The Mystery of Matter

Chapter 8: Synchronicity and Formal Causality



We have seen how both Bohm and Sheldrake were led to the idea of formal causality, and then recognized some of its historical antecedents. It is much the same in the case of Jung even though he doesn't use the word formal cause or link his ideas with those of Aristotle.

Now that we are becoming more familiar with the idea of formal causality, if we take another look at many of the passages cited in Chapter 3 we can see how close they are to that idea. For Jung, imbued with the mentality of modern science, causality can only mean efficient causality. Causality, for example, is "the connection between cause and effect." (1) Acausality operates without the normal constraints of space and time so it "cannot be a phenomenon of force or energy," (2) nor be based on "bodies in motion." (3)

When we look at acausality itself we see that it manifests many of the aspects that have been traditionally connected with formal causality. It is connected to finality, and a knowledge that is prior to consciousness, and so Jung likened it to similar ideas that Driesch had proposed. (4) It is meaning or even transcendental meaning, or we could say, information. It is similar to the Taoist idea of nothing that does not appear in the world of the senses, but is its "organizer." (5) It is like the medieval idea of correspondentia or the classical idea of the sympathy of all things which allows them to interrelate regardless of the distance between them. It is connected to Agrippa von Nettesheim's inborn knowledge and perception in living organisms, which again Jung relates to similar ideas in Driesch, and to the notion of final cause, which is intimately related to formal cause. Further, this is an unconscious or absolute knowledge that Jung links to his archetypes considered as formal factors (6) and synchronicity as an unconscious knowledge can be related to Plato's forms. And Jung goes so far as to call synchronicity itself "a formal factor." (7) In Jung's mind synchronicity can be further connected to the instinct of bees and biological morphogenesis. (8) "Professor A.M. Dalcq (of Brussels) understands form, despite its tie with matter, as a 'continuity that is supraordinate to the living organism."' (9)

Synchronicity might not even be confined to the human psyche, but be found in an analogous way in animals and even minerals. (10) Thus there would be "formal factors in nature," and synchronicity would become a specific manifestation of a more universal acausal orderedness. There is a close bond between synchronicity and the archetypes which, as we have seen, are formal factors in the psyche. Therefore, synchronicity as a meaningful coincidence in which we observe a meaningful connection between an inner psychic state and an outer event might conceivably be related to the formal factors that exist both in the inner and outer world. Jung speculates that both these worlds share the same ultimate background, and are parts of an unus mundus which embraces both matter and spirit.

Jung was also struck by the luminosity or what he called a cloud of cognition that is to be found in the unconscious that hinted at what Thomists, in turn, might call its spiritual or intellectual nature. This is similar to the idea that Maritain developed in terms of the spiritual unconscious using similar imagery. Von Franz, in her turn, when examining various antecedents to synchronicity, points to Aristotle's nous poietikos, or agent intellect, or what we might call with Maritain the illuminating intellect, which is the natural spiritual life of the human soul by which it illuminates the images in the psyche, unleashing from them their intelligible treasure or immaterial forms. Both the human soul, itself, is a form in the classical tradition, and the intellect knows by immaterial forms. (11)

Further, Jung will call the psyche an unextended intensity. "In the light of this view the brain might be a transformer station, in which the relatively infinite tension or Intensity of the psyche proper is transformed into perceptible frequencies or "extensions." Conversely, the fading of introspective perception of the body explains itself as due to a gradual "psychification," i.e., intensification at the expense of extension. Psyche = highest intensity in the smallest space." (12)

Jung realizes that here he is pushing his usual language to the limit, but interestingly enough, what he arrives at is his own view of what the Thomist would call spirit. Finally Jung will apply synchronicity to the relationship of the body to the soul as a way to avoid the difficulties that arise from any kind of psychophysical parallelism that would try to coordinate them by means of efficient causality. This, too, is very close to the Aristotelian idea of the soul as the form of the body, and once Aristotle proposes such a relationship he can say, "That is why we can wholely dismiss as unnecessary the question of whether the soul and the body are one: it is as meaningless as to ask whether the wax and the shape given to it by the stamp are one..." (13)

Number, itself, which so fascinated Jung and von Franz, is an archetype of order, and can function in this context of the relationship between the body and the soul in the same way as Aristotle's form does. "As the active ordering factor, it represents, the essence of what we generally term 'mind'." (14) Jung, as we saw in Chapter 3, relates the nature of spirit to "a spontaneous principle of movement in the unconscious psyche which engenders, autonomously manipulates, and orders inner images," and von Franz comments: "Number is, as it were, the most accessible primitive manifestation of this transcendental spontaneous principle of movement in the psyche." (15) The very word archetype means form in this classical tradition, and number was habitually related to form.

