetypes & Strange Attractors: The Chaotic World of Symbols (1997):
If a dynamic repeats over and over (orbits, chemical reactions, symbols), it is possible eventually to figure it out. That which occurs just once, however (miracles, the creation of the universe, a crank telephone call) is infinitely more difficult to decipher. Repetition creates patterns that can be scrutinized. Single occurrences are incomparable, hence they tend to be labeled “random.”9
The serious scientist, without the professional skeptic’s need to prejudge or “debunk” to make his living, does, however, indeed hold forth a legitimate challenge for objective verification. To my mind, solid scientific verification of the synchronicity hypothesis is an unrivaled and highly worthy challenge for the very best scientific explorers. But as the imaginative, and indeed highly regarded scientific thinker Arthur C. Clarke recently noted from his home in Sri Lanka:
We need more scientists…to push the limits of knowledge and understanding. Science, unlike politics or diplomacy, does not depend on consensus or expediency– it progresses by open-minded probing, rigorous questioning, independent thought and, when the need arises, being bold enough to say that the emperor has no clothes.10
In this case is the Emperor clothed or naked? The scientist is quite right to wonder: Could this synchronistic hypothesis using the Tarot method be demonstrated experimentally? Could it empirically be shown to have practical value and application? Regardless of Tarot’s inherent difficulties with scientific measurement, could a pilot study of sorts be designed to demonstrate sufficient consideration of this approach, in the least to initiate a path of further research and experimentation? The following chapter describes one of several such pilot studies conducted by the author wherein the synchronicity hypothesis was tested.
1 Jung, C. G., ‘On the Nature of the Psyche’. Reprinted in Collected Works Vol. 8; Second edition (Princeton University Press), Ziff, 246, p. 167.
2 Getting, F., Fate & Prediction: An Historical Compendium of Palmistry, Astrology, and Tarot; Exeter, New York, 1980, p. 157.
3 Ritsema, Rudolf, and Karcher, Stephen [trans] I Ching: The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change; Element Books Limited, Great Britain, 1994, p. 10.
5 Jahn, Robert, and Dunne, Brenda, Margins of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World; Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, New York, 1987.
6 personal correspondence, 1998.
7 Mansfield, Victor, Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making, Open Court. 1995, pp. 22-36.
8 Jung, C. G., Synchronicity [Collected Works, Vol. 8]; Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1978, p.493 ”
9 Van Eenwyk, John, Archetypes & Strange Attractors: The Chaotic World of Symbols; Inner City Books, Toronto, Canada, 1997, p. 42.
10 Clarke, Arthur, C. quoted in The San Diego Union Tribune [“La Jolla Nobelist rocks the scientific boat”, Graham, David, E.), September 15, 1998, p. A13.
Readers— Chapter 9 actually introduces the final section of my book, The Tarot Research Project, which is a landmark pilot study of the synchronicity hypothesis; unlike anything attempted before, it explores tarot divination with an experimental population of spousal abusers and female victims (that I conducted in 1997 in Southern California). If interested, order directly on Amazon.com or from Paragon House. FSA