Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Beyond Synchronicity: Agency and Causality

There's a certain school of thought (let's call them School #1) that is willing to entertain the paranormal- psi, poltergeists, UFOs and so on- but does so in the context of a kind of unconventional interpersonal psychology. 

Yes, these things occur but they exist in some kind of grey zone between imagination and reality, that they are manifestations of a kind of extreme state in which perception creates a new class of phenomena, not entirely real but neither entirely imaginary either. I'm probably not doing justice to this philosophy but that's the basic contours of it. 

I suppose Jenny Randle's "Oz Factor" might qualify here but it's by no means a definitive case. Perhaps Jung's flying saucer book is a better example but I personally don't think that book reflected his true feelings on the topic. But a lot of people love to cite it so it certainly reflects theirs.

Then there is another school of thought (let's call them School #2)  that goes a step further and argues that these phenomena do exist but are generated entirely by the human mind in the same way tulpas are believed to be- they are thought forms that have no objective reality outside of the human mind that creates them. This comes out of a kind of post-determinist humanism, and often seems focused on the outcome of being able to harness extreme phenomena or at least be able to objectively verify them. 

There are many variations on these, and many similar efforts to place unusual phenomena into a scientific context, something that both alarms and offends scientists and tends to alienate people otherwise interested in extreme possibilities (many of whom don't trust scientists to begin with). 

As early as Jung there have been efforts to understand Synchronicity in the context of science, but given the polarization of our culture since then I don't know how successful those efforts would be today. 

I've noticed a major backlash against quantum physics or quantum mechanics (where you might find scientists sympathetic to these ideas) in the past few years, which is most assuredly a byproduct of the larger culture wars, given that religious people and New Agers often cite quantum physics (and often do so without having a clue what they are talking about) to bolster their own ideas and beliefs.

Personally, I think trying to shoehorn unusual phenomena into the context of science- as tempting as it may be- is a mistake. I just don't think it works in that context. You're also inviting all kinds of trouble into your life since scientists and their groupies are very jealous of the prestige of "Science"- it's often all they really have to brag about. 

And as Jacques Vallee has remarked about the UFO phenomenon, it seems to intentionally defy scientific analysis. Who's to say the same doesn't hold true about Psi or NDEs? 

Maybe they don't want to be pinned to a table and dissected. 

As I mentioned before, the best Synchromystic I knew was doing his thing a long time before I ever heard the term. He was a trickster and a provocateur, an occultist of a crypto-Masonic order I never heard of before I got to know him. I was also stunned to realize once I did get to know him that he before he moved out west he used to live the next town over from me, literally right down the road. That coincidence was mind-blowing in the context of its time.

He didn't believe Synchronicity was acausal. He believed that it was very definitely caused by extradimensional entities who were essentially screwing around with the human race for their own purposes. This is not as unusual a position as it sounds- it's essentially what John Keel put forth in his classic-period books. He thought we were being screwed with as well.

I'm not entirely convinced that psi is not connected in some inscrutable way to autonomous intelligences that interact with us in extraordinary circumstances. After all, that makes as much sense as any other explanation, given that we simply don't know anything about the source of these experiences, only their effects.

Moreover, I think the overall condition of the collective consciousness seems to affect how all parawhatever effects or events unfold. So while I don't believe that say UFOs are the product of the human imagination neither do I believe that they don't somehow respond to what's going on down here in some fashion. And they always seem to burst back in the public consciousness just after the cognoscenti have declared them a dead topic. 

Similarly, there were a lot of poltergeist reports in the early 70s*, back before young people anesthetized themselves with smartphones. It was a stressful time in general and the most vulnerable population would naturally be under the greatest stress. 

Now Schools 1+2 would argue that this was all emerging from the human imagination or psyche and that no external entities need apply. But what if poltergeists were attracted to the unrest these children were experiencing and fed off it as well as the general level of stress in the culture? (I would note that this wave coincided with a major UFO wave, which hardly seems random to me).

But if everyone is essentially operating in the lowest psychic state humanly possible- meaning the state that we've been conditioned to operate in in contemporary society- then you're probably not going to see much interesting happen, since everyone is tuned into the materialist, narcissist channel of consciousness.

