This symposium is guided by the following organizing question: “Can Synchronicity Reveal Life’s Meaning in Ways Science Can’t Yet Understand?”  If Jung was a participant he would undoubtedly answer this question with a resounding yes. Anticipating a call for evidence, he most probably would retell the story of his shared,  life-defining  “Scarab” synchronicity – characterized by him as “…never before or since had [I] ever experienced an event quite like that one was.”


Before describing the details of this extraordinary seminal occurrence, in the service of scientific understanding, I think it useful to identify and describe relevant historical and therapeutic contexts in which it occurred.  This ground breaking ‘scarab’ synchronicity happened in Jung’s office in which he was treating a female patient in his role as her psychoanalyst.

Curiously, despite the fact that Jung was a meticulous record keeper, the date of this historical event is unrecorded. It is inferred that it happened in 1925. Jung (then 50 years old and twenty five years younger than Freud) had 15 years earlier been Freud’s heir apparent to take over the reign of the fledgling psychoanalytic movement. But in 1909 – these two titans experienced undeniable conflicts which were soon to become irreconcilable differences mainly concerning the significance of occult occurrences, the nature and importance of spirituality in the lives of all human beings, the nature of sexuality as the assumed core of all neurotic behavior, and their attitudes towards synchronistic events.

It is interesting to note that these two powerful men differed greatly in their attitudes concerning a shared synchronicity that occurred in Freud’s study in 1909. In the course of asking Freud’s opinion of occult occurrences such as “catalytic exteriorization phenomena” there sounded a loud rapport coming from one of the bookcases. Freud dismissed such happenings as due to greatly heightened attention and pure chance. Jung perceiving Freud’s attitude as condescending felt enraged. He asserted much to his surprise that the same sound was going to happen again. When indeed it did both he and Freud were deeply impressed by this ‘bookcase’ synchronicity

 Jung’s insistence that such “occult” occurrences – seemingly defying any rational explanation thus violating and challenging the bed rock first assumptions of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory – induced Freud to issue a warning to Jung not to get caught in the tide of the “black mud of occultism.”

Freud’s dismissal of Jung’s growing belief in the occult as offering mankind a way of connecting with what he fervently believed was a ‘transcendent spirituality” – a necessary task for every human being to experience a fulfilled life – brought their extreme differences to consciousness – differences which were rapidly moving towards a rupture in their relationship.

Jung left this meeting with a mixture of “reverence and contempt” towards Freud. “Aware he was projecting “a father transference” onto Freud, desiring both acceptance and freedom from dependency, Jung was unable to break free from Freud’s shadow despite his growing belief that his ideas were superior to Freud’s. (Memories, Dreams and Reflections, 1961)

Their unbridgeable differences led to a formal break in 1916. Perhaps caused by but certainly associated with his break with Freud, Jung experienced what is commonly referred to as a nervous breakdown characterized by him as “a period of inner uncertainty.” Psychoanalysts today might aptly say that Jung was suffering from an intense identity crisis. Having separated from his Guru Freud – and not having enough of a self to believe in – he searched for something in himself to fill up the hole in his soul. In this connection, Jung withdrew into himself searching for content that he hoped would provide the answers to the biggest life question of all: what is life’s meaning?

It was during this descent into his inner space referred by Ellenberger as a‘creative illness’ that Jung “created/discovered the core concepts of the collective unconscious, archetypes, the archetypal experience, and the transcendent function relating them to his own personal experience. These and other core concepts would later be both discussed and illustrated in his Red Book and subsequently integrated into Jung’s original reformulation of psychoanalysis he called Analytic Psychology.

Freud’s and Jung’s Differing Views as to the Meaning of Life

Perhaps the most telling differences in their perspectives is illuminated in their alternative views as to the meaning of life. Jung believed Freud to be too starkly realistic whereas Freud believed Jung to be too abstractly mystical.

