Philosophical Scholar Richard Tarnas 

Examining synchronicity and improbable coincidences

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  • Richard Tarnas

If you've ever experienced a coincidence, you likely felt inclined to draw some kind of meaningful conclusion from it. There's an element of synchronicity in it, something which prominent philosophical scholar Richard Tarnas will cover in his talk to the Jung Society of Utah ( For him, examining improbable coincidences grants us a new sense of orienting our lives, a new sense of belonging in the world. It won't take a chance encounter for you to hear from Tarnas, a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Just direct your feet to the Olpin Union's Saltair Room (200 Central Campus Drive) at the University of Utah on Thursday, April 9, at 7 p.m.

What's this notion of synchronicity all about?
The concept of synchronicity was first formulated by psychologist C.G. Jung. It occurs when two or more independent events that have no apparent causal connection form a meaningful pattern. On occasion, this patterning can strike one as so extraordinary that it is difficult to believe the coincidence has been produced by chance alone. The events give the distinct impression of having been precisely arranged, invisibly orchestrated.

What are some examples of synchronicity?
These can range from everyday events like thinking of a person one hasn't seen for a long time, then having that person call a few minutes later, to more profound: Uncanny events taking place after someone's death, like one's mother's favorite bird tapping insistently at one's window the day after she died. Or the book that falls open to the page that precisely answers the problem one has been struggling with.

If synchronicity were a religion, what would it be called?
If synchronicity were approached within religious terms, it would be called something like divine providence and grace.

Is synchronicity proof, as some religious folk might argue, that there is a God?
Synchronicities do suggest the existence of a larger ordering principle at work in human life than can be fit into our conventional modern worldview. As Shakespeare said, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy." Many religious people would see them as indeed signs that there is a God. But I know highly skeptical modern academics who are also moved. One has said, "I've stopped believing in almost everything, but I do believe in synchronicity."

Aren't some events just random coincidences?
Yes, many are. In fact, one of the requirements for assessing synchronicities is having adequate self-awareness. One must remain alert for unconscious narcissistic tendencies by which random or peripheral events are continually transformed into signs that the universe is entirely revolving around oneself. Synchronicities require discernment, both inner and outer, to avoid succumbing to the mere projection of inner meaning onto external events.

Can synchronicity be proven?
Synchronicities will never be fully susceptible to scientific analysis because they depend on the complexities of meaning, involving qualities and nuances that only the person experiencing a synchronicity can fully register. Yet a number of scientists have been very compelled and even unsettled by the evidence of synchronicities. As Colgate University physicist Victor Mansfield wrote, "I have encountered too many synchronistic experiences, both in my life and that of others, to ignore them. Yet these surprisingly common experiences pose tremendous psychological and philosophical challenges for our worldview. They are especially troubling experiences for me as a physicist trained within the culture of scientific materialism."

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