Your Synchronicity: How Good Is It?
A coincidence's quality can be estimated using Jung's scarab as a prototype.
Posted Nov 05, 2018
The quality of a coincidence can be estimated by examining its four major characteristics: the probability of its happening, the degree of similarity between the elements comprising it, the time span between the appearance of the first and second element, and the degree of impact on the coincider, the person experiencing the coincidence.
Here Jung's scarab is used as a prototype for this analysis.
A young woman of high education and serious demeanor entered Jung’s office. Jung could see that her quest for psychological change was doomed unless he was able to succeed in softening her rationalist shell with “a somewhat more human understanding.” He needed the magic of coincidence. He remained attentive to the young woman while hoping something unexpected and irrational would turn up. As she described a golden scarab—a costly piece of jewelry—she, in a dream, had received the night before, he heard a tapping on the window. Jung opened the window to synchronicity. He plucked the scarabaeid beetle out of the air. The beetle, which closely resembled the golden scarab, was just what he needed—or just what she needed. “Here is your scarab,” he said to the woman, as he handed her a link between her dreams and the external world.
The two primary events:
- The beetle coming to Jung’s window.
- The patient dreaming of the scarab ring.
What is the base rate (frequency of occurrence) of each? To get the probability of the coincidence, multiply the base rates.
The rose chafer beetle is common in Central and Southern Europe and can be seen in large numbers feeding on the nectar of flowers, especially roses, during spring and early summer. Jung did not report the time of year but most likely, the synchronicity took place when there were swarms of rose chafers in the area.
- Unlike most synchronicities, this one had an intermediary between the event in the surroundings. Jung got up, opened the window, caught the beetle and presented it to her. Jung was frustrated with her lack of psychological movement and wanted something to encourage her to change. Did Jung know about the beetle? Probably. Was this the first time a beetle had knocked on his window? Probably not. When he heard her dream followed by the tapping on the window, he may well have known what he would find.
- She dreamed of an archetypal image—the scarab is an Egyptian symbol of transformation. Psychotherapy research suggests that the therapist shapes the content of what patients say. Some observers of therapy report that “Freudian patients dream Freudian dreams while Jungian patients dream Jungian dreams." She also may have seen swarms of rose chafers and incorporated her daytime experience into her dream.
The probability of the rose chafer beetle showing up at Jung’s window (during spring and early summer) may be considered moderate. Because Jung was quite frustrated with this patient, the additional probability of Jung retrieving the beetle was pretty high. The probability of the patient dreaming about beetles in an archetypal form may not be as low as it appears on first glance because she may have subconsciously been attempting to please Jung. For these reasons, the probability of this synchronicity may be considered to be low moderate x moderate = low moderate.
The resemblance between the images of the two beetles is high. This similarity decreases the probability of this synchronicity since direct matching is more difficult to achieve than approximate matching.
The time span is short between the patient’s report of the dream and the window tapping by the beetle. This near simultaneity also decreases the probability of this synchronicity since getting matches in time is more difficult than having the second event appear within a longer time frame.
Both participants were changed by the event. The patient seemed to have been amazed enough to now listen to Jung who, magician-like, had produced the beetle. Jung was relieved. Jung interpreted the synchronicity as signifying death and transformation, the Egyptian meaning of the scarab. The patient seemed to accept this encouragement to transform. Jung invoked his concepts of archetype and the unus mundus to explain the event. This fairy tale-like coincidence had a major impact on the patient, on Jung, and on the study of coincidences. The story also represents Jung’s vision of himself—bringing the symbol of transformation to the rigid rational thinking of the Western mind.
These impacts make this synchronicity a very low probability event.
Taken together—the dream image simultaneously correlated with the beetle, the similarity between the two, and the major impact on both participants—suggest a very low probability. This low probability makes this synchronicity a high-quality event and motivates the search for an explanation outside of mainstream scientific principles.