To paraphrase – Freud believed that the criterion for a successful therapy experience is for the patient to convert neurotic suffering into an acceptance of every day common misery. By contrast Jung – considering the quintessential meaning in his life said: “ … My whole being was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life… To me, it was a profound disappointment that all the efforts of the probing mind had apparently succeeded in finding nothing more in the depths of the psyche than the all too familiar and “all-too- human” limitations.”

It took Jung at least 16 years (1909 – 1925) to take himself and his nascent theoretical perspective as valid for him and others who he treated. A large part of the difficulty in doing so was the realization that his belief in his conceptualization of a transcending spirituality was in direct conflict with the scientific laws of conventional Freudian psychic determinism – based on the assumption of the immutable laws of necessary cause and effect connections. 

Jung thought that Freud was correct in so far as his patient population was concerned, but was grossly myopic by omitting the realm of spirituality and the occult resulting in Freudian psychoanalytic theory failing to address the needs of the patients who Jung treated. Determined to correct this perceived imbalance, Jung was preoccupied with integrating spirituality and the occult into his practice. Intuitively he was convinced that the apparent conflict between science and religion (spirituality) was only apparent but at this point in his personal and professional development he lacked the ways and means of theoretically conceptualizing his radical point of view. It was in this context that it is no coincidence that Jung found himself wide open to his and his patient’s experiences of meaningful coincidences.

The “Scarab” Synchronicity

Imagine the following situation. You are a psychoanalyst treating a middle aged woman who is over-controlled is therefore out of balance having, in Jungian terms, an excessive degree of animus and a deficit of too little anima. She is described as rigid. The therapy has reached a stalemate. Presumably what was happening between therapist and patient was essentially overly theoretical and intellectualized. It is conjectured that she she needs to be able to feel and experience but is too reliant on figuring everything out rather than just being spontaneous. You want to help her but realize both you and her are mutually stuck.

Jung said that she had a defensive over – reliance on “Cartesian rational thinking”. This over reliance on linear logic  resulted in his patient having “…a compulsive need to be right and thus fought off getting in touch with what today might be thought of as allowing herself to experience ambiguity and so called irrationality more generally thought of as a “feminine” trait.

Jung believed the cause of her need to be “over controlled” was due to a disconnection from her “transcendent function.” To bridge this disconnect, Jung believed that she was in need of some unexpected life experience that would shake her up, so to speak, providing what might be thought of as a kind of “spiritual shock intervention.”

As you are reflecting on this – synchronistically the patient relates a dream from the night before in which she is handed a “golden [colored] scarab.”  As she is relating her dream you hear a tapping sound on your window pane behind your chair. Looking in the direction of the sound you notice a beetle that because of your extensive knowledge of botany instantly recognize it to be a “scarab” variety because of its distinctive golden coloration.

Stunned and in awe by the exquisite timing and parallel content of the dream material and the appearance of the beetle you open the window, capture the golden colored beetle, walk over to your patient, and say to her “here is your scarab.” Such are the essential details of both Jung’s and his patient’s shared “scarab” synchronicity.

The Impact of this “Scarab” Synchronicity on Jung’s Patient

Jung notes that his patient was notably impacted by the totally unexpected co – incidence of her scarab dream of the night before and the actualization of being handed a scarab in the next day’s session. He says that she was so visibly shocked that she made a therapeutic breakthrough presumably transforming her by providing the catalyst in allowing her to make a felt connection with what Jung calls her “spiritual” self “presumably providing a pathway to the significant change she had hoped to experience in her therapy.

The Impact of this “Scarab” synchronicity on Jung

Whereas the scarab coincidence had an apparent transforming affect on Jung’s patient “facilitating significant change” it had an undeniably profound effect on Jung as well, as he committed much of the rest of his life attempting to understand the nature, implications, and uses of synchronistic events.

Jung’s Definition of a Synchronicity

Whereas all synchronicities differ in content they all share a common structure. This important observation is implied in Jung’s definition of a synchronicity: “the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but not causally connected events [wherein] an unexpected (mental) content (A) which directly or indirectly connected with some objective external event (A’) coincides with the ordinary psychic state.”

