Cetonia aurata In his book Synchronicity Jung tells the following story as an example of a synchronistic event: My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably "geometrical" idea of reality. After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself. Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab — a costly piece of jewellery.
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Jung hems and haws but is never able to demonstrate that any acausal connection between events exists. To produce good results means setting up a good test. If there are flaws in the test, the results will be useless. Sadly, it was immediately clear to professionals in the field that the results were unreliable. Through the course of his early experiments , Rhine did not lay out a system by which the testing took place.
He used a set of twenty-five Zener cards to test his subjects, but never specified any method by which the cards be randomized or presented. One of the most successful tests took place in a moving car. If the first card drawn is a star, the subject knows that only four star cards remain. The odds of guessing correctly increase for every card drawn.
After changing the tests to make cheating more difficult and getting rid of assistants caught cheating, Rhine never again produced any meaningful results. Sadly, he revealed his prejudice when he refused to publish any experiment that did not support his theories. Imagine you roll a large number of dice, then get rid of any that roll five or lower.
You continue rolling, and continue keeping only those that roll high. If you keep rolling them, they will average out. They were never super dice, after all, we just happened to decide to keep the ones that rolled high--which some of the dice were bound to do, by sheer chance. Rhine did the same thing: he tested large numbers of people, and kept only those who scored highly.
He was selecting only the data that confirmed his theory. Then, when he retested them, they averaged out. The fact that Jung did not recognize the flawed methodology throughout the experiments troubled me. A theorist needs to be able to recognize and avoid using flawed data, and the fact that Jung has so quickly embraced it suggests a lack of rigor in his own approach.
Besides these contentious studies, Jung often relies on anecdotes--examples from his life, or from other people which suggest that coincidences are in some way important. For example, he remarks that one patient was telling of a dream she had about a beetle, at which point a beetle flew into the window of his office.
Anecdotes are like metaphors: they are useful for illustrating an idea, but only a fool mistakes the illustration for the idea. Beyond that, memory is an untrustworthy thing, and human beings assign more importance to events which confirm what they already believe, tending not to remember things that conflict with their beliefs.
In this specific case, coincidences like the kind he describes are not actually uncommon. While it is unlikely that a bug would fly in while a woman spoke about bugs, that is only one of many coincidences that might have happened that day. If a person has a thousand small moments in a day where a coincidence might happen, then statistically, each person will experience a one-in-a-thousand coincidence every day.
Given enough time, the coincidence actually becomes more likely to occur than not to occur. It is unlikely that a roulette wheel will land on seven if you spin it once. With a world population of 6. Unfortunately, Jung never overcomes either the flawed studies or the vague arguments which undermine his theory. He speaks back and forth at some length about various suppositions and possibilities, but never develops any convincing insight.
A good piece of philosophy contains not only an interesting theory, but also presents the flaws and contradictions which that theory must overcome in order to be relevant. It is impossible to discuss the necessity of an idea without first dealing with the problems amassed against it. Only if its power and accuracy prove greater than these problems can the idea truly emerge as a workable concept. Jung never manages to cross this important threshold.
It is clear that he has passion, and that there is a great desire within him to explore and understand, but this is simply not enough. He tells us that there have been many ideas throughout history which were considered unpalatable, which were rejected outright, and only accepted as truth later. He reminds us that it is vital to keep pushing the boundary--yet again he forgets statistics--for every great idea that was rejected for being before its time, there are ten or a hundred ideas which ended up being flat out wrong.
The lesson of history is that the odds are against the radical idea. We might think of great successes like Kepler or Newton, who changed our conception of the world with radical notions--but both men also had passionate ideas which they worked on their whole lives, and which turned out to be baseless--for Kepler, the notion that the orbits of the planets were based on the platonic solids, and for Newton the study of alchemy. Mankind is better served by thinkers who work on likely theories rather than ones who chase white rabbits.
Yet, I am not numb to the passion that drives a man who works to prove the impossible. There is a part of me that has always wanted magic to exist. A world with magic seems a more interesting and wonderful world. Part of the reason I am skeptical, the reason that I searched so hard for truth, for proofs, was that I wanted to believe. But a simple desire does not make reality: "Do you want a piece of cake?
SYNCHRONICITY An Acausal Connecting Principle Jung