 It's kind of like how popular music was a lot more interesting back when people learned the basics of music and songcraft in school or in their religious institutions. The less the population as a whole knows about music the simpler and less resonant our popular music becomes. It's why you can still hear songs from the 70s played every day on the radio but most young people forget about the popular songs that were released last month. 

Music is important, not only because I have personal experience with it but also because it was the currency of popular culture in the postwar era when all of these ideas were being bandied about. Note that the general war on consciousness we see today was accompanied by a war on music that has left popular music in the worst shape it's been in almost a century.

UPDATE: This may be interesting if it pans out.


*There was a time when everyone I knew either had or knew someone who had a personal encounter with ghosts. Some of the stories I heard were extremely fucked up and not the kind of thing you'd make up to comfort yourself over your fear of death, or whatever the excuse of the day is with skeptics. Whether or not these were in fact the work of dead souls or some other force entirely is another question altogether. I'm inclined to doubt the classical ghost narrative myself though I hesitate to quantify exactly what these entities were. All I can say is know of people who were not otherwise given to belief in the paranormal at all having truly messed-up experiences.


  1. Chris,

    >There was a time when everyone I knew either had or knew someone who had a personal encounter with ghosts.

    Did you ever listen to the Larry Glick Show on WBZ 1030AM back in the 1970s? He had a LOT of people, regular folk, calling in with all sorts of ghost stories. May had gone walking in cemeteries at night with cassette tape recorders and came back with some wild sounds. Even if one took into account the pranksters, there were still a lot of legit callers, whatever they encountered. I wish there was an archive of these calls somewhere! I recall the eerie consistency of many encounters, details you wouldn't expect, like it beginning with what I can only describe as the muffled sound of a cellar bulkhead door being slammed.

    I also knew a few people who had dabbled in the occult, throwing seances and such. I can't speak to the sense of amateurs opening gates to wherever, but I do know they thought they had made success, of a kind. Like you say, it messed up a few of them, to the point where they wouldn't talk of it and gave up their ill-advised games. But everyone kept doing it, at some level.

  2. Larry Glick was before my time I guess. I was listening to Dale Dorman onWRKO at the time. I'll have to ask my man Goodie who is almost as hardcore South Shore as yourself. It was a wild time though. Seeing as how everything is just about to fall apart to shit we may see more of that kind of thing again soon.

  3. Yeah, I'm gonna have to go with School 3; "While you fellas were busy arguing po-tay-to / po-tah-to, you left the matches at home to light the fire to cook them, so I'll have an apple!" ;)

    Seriously though, I just heard G. del Toro in an interview saying that growing up in Mexico, if someone at the dinner table said "I just saw a ghost", the next person would say " please pass the salt."
    Now, obviously he is guilding the lily a bit, but I do think that our constant hang ups about ghosts and ancestor worship in psy is a major hangover from 'witchhunt/religious-non-freedom days', ( which are still in play in more than one area of the world...) and is for the most part a Western-Eurocentric take on the Universe.

    I am endlessly interested in the 'mechanics' of it, but to some extent, if it works, work it. If it is mostly unknowable and therefor subject to ripoff merchants, well, welcome to the world of Artisans pulling the wool over non-trained eyes. Happens with every art form.....

    As to people being subsidized/encouraged to anesthetize themselves from things that don't/won't fit their model,(along with the threat of ostracization if they do talk about what they experienced, even in their doughy state; Exibit A: my parents!) I haven't noticed the spirits being too pissy about the lack of worship/contact, and the hungry ghost thing is our problem, not theirs.
    Weather a function of my head or not, 'They' seem fairly patient to our bungling. I guess we make them laugh....

    The Fairy/ET/UFO thing may be a different ball of string though. I have been keeping my distance from that one.

    1. Del Toro's observation reminds me of the magical realism movement in Latin American literature. I first became aware of it via Los Bros Hernandez, who did the seminal Love and Rockets comic, which was the touchtone of my late teens/early 20s. They had no problem inserting ghosts and demons in perfectly mundane stories about people working at McDonalds and playing in punk rock bands. Really blew my mind because it felt like I lived the east coast variant of the same. Even eerier, there were scenes in their stories that were exact documents of me and my friends' adventures. So there you go.