Jung’s Rejection of a Causal Explanation Leads to Momentous Implications

The failure to link the subjective event A with the objective event A’ by means of causality, yet remaining linked by meaningful connectedness (experienced as awesome and uncanny) had momentous implications for Jung. Jung (1955) clearly at odds with conventional psychoanalytic thinking, asserted: “I doubt whether an exclusively psychological approach can ever do justice to the phenomena in question.”

Jung (1970) amplifying this idea says: “Synchronicity postulates a meaning which is a priori in
relation to human consciousness and apparently outside man.”
Further it is evidence of the “spiritualization” of reality.

Upon acknowledging the seeming inability of rationality to account for the mystery of the linking principle, [connecting A and A’] - Jung (1955) completely eliminated conventional causality as an explanatory principle replacing it with his invention of the a-causal principle of synchronicity. This meant that by eliminating conventional causality as a means of explaining these anomalous phenomena, we are left with only “an equivalence of meaning” and “simultaneity” in describing synchronicities.” (Jung, Synchronicity, 143)  Eliminating causality as a linking principle makes the nature of meaning of prime importance in attempts to understand the nature of synchronicities.

Whereas his doubt about science in the form of a psychological approach ever doing synchronicities justice Jung went further still issuing his radical, provocative intellectual challenge which is one of the reasons why this symposium has come about. Jung unequivocally stated: “…With occurrences like this “their inexplicability is not due to the fact that their cause is unknown, but to the fact that a cause is not even thinkable in intellectual terms.” (Jung, Synchronicity, 143)

The Experience of Numinosity Equals The Key Agent of Change. 

 Eliminating conventional causality as an insufficient explanation accounting for the link between the two halves of a synchronicity – the subjective internal event (A) and the objective external event (A’) all that is left linking the two together is an equivalence of meaning and simultaneity.

The experience of improbable parallel events happening at or near the same time is experienced by most people as uncanny and awesome. Such experiences are felt to be extraordinary events, described by many as “God’s little miracles.” Jung uses the term numinosity in describing the mixed states of the uncanny plus awesomeness associated with experiencing synchronicities.

 Experiencing the numinous is thought by Jung to enable a patient suffering from a disconnection (loss of meaningful connectedness experienced as a divided self) with their “transcendent function” to reconnect with an assumed realm of “absolute meaning.” This reaction of awe – numinosity - most likely accounts for the mixed rational and irrational structure of Jung’s dualistic: partially religious/partially scientific, psychological/supernatural/ mystical theory of synchronicities.

Post “Scarab” Synchronicity Meanings for Jung

Anticipating that the scientific community – i.e. Freud and his adherents – would likely scoff at his partly mystical/ magical formulation Jung asserted three anti causal arguments. The first had to do with method, the second with meaning, and the third with time. These three arguments are explored in detail in my recently published book: Demystifying Meaningful Coincidences (Synchronicities): - The Evolving Self, The Personal Unconscious, and the Creative Process.

Jung dedicated the rest of his life often preoccupied with understanding the nature and use of synchronicities in the framework of his partially psychodynamic (scientific) and partially transpersonal (spiritual) a causal theory of synchronicities.

Some Overlooked Observations Concerning the “Scarab” Synchronicity

·         What snaps out as most significant is Jung’s radical departure from a conventional Freudian approach to this most interesting material. In this connection he treats the synchronicity as only a “real and present” event. In so doing he emphasizes the connection between his patient and him the analyst as two people participating in the shared magical “numinosity” of the moment (participation mystique).

·         The meaning of the scarab synchronicity is of central importance to Jung as it would be expected to be for any analyst working with this treatment material. However, rather than consult his patient as to the meaning of this event for her, Jung immediately interprets the scarab as an ancient Egyptian symbol of transformation.