What we are faced with, then, is another remarkable example of how a scientist, working within his own discipline, has been led to rediscover the idea of formal causality, and the more he approached the frontier that psychology shares with the philosophy of nature, the more powerful the ontological resonances of his specialized and freshly minted vocabulary became.

But much like the situation with Bohm and Sheldrake, Jung's formulations can present a problem for the philosophy of nature. There is certainly no problem simply calling formal causality acausal orderedness. Jung is entitled to his own vocabulary. But a problem does arise if acausality, reinforced by a perception of the invincibility of the Copenhagen interpretation, distinguishes itself not only from efficient causality, but cuts itself off from causality altogether. If this were to happen, no explanation of synchronicity would be possible, for explanation in its deepest sense means understanding something through its causes. Without causality in this wider sense we are left simply with stating that synchronistic events exist. There seems no need to go to this extreme. Jung wrote, "Causality is only one principle and psychology cannot be exhausted by causal methods only, because the mind (=psyche) lives by aims as well." (16) There is plenty of room to discover in Jung's formulation of synchronicity both the final causality that Jung mentions here, and formal causality.

We have already seen two stories which Jung used to illustrate the meaning of synchronicity. In the first, a scarbaeid beetle taps at the window of his consulting room, and in the second, birds gather at the death of a woman's husband. Let's look at two others. The first comes from a 1945 letter from Jung to J.B. Rhine:

"I walked with a woman patient in the wood. She tells me about the first dream in her life that had made an everlasting impression on her. She had seen a spectral fox coming downstairs in her parental home. At this moment, a real fox comes out of the trees not forty yards away and walks quietly on the path ahead of us for several minutes. The animal behaves as if it were a partner in the situation." (17)

Jung had prefaced this story with the remarks that the collective unconscious acted "as if it were one and not as if it were split into many individuals." And it showed itself not only among human beings, but animals and physical conditions.

The second story is recounted by Marie-Louise von Franz, and was told to her by a young Jewish intern stationed in Hawaii. His nephew's bar mitzvah was coming, and he was unfamiliar with the ceremony. So he was reading some of the texts, but in a bored and restless way. He soon put them down and reached for von Franz's book on fairy tales. There he found one about a white parrot which guarded the source of life, and anyone who reached for it in the wrong way was turned to stone. Her interpretation of the fairy tale hinged on the lifeless way in which religious truths can be handled and parroted. This story struck a deep chord in the doctor, for it was precisely what he had been doing with the bar mitzvah texts. At that moment he heard a cawing outside, and looked up to see a white parrot in a bush outside his window. (18)

Jung felt it was unfair to write off those kinds of events as pure chance, but at the same time, he knew that they fell outside of causality as modern science understood the term. This left him with either simply stating that they happened - which most people accepted already - or trying to give some sort of explanation of them. But giving an explanation is perilously close, even identical, to talking about causality, and we saw how Jung began to rediscover the idea of formal causality.

This rediscovery, however, was never formally made, and Jung never developed a full-fledged explanation. Two of his basic premises prevented him from coming to terms with formal causality. The first was his insistence that causality, itself, had been superseded by the discoveries of modern science. Therefore synchronicity must be acausal. The second was an even more general premise in which he held that as a psychologist his goal was a deeper and deeper knowledge of psychic images, but not the things in themselves, i.e., the archetypes that gave rise to them. This was a valid way of proceeding for an empirical psychology, but Jung, under the influence of Kant, extended it to become a general epistemological principle in which we only know psychic images, not things in themselves, no matter what methods we use.