  4. Because depression, mania, suicide and epilepsy seem to be passed along generations in my family, I've been entertaining school 2 for a while now. At least it comes closer to personal experience, but is unsatisfying given the range of phenomena available. Psi never seems to fit comfortably within any theory except to suspect that it is a gift available to everyone should they decide to stop ignoring it. Then again, if it becomes accepted, does it proliferate because the mind has opened a new door of one's own making or because the Trickster is ever ready for the game? The rabbit hole beats me.

    I can only say that in almost every instance of paranormal accounting in my life, my mind or the Trickster has been benevolent or entirely neutral. It's possible I view events in that light as a preference, I know. I never experienced ghosts, probably because I can't support belief in them even though I love a great ghost story. So maybe we get to pick and choose even if we can't ignore other phenomena. Brings me back to school 2, but not with any certainty.

    1. Well, do what works best for you. Everyone is different and has different experiences. I believe we need people operating in different modes. That's the hallmark of a healthy culture.

  5. "Similarly, there were a lot of poltergeist reports in the early 70s*, back before young people anesthetized themselves with smartphones. It was a stressful time in general and the most vulnerable population would naturally be under the greatest stress. "

    Cracking piece. I really like the above comment you made, it reminds me of all the stories where people look up from reading a book to see an apparition - such tales died out after television. Perhaps we flood that visual channel of the brain with TV so lose the ability to pick up on the more subtle impressions

    1. I genuinely believe there's been a deliberate effort at work to shield our brains from these kinds of intrusions. I'm sure there's some hard science behind it- driving the processes of the brain to their lowest possible functioning through social conditioning, electronic stimulation and nutritional deprivation.

    2. I could well accept this as a strong possibility (at the very least). Certainly this seems to happen with social engineering and the type of television and entertainment pushed to us. Whether there is anything more insidious and magical is a very very interesting question.

      Its funny, as I have grown older I have noticed that I tend to have less spontaneous psychic experiences - growing up between 12 and 30 I had a fair number of experiences such as OBEs etc. At 44 I must say that this has mostly dropped to one or two a year (with the exception that I "see" a lot of ghost cats.) I wonder if what I assumed as just getting older makes us less receptive, maybe it is something environmental and being imposed. Food for thought!

  6. Have you read Simon Reynolds' 'Retromania'? His argument is that the internet has frozen culture permanently, that there'll never again be an equivalent to punk or reggae or grunge (just an endless recycling of past forms).
    Shades of Spengler. Depressing to boot. Some of it dovetails with your comment about the young being hypnotised by smartphones.

    Focusing on music, Reynolds asserts that recycling the past is nothing new, but that the vast digital advances of the most-recent decade have caused the amount of unimaginative and static retro culture to explode. He says we’re victims of a “crisis of overdocumentation,” facilitated by “YouTube’s ever-proliferating labyrinth of collective recollection” and the fatiguing amount of digital music history only a couple mouse-clicks away. Human beings need not rely on the foggy hard drives in their skulls anymore. Instead, they can simply Google a phrase, and spend an evening tumbling down the rabbit hole of not-so-old history.

    1. I brought up the problem of real world skills devolving in the virtual environment 20 something years ago when Timothy Leary was doing his evangelism bit. He didn't appreciate the question. We didn't anticipate the more mundane neurological impacts.

  7. Dermot,

    A “crisis of overdocumentation” - what a perfect phrase!

    Frank Zappa mentions in his autobiography a concept of "nostalgia loops:" or some such which predates the Web by several years and seems technologically agnostic. In brief, he predicted that with each succeeding generation American (or Western) culture would experience ever-smaller "loops" of nostalgia, where a past musical/cultural (to him, the same thing) phenomenon would reappear. At the time of publication (late 1980s) he had the loop at approximately 20 years, but foresaw a time when the loops would grow so short that culture was in essence locked eternally in an Instant Nostalgia mode and so unable to create new phenomena. I think we've reached that point. The only way to break out may be for enough people to distance themselves from the Loop (or, as we see it, the Web) for long enough to find new voices, if that is even possible now.