·         Thus, if asked, how Freud would have worked with the Scarab synchronicity he most likely would have insisted that any of the supernatural filigree be stripped away it the ensuing exploration.  He would most likely have viewed the scarab material as embedded in the psychological and situational contexts of his patient to determine causality.


·         Instead of an interpretation Freud would likely have asked the patient to explore the following questions:  what the meaning of this event was for her?  What else was associated with the golden scarab? What was the meaning(s) of her being given a gift? And, indeed, to consider the meanings connected with receiving a special gift from a special man — in this case - her analyst?

·         In this connection, it is noteworthy that Jung, thoroughly familiar with the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, in working with his patient, apparently completely overlooked the three most important conceptual psychological “tools” in conventional psychoanalytic interpretation. These tools are the concepts of transference, resistance, and a combination of the two known as a transference resistance.


·         On the face of it the scarab dream acted out in the next days’ session would have been a propitious occasion for him to explore with this patient the nature of her probable idealizing and or father transference to Jung at this particular time in her treatment.

·         Jung would probably argue that while Freud certainly makes sense from his own frame of reference, the crucial point is, that when it comes to these particular events, Freud’s psychoanalytic method utterly fails as it is simply not up to the task. This is so because these events apparently defy comprehension when exclusively utilizing Freud’s psychodynamic formulations.

·         Freud would likely counter that perhaps Jung might be right but to first attempt to find a rational explanation before latching onto some fuzzy mystical theory. In this connection it is interesting that Jung either chooses to dismiss his knowledge of a likely transference resistance of his patient in not analyzing the material given to him; or is so emotionally carried away by his own experience of the scarab coincidence that he appears to have lost his professional objectivity.

·         Suspicions are heightened that Jung used the material of this synchronicity to validate his own mystical/magical theory of synchronicities rather than allowing his patient to explore her own meanings. Two glaring omissions support this claim. (1) To repeat, it is curious that no date for this most important occasion has been found. (2) There are apparently no follow up notes. Thus it is unclear as to whether or not his patient’s alleged instant ‘transformation’ resulted in significant permanent change.

·          In this connection I am reminded of a psychotherapy patient, J, who entered treatment in despair, lamenting the fact that she had been born wanting desperately to die but too afraid to do so. She wished she had a belief in God but this was out of the question. One day, a few years into treatment, she called, unusually upbeat, saying she would have to cancel her session. She said that she was in the back seat of a car driven by her father when on a rain slick New Jersey highway the car flipped over and landed straight up adding “no one in the car was hurt.” Feeling as if she had been “miraculously” saved, her reaction was to uncharacteristically assert that there must be a God. She sounded as if her deep depression had finally lifted. Her enthusiasm conveyed the unspoken belief that she had been cured by her connection with divine intervention. I was pleased for her. However, it is to be noted that the positive effects of her spiritual transformation lasted for about two weeks when she plummeted back into the depths of despair due to some unanticipated disappointment. It is unfortunate we don’t know if Jung’s “scarab” patient experienced a similar fate or perhaps had a more fortuitous outcome.

·         Perhaps the attributed ‘transformation’ was in fact permanent for this patient, perhaps not. In any case the ‘scarab’ synchronicity was a life defining personal and professional expansion of consciousness for Jung. In the light of my naturalistic theory of synchronicities (Williams, 2010) the ‘scarab’ coincidence is conjectured to be marker of Jung’s dynamically bringing together in a single event the core concepts he had explored in his period of self-imposed isolation. In so doing, Jung was able to both synthesize and accept as valid for him and his patients the foundation of his original un Freudian and thoroughly Jungian Analytic Psychology.

·         Thus for Jung, the meaning of this shared ‘scarab’ synchronicity is the cathexis (conscious crystallization) of Jung’s creative powers notably in the area of synthesizing and integrating previously disparate abstract concepts into a dynamically lived concrete  experience.