These presuppositions of Jung allow us to understand his ideas on synchronicity more clearly. He was struck by the fact that in Rhine's experiments distance and time seemed no obstacles to extrasensory perception. This, he felt, ruled out any understanding of it based on a normal transmission of energy. But since he identified all causality with efficient causality, then he came to the conclusion there could be no causal explanation whatsoever. Therefore, in order to understand paranormal or synchronistic events, he considered the possibility that a psychic factor could have made space and time elastic, and have reduced them to the vanishing point. This type of explanation was congenial to him, for it fit in with his Kantian-style presuppositions. "In themselves, space and time consist of nothing. They are hypostatized concepts born of the discriminating activity of the conscious mind, and they form the indispensable co-ordinates for describing the behaviour of bodies in motion. They are, therefore, essentially psychic in origin, which is probably the reason that impelled Kant to regard them as a priori categories." (19)

The psychic condition that brings about this relativization is the activation of an archetype in the collective unconscious. In the case of the scarab beetle, for example, the woman has become dead-ended because of her rationalistic cast of mind. The psychic energy that previously animated her consciousness has flowed into the unconscious with which it forms one energetic system, and has activated an archetype which holds the promise of a solution to the dilemma and which gives rise to her dream. But when Jung considers the relationship between the dream and the arrival of the beetle at his window, he is struck by the strange knowledge that the psyche seems to have of the event to come, and he is going to try to explain this knowledge by a shrinking of space and time in which the unconscious already knows of the event before it happens. "The scarab dream is a conscious representation arising from an unconscious, already existing image of the situation that will occur on the following day..." (20)

But Jung is aware that there is another possibility in which the archetype which gives rise to the dream in some mysterious way brings about the outer event of the arrival of the beetle at his window. But for Jung that smacked of "magical causality" and his presuppositions prevented him from looking in that direction. He is left, then, with positing a transcendental or absolute knowledge in the psyche either without explaining it or linking it with the shrinking of space and time which, itself, demands a great deal of explanation. This was unfortunate for he had collected some fascinating texts that spoke about this other possibility, but he could not fully exploit them. He cites, for example, Albertus Magnus to the effect:

"I discovered an instructive account (of magic) in Avicenna's Liber sextus naturalium, which says that a certain power (virtus) to alter things indwells in the human soul and subordinates the other things to her, particularly when she is swept into a great excess of love or hate or the like. When therefore the soul of a man falls into a great excess of any passion, it can be proved by experiment that it (the excess) binds things (magically) and alters them in the way it wants, and for a long time I did not believe it, but after I had read the nigromantic books and others of the kind on signs and magic, I found that the emotionality of the human soul is the chief cause of all these things, whether because, on account of her great emotion, she alters her bodily substance and the other things towards which she strives, or because, on account of her dignity, the other, lower things are subject to her, or because the appropriate hour or astrological situation or another power coincides with so inordinate an emotion, and we (in consequence) believe that what this power does is then done by the soul." (21)

This is a fascinating passage. Albertus Magnus, who was the teacher of St. Thomas, gives us three reasons for the power of the soul over other things. The first is because of her great emotion, and this is similar to how Jung describes the role of the activated archetype in synchronistic events. The second is on account of her dignity, and we can take this as an expression of the interconnectedness of the soul with the universe. The third reason in which the appropriate hour coincides with the emotion in the soul, and so we believe that the soul brings it about, is more like a simple statement of the existence of synchronistic events. This leaves us with the first two reasons as the raw material from which a philosophical explanation could begin to emerge. Jung goes on to quote Goethe: "We all have certain electric and magnetic powers within us and our cells exercise an attractive and repelling force, according as we come into touch with something like or unlike." (22) Later he will quote Pico della Mirandola: "Firstly there is the unity in things whereby each thing is at one with itself, consists of itself, and coheres with itself. Secondly there is the unity whereby one creature is united with the others and all parts of the world constitutes one world. The third and most important (unity) is that whereby the whole universe is one with its Creator, as an army with its commander." (23)

It would take us too far afield to discuss other problems that arise from Jung's Kantian presuppositions, and to explore other interesting -ways in which Jungian psychology could enter into dialogue with a Thomist philosophy of nature. I have looked at both of those issues in detail elsewhere. (24) We have seen, however, enough over the last three chapters to convince us, I hope, that it is worth trying to explore in depth a philosophical view of matter and form, and the sympathy of the forms. 



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Chapter 9