    1. Nostalgia is only really possible when things go away and are forgotten. Now nothing goes away so even Nostalgia is denied us. The thing to do then is pursue quality and shun "Hey Baby, I'm Your Telephone Man" and its like. Everything is at at the same time. The people you have to feel sorry for are the stars who have to exist alongside their young and pretty selves and see their faces in those "What Happened to This Star?" clickbait lists. It's like something out of Dante.

  8. I watched that video you linked to, which was amazing in its implications.

    Then, I absentmindedly scrolled down to the comments. The very first comment...on an article about a five year old child (5!) who can allegedly speak 7 languages, seemingly work out algebraic equations, and potentially shows real signs of telepathic ability...the very first comment begins, "The child is beautiful. Can you imagine what the world would have missed out on if this child's mother had aborted her, like Planned Parenthood..."

    Are you kidding me?! I actually stood up and walked away from my computer in disgust and shock. How can you read a story just dripping with boundary shattering possibilities and somehow shoehorn...I'm at a loss for words.

    As Gordon is exploring over there in his corner, the monoculture is flattening the internet. The evolutionary promise of the world wide web has decayed into social media masturbation. Which I find very sync'd with your, "technology in fact is having a devolutionary effect on the human organism."

    I might be slower than you and the others here, but I'm starting to notice more and more that the "information" people come across on the internet no longer has the ability to challenge and open new perspectives. People don't stumble across a Rigorous Intuition or jmooneyham(.)com anymore. And if they do, instead of finding a new horizon, it becomes just another arena to argue the bullshit social and political conversation mediated for them by [insert archonic facade here].

    Because it's just another link in their Facebook stream, the same as a listicle or outrage article or Instagram pic. Just another narcotic for self-medication.

    Fucking fuck fuck.

    (I've been reading you for years, sorry my first comment is so arghhh)


    1. Well, as a wise man once said better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Conformity is stultifying, all the more so since it hides itself in nonconformity. So all the reason to resist it.

  9. The past several posts have really resonated with me. I've wanted comment often, but life (and a new baby) got in the way. I am curious if in any way you are responding to Eric Wargo's sciencey but still quite speculative idea that synchronicity is misidentified psi.

    I find Eric’s ideas intriguing and, frankly, refreshing. I think he’s on the right track in terms of identifying some unconscious form of precognition as playing a role in at least some portion paranormal phenomena. But I’m in agreement with you that trying “to shoehorn unusual phenomena into the context of science…is a mistake.” While I think using scientific ideas to try to explain synchronicity might be intellectually stimulating, I don’t think that approach can take me, anyway, very far because it casts aside the potential for meaning-making. Eric’s thought seems very much in the “I-it” mode of Experience rather than the “I-thou” mode of Encounter, as Martin Buber described these two distinct modes of thought. So even if synchronicity is present-me making meaning with future-me (a view that seems wedded to a linear, spatialized conception of time), it’s still the meaningfulness of the encounter that matters. Jung got that, no matter his rather fruitless conversations with Pauli attempting to sketch out a theory.

    That said, I don’t work to interpret synchronicities. I accept them as a natural feature of human experience that playfully hints at a subtle and complex yet obscured matrix of relationships that the human mind only rarely perceives. If that makes me a Platonist, so be it.

    From my own encounters with synchronicity, I think it’s more likely we’re dealing with a tricky transpersonal personality who communicate without language and beyond any human frame of reference, including time and space. Maybe that’s future-me. Maybe it’s my soul. Maybe it’s the Overmind. Maybe it’s some Trickster ringmaster arranging all the comings and goings in this circus of a life. I doubt I’ll ever know, but that doesn’t mean I need to reject meaningfulness for a more parsimonious explanation.

    1. All very well put, Jules. As I've said, we can't apply the rules of science to a phenomena that resists them. All we can do is speculate and one speculation is as good as another, really. Whatever works for the individual is what they should work with.

  10. re: "He didn't believe Synchronicity was acausal. He believed that it was very definitely caused by extradimensional entities who were essentially screwing around with the human race for their own purposes."