The above is not meant as a condemnation of Jung. He was of course free to do whatever he thought was in the best interest of his patient. He might in fact have done all or at least some of the above—we will never know as apparently it was not recorded. These questions are mainly raised to indicate that there is considerably more to be observed about these events than just

the surface of the typical reaction of awe referred to as a numinous experience. This is so particularly, when such meaningful coincidences occur in the context of a therapeutic relationship.

Observing this de facto debate between the Jungians and the Freudians (as is often the case with such matters), we witness partisans lining up, steadfastly insisting their point of view is the righter one, thus if one side is essentially right then the other guy’s must be essentially wrong. The question is raised: is there a way to break this seemingly intractable I’m totally right/you’re

totally wrong theoretical and methodological impasse? This aim is the central aim of this symposium.

Implications of My Critique

 At this point, the reader may wonder I’m being a bit too picky. Concerning synchronicities, why not just accept the implications of a mysterious connection with occult forces and let it go at that? Who really knows the truth of the matter anyway, and isn’t it ultimately a question of personal preference?

 For those who accept the Jungian half naturalistic and half mystical/ magical formulation as an article of faith there are no troublesome issues. But for those who are skeptical of this supernatural account, Jung’s formulation presents a profound intellectual challenge. The key issue is answering the most basic question of being alive: who is the final authority in your life?

 The answers range from a person assuming the final authority and responsibility for their life versus consciously or unconsciously projecting the final authority onto some other real or imagined person in the “real” world or in the world of “spirit.” Additionally something of felt importance is happening. These occurrences are real, often profoundly impacting, and challenging. If they are not “messages” from divinity then where do they come from?

Jung appears to have been equally awed by this shared synchronicity with his experience of the “scarab” synchronicity. He was “gripped” by feelings of numinosity which he uncritically equated as evidence of having connected with an assumed realm of absolute meaning. His palpable excitement over rode any attempt to understand his patient’s personal meanings treating the whole amazing event clear and indisputable evidence that his nascent half psychological and half spiritual formulations were indeed valid both for him and this patient.

The scarab synchronicity raises more important questions than providing definitive answers.

Among these important questions are:

• Are there other forms of causality besides that of conventional scientific causality?

• If other forms of causality are existent, might any of them be utilized as an adequate linking principle?

• What is the meaning of meaning to which Jung is alluding?

• Are there alternative definitions of meaning?

• What is the relationship between meaning and causality?

• Are there other sources of meaning besides the Jungian formulation of a realm of absolute meaning?

By contrast, it is a basic assumption of my research that Jung’s theory, as are all theories, is based on selected explicit or implicit first assumptions about the nature of reality (ontology), knowledge of this reality, and how it is known (epistemology); and the use(s) the obtained knowledge of reality may best be put. Thus theories are the byproducts of personal interpretations of a given theorist’s imposing order on the raw data of their experience.

This means that a given synchronicity theory (as are all theories) being the byproduct of the particular theorists’ conscious and unconscious interpretations of his experiences, is necessarily biased. Biases are not problematic as long as they are clearly stated so that the reader is able to make adequate compensations in arriving at his or her own judgments on the matter at hand.

Perhaps Jung is right. However, the facts appear to indicate that by considering his theory to be a reconstruction of selected raw data from his personal and professional experience—hence the outgrowth of his interpretations—his supernatural point of view, although compelling, is only one of a number of conceivable theories of synchronicity.

Thus when Jung (1961) says that “he was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life” and that this meaning is to be found in mythological

consciousness; and still further, that, for him, the highest form of acquired knowledge is connecting with archetypal knowledge (a religious experience), he is leading himself and his adherents towards an inevitable supernatural interpretation of meaningful coincidences.

Add in the fact that he apparently dismissed any attempts to understand his Scarab patient’s seminal synchronicity utilizing the concepts of transference and resistance, combined with his apparent need to prove Freud wrong and himself right, and it appears that Jung may well have had had a major blind spot, both intellectually and experientially, greatly biasing his attitude

toward these anomalous phenomena as a mixture of natural and supernatural elements. From this perspective, Jung’s radical conclusion that he doubted “whether an exclusively psychological approach can ever do justice to the phenomena in question” is not a coincidence but is an inevitable fait accompli given his particular psychological problems, his personality and character, all predisposing him to select from the collective consciousness those organizing concepts that were most congruent to his direct experience and belief system.