    Consider the book of Job, especially the very short first chapter. From Job's POV, definitely a multi-way synchronicity as his servants interrupt each other with (synchronistic) bad news. So in this case (probably others, Ps 91:11 et al.) we are explicitly told we are definitely being screwed with. This is probably analogous to being (here I go: I hate this word, you hate this word, everybody hates this word) "shepherded" along, for moral and ethical instruction and sorting/filtering. (Confession: I don't really hate that word.)

    I don't want to say that all synchronicities are caused that way, becasue I do not know. But that one (start of the book of Job) seems worthy of a mention, at least. I'm my study of synchronicity, I have yet to see the book of Job mentioned even once. (Just my limited experience: I've done no formal literature searches on that - the mentions of Job in connection with synchronicity.)

    So, heck no, synchronicity is not without cause. I don't believe it is acausal. But if you assert it is not acausal, then, doesn't that boil down to asserting the reality of the supernatural?

  11. Wowee Zowie! Blue Oyster Cult was my original touchstone for all things weird. So I do my routine load of the Secret Sun blog and the very album of theirs I first picked up is at the top of the page.

    First, might I gently suggest that music doesn't lack the punch of the Elder Days' thunder. Possibly the Archon is just jamming the signal with more crap than used to be the case. And the net has allowed a flood tide of great bands to put out DIY sounds which get correspondingly hard to sort out as the signal to noise ratio isn't any better than it was in the neolithic age, but there's far, far more product to sift through and who's got the time what with having to hustle and grift all the time to keep a roof over the head?

    The great thing about music, however is that no matter how much the masses can be entranced by slickly produced pap, you don't need conservatory training and a classical education to make magickal music. Jimmy Page knew it and so did the people in Superfurry Animals or Cake or Jack White's various projects.

    Speaking of White, I'm really getting a lot out of the interlaced posts you and Gordon are putting out. I've always agreed that magick and psi are two surfaces of the same transcendental object at the end of time.

    My own take on all this is that there has never been enough serious attention devoted to the matter to really do more than have late night campfire type discussions about it. All kinds of people have brought out a piece of the puzzle but it never seems to resolve into anything like a real picture. Aleister Crowley, John Dee, Jacques Valee, John Keel, Blavatsky, Alfred North Whitehead and Carl Sagan...all these people have a flash of inspiration and pull a glimmering shard from the mire of ignorance. But there's never the kind of universal, species-wide push to sort this stuff out. And if non-human intelligences are always throwing a spanner into what effort there is, then that may explain a lot. Wow...what a ramble. I'll quit while I'm ahead! Anyways, keep on keeping on! You're up there with Terence McKenna and Buck Dharma in my book.

    1. Thank you, Morwen. High praise indeed- cheers. I listen to ambient and experimental electronic music now- that's the stuff that excites me. I do try to keep an ear on what's going on in the rock world but I'm just not inspired by anything out there. The audience was/is always the other half of the circuit and no one can ever tell me it's anything like it was when I was young. Music used to be front and center in youth culture. It's somewhere on the margins now.

  12. Excellent analysis from Chris Knowles, especially on this subject (synchronicity-ology).

    Any thoughts on the book of Job? The first (very short) chapter lays out a wicked synchronicity where Job's servants interrupt each other with negative synchronistic events for poor Job, forming a giant, nasty cluster- ... synchronicity. That synchronicity (at least) is decidedly not acausal. And note the curious wording in Jehovah's rebuke to Satan, in Job 2:3, "thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without

    There's that "cause" bit again.

    And that is rich, I think, from a causality standpoint; from Jehovah's, the Eternal's point of view: Satan (the accuser) moved him, Jehovah against Job "without cause". Of course from our point of view, you might say Job was attacked by the Devil. Certainly not acausal. Ah, perhaps I conflate and equivocate? Why? Just 'cause.

    1. I don't have any thoughts on the book of Job per se because there's a lot of controversy amongst biblical scholars about Job, with many believing that it is in fact an extended parable on the nature of faith, a kind of religious drama. But thank you for bringing to our attention.

  13. "This comes out of a kind of post-determinist humanism, and often seems focused on the outcome of being able to harness extreme phenomena or at least be able to objectively verify them. "

    this so reminded me of ancient times when those in power "manufactured" stories to fit in with what was then unknown in an attempt to fit th unknown phenomenon into the prevalent societal beliefs (those beliefs being spoon fed to the masses in order to keep them within a form of control ) Loop, anyone??

    Thank you for a great blog, again ..

    1. Power always manufactures truth for the masses. It continues to do so today.

  14. I'm not sure it's materialist determinism to suggest that our consciousness is playing a major part in anomalous phenomena. You quote Vallee to counter these sorts of explanations, but Vallee wouldn't disagree that we participate in some way in these phenomenon.

    That our perceptions shape our reality goes without saying. Why it should be different with PSI, UFOs, etc. is beyond me. And just because that's true doesn't mean there is not an objective reality behind these phenomena--it just means we may not be seeing its "true" nature (if anything in the universe can be said to have a true nature beyond the perceptions of the observer, but I digress.)

    Also, isn't it a kind of materialism (vs. mysticism or metaphysics) to suggest interdimensional entities are behind it with some trickster or malign agenda? That's a particularly depressing, simple answer (i.e., boring AND fucked-up).

    Anyway, I have hope for the state of the collective consciousness: it does seem that things like meditation, revelatory experience, and a broader appreciation for transcendence have entered the mainstream for the duration (though perhaps in a dulled-down version). And it's true that many, many people of all stripes have had anomalous experience. (My single unusual quality is that people--all kinds of people, everywhere--talk to me openly about EVERYTHING, and I mean complete strangers, they tell me about their lives. So I've heard this stuff a lot from people of all walks of life.)

    1. I believe I said it arose out of a post-determinist humanism not a materialist determinism. The fact is that no one really knows and there's no real way of measuring or predicting these phenomena so we can't apply the rules of science to them.

      I do agree very much with your final statement.

  15. Let me just add here that these are some truly wonderful insights in the comments- it's obvious that readers have giving this topic a lot of thought. It's a strange topic and one in which your own personal experience will ultimately determine how you approach it. The issue is to produce results. I think working with Synchronicity in a way that leads you somewhere should be the goal here. As I've always said pay attention when it does pop up. See if any doors open along the way.

  16. We westerners seem to find it really hard to accept our own genesis. Every creation myth of every culture on Earth is basically telling us the same story. That we are strange fractal - like entities animated by creative light. And that we have interacted with various unknown intelligences since the beginning. And we have the underground versions of those myths that also basically say the same thing; we were fucked with, on every level. And yet we still wonder whether there are hidden agencies out there, independent from our own? Lol. How many times can we retell the same story?

    1. Well, there are a lot of influences shielding us from knowing the truth. There's a huge infrastructure that pumps out its own version of the truth and has a lot of tools in its kitbag to make sure it's the dominant version.

  17. I haven't written about or practiced any kind of Synchromysticism in years. But reading the comment about your friend thinking that synchronicity's are caused by some kind of extra terrestrial entities prompted me to write

    I couldn't agree more

    I used to think it was some kind of Masonic Magic.

    Then I thought it was the fabric of the universe or some reflection of my psyche

    But for the past few years when I work at web design late at night I would generally experience a massive synchronicity that is communicating directly with me and then it will be followed up by a trickle of smaller synchronicity's throughout the night as I work

    When that first massive synch hits I think
    Oh, they're here now. Then the trickle of synchs feels like something moving around me

    The massive synchs are startling in there directness and have brought me to tears on more than one occasion because they are so astounding.

    I think this is how they communicate

    I thought about an experienced synchronicity for about 15 years now since writing conspiracy grimoire ages ago. And I do not take it lightly. Once you're in the stream of it, you can't take it lightly.

    I feel like you've mentioned this aspect and a couple different articles of yours that I've read. That makes me think that you are experiencing something similar

    That's a big assumption but I'm going for it.

    So let me just say that I agree and experience in a very palpable way.

    And it's only in going through this journey of synchronicity for the past 15 years that I've been able to come to this

    I don't know what they are But maybe in another 15 years I will find out