In short, although a genius, he was still a flawed and troubled man (as are all of us mortals) and for this reason was limited in his vision to what he was able to see determined by his attained level of consciousness at any one time. In this connection the following quotation from R. D. Laing is particularly apt: “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to

notice, and because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” Agreeing with Laing that we all see what we are capable of seeing at any one time it follows that, when Jung asserts his doubt about “whether an exclusively psychological approach can ever do justice to the phenomena in
question” it is fair and reasonable to doubt his doubting.

To assert doubt is to indicate that one lacks certainty about claiming possession of absolute knowledge of some issue in question. It does not mean that what is doubted is absolutely in error, only that one questions it. In Jung’s case the crux of his doubting is the nature of the linking principle connecting the subjective psychological state (A) with the objective so called objective

event (A’). His specific doubt directly challenges an inferred Freudian purely psychodynamic interpretation of the connecting link replacing it with Jung’s partial supernatural perspective resulting in the radical principle of a-causality.

What Jung does not do is to consider that there may be another form of causality other than that of conventional causality that may adequately provide a naturalistic account of these acknowledged anomalous phenomena.

The key to understanding the process that leads to the production of synchronicities from a naturalistic perspective entails treating them as by-products of human beings’ needing to accommodate creative solutions to seemingly intractable dilemmas.

• My naturalistic approach to synchronicities only refers to the earth plane on which we live and struggle for surviving and thriving. Along every person’s personal trip through life there are inevitable “forks in the road.” The attitude toward these stuck points is essential for a salutary outcome.

 In all cases there is a problem to be resolved that is initially experienced as unsolvable. There are essentially two attitudes to the perception of quintessential “stuckness”: passive surrender or an active willingness to struggle with struggle to continue to search for an accommodating solution.

The choice to struggle with struggle—no matter what—stimulates a person’s idiosyncratic creative process. This process enlists a person’s various streams of information: thoughts, feelings, intuitions, and bodily sensations in the service of finding relevant “clues” in a psychological scavenger hunt. Each clue is like identifying and grasping a piece of a complex, multileveled psychological jigsaw puzzle. When enough pieces (clues) are gathered together which reveal a recognizable pattern, this indicates that the problem that sparked this search is well on the way to being resolved. Much of this work in generating meaningful connections

happens unconsciously—and is thought to be the province of the personal not the collective unconscious. In place of the idea of a search for revealed absolute meaning instead is the idea of realized meanings as the by-product of a person’s search for meaningful connections with himself and the object world.

• Viewing the production of meaningful coincidences from the vantage point of a science of psychodynamics indicates that they are associated with significant psychological change and transformation of the self.

Change begins with the experience of the experience as encountering a “fork in the road,” which is experienced as psychological “gridlock.” The initial attitude to the experience of quintessential stuckness is existential entrapment. If the person can be induced to struggle with struggle their

proactive attitude to the perception of being hopelessly pinned will stimulate their idiosyncratic creative process. Thus static energy is converted into kinetic energy, or in other terms negative reverberation is converted into positive reverberation oscillation. If the patient persists in their attitude of struggling with struggle, the desired outcome of a creative solution to their seemingly unsolvable problem is greatly enhanced.

If and when a solution is “found” it will be announced in the form of a synchronicity which—because it is in the preconscious—has to further be decoded.

Returning to the question – Can Synchronicity Reveal Life’s Meaning in Which Science Can’t Yet Understand – I would amend it to read Life’s Meanings which science is beginning to understand?.

In closing, I would like to issue my own warning to all who are interested in exploring the mysteries of these anomalous phenomena: Don’t get stuck in your own paradigm.




Gibbs A. Williams Ph.D. © 2010