Synchronicity: The Speculum of Inscape and Landscape

by F. David Peat

Photo by Arleen HartmanIn exploring the notion of Synchronicity, I am looking for a bridge between two worlds. On the one hand we have the inner world of our direct experiences, of dreams and aspirations, memories and visions; the world of love and loss, of poetry, art, music and of spirituality. On the other, the world of matter and energy, the domain of physics and chemistry, the world of black holes, galaxies, elementary particles and quantum fields. In speaking of Synchronicity, is a bridge possible between these worlds, between mind and body, between matter and spirit.

Are there indeed two such different worlds? Or are there simply two sides to the one reality, two reflections in the one speculum, two modes of experience? Is it perhaps the particular way of seeing and of thinking within our Western society, indeed the reflection of the language we speak, that causes us to speak in terms of two worlds and then to seek to erect a bridge between them.

A number of important questions underlie these speculations:
Is the universe built out of what could be termed dead and indifferent matter?
Are our lives no more than the result of chance processes? Is the cosmos devoid of all meaning?

Or could it be that we inhabit a living universe, a universe that is filled with significance, a universe that is a home for humanity and, indeed, for all life?
Are we, in effect, spectators or participators within the universe?

Let me begin this exploration with the idea of an Epiphanie. Each of us has experienced, a moment in which the world, our thoughts and memories, indeed everything becomes integrated and charged in a numinous fashion. It is as if the things around us, the significance of what we are about to do and the pattern of our life becomes unified within a field of meaning, a meaning that is at one and the same time universal, yet highly specific to the details of our own particular history and character.

The idea of epiphany focuses upon the essence and the importance of synchronicity - that sense of a unifying pattern of meaning which brings together in a perfectly seamless way the unfolding movement of inner and outer events.

As for definitions of synchronicity, one can find the following within Jung's writings: meaningful coincidences, acausal parallelisms, creative acts, the coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or similar meaning.

I would emphasize the sense of pattern and meaning which dissolves the boundaries between inner and outer and transcends our normal orders of space, time and causality. Yes, certainly the idea of coincidence is present, if by coincidence we mean those events which cannot be accommodated into any conventional account of causal relationship. But I feel that an obsession with coincidence alone acts to shift our focus from the deeper sense of transcendent meaning that is equi-present in synchronicities and epiphanies.


A psychiatrist who dreams of a frightening murder and, on the following day, receives a letter requesting a consultation. The patient in question has carried out a murder, the details of are exactly similar to those in the psychiatrist's dream a spouse receives a profound dream at the same time as the patient, attending treatment in a different country, experiences a crisis leading to a profound transformation.

I have had the privilege of making contact with some of the First Peoples of Turtle Island (Native Americans) and of learning something of their sacred ceremonies which affirm and celebrate the unity of the group with the cosmos, and seek to renew the spirit, energy and life within all that exists.

The synchronistic relationship between, for example, a Sun Dance or a ceremony carried out at a medicine wheel does not seek a direct causal involvement with the rising of the sun or the movement of the cosmos. These ceremonies are not based upon a world view that seeks to control and manipulate the forces of nature; rather, it is through these ceremonies that the group comes into relationship with the surrounding energies and spirits, and in this way sustains within nature a dynamic state of harmony and balance. Within such a state of balance the sun, game, the group and each person in it will live harmoniously.

The Blackfoot with their Sun Dance are well aware of the synchronistic dance in which they are involved. But what of our own society? Do we understand the nature of the task required of us, the way of being that does not seek to control and manipulate nature but rather ensures harmony with the rest of existence?

Epiphanies and synchronicities are concerned with the harmony and balance between inner and outer; between, on the one hand, the world of mind and spirit and, on the other, the world of matter, space, time and causality. On an individual basis, synchronicities may be experienced as patterns, pregnant with meaning, that spill over from the world of dreams, memories and visions into similar patterns of concrete physical events in external, "objective" world.

But such experiences bring us face to face with an essential paradox, namely, what sort of connection could there be that lies outside all causality? Or, more specifically, what meaning can be given to the term "acausality" and by what manner does a pattern of very different and causally unconnected events unfold within the confines of space and time?

Despite the quantum revolution of the early decades this century, we still live in a world of causality and the inevitable flow of time from past into present. Indeed, to a physicist, every event in the physical world is the end point of a causal chain involving what are termed "unitary transformations"; that is, the particular state of the present is totally determined as being a function of a state in the past. Likewise, the implications of the future are causally and completely contained within the present.

When we look from this perspective at a pattern of events in the physical world we seek the causal chains that link them, for the operation of the forces of physics, for transformations of energy and for the inevitable march of time. In doing so, we give little importance to the occurrence of related dreams, memories and visions.

At this level at least, I believe that quantum theory cannot provide us with a convincing explanation for synchronicity and we must therefore look even deeper. Indeed, the whole question of synchronicity causes us to question the very assumptions upon which our science is based; notions of objects that are well defined in space and time and of the physical interactions between them; assumptions as to the nature of an independent reality, in the sense of spatially localized states whose properties can be defined independent of any observer; assumptions as to the nature of space and of time.

I have used the term Inscape and by this I wish to convey the authentic voice, or inner-dwellingness of things and of our experience of them. By Inscape I wish to suggest the inexhaustible nature of each human being, tree, rock, star and atom, and that there is no most fundamental level, no all embracing account or law of a perception or encounter. Rather one attempts to engage the inner authenticity of the world.

This clearly implies that there can be no single explanation, theory or level within nature. We must seek complementary descriptions rather than the single, all-embracing, complete and logically consistent rational accounts which attempt to answer all questions and close all doors. We must seek to engage nature using all the richness that is possible within human language, by drawing upon metaphor, allusion and ambiguity in order to create coherent yet complementary accounts.

If we are truly to reveal the face of synchronicity then we must seek a new language for science. It is at this point that the family languages spoken by the Cree, Mic Maq, Blackfoot, Naskapi, Obibwaj and other groups of Northern Canada springs to mind. This Algonkan family of languages is very much verb based, for it relates to what could be called a process view of the world. The Blackfoot, for example, do not so much see a world of objects in interaction as one of flowing processes, of relationships and alliances between energies and spirits. In talking with Blackfoot and Mic Maq friends I have been struck by the extent to which their world view blends harmoniously with some of the insights gained by the quantum theory.

For example, rather than seeking a definitive version of a traditional story, or providing the "correct" explanation, they tend to see many different versions or stories, each depending upon the season, the ceremony and the overall context. Likewise there is no definitive account of a dream, a vision, or the creation of the world, but rather there can be many accounts, some of which appear to contradict each other yet which must all be taken together in a complementary fashion.

In a similar fashion, I am suggesting that the science of inscape and landscape requires a degree of creativity within its language, including the ability to deal with metaphor and ambiguity and to accommodate the qualities and values of our experience.

One could also, perhaps, call into question some of the cherished notions about time, space and causality that underlie our current notions of reality. For synchronicity itself appears to be a phenomenon that transcends the restrictions of time and space.

To put it another way, all that exists is the present, for the present is the given of our experience. It is only from within the present that one can discover and unfold the past, and from within the present one can explore those tendencies and patterns that may lead into the future.

The present, therefore, becomes an Inscape, something that is inexhaustible in its nature. Within the present are, contained and enfolded, the orders of time.

It is from within this well of time, this inexhaustible inscape of the present that the mind excavates the patterns of past and future, unfolds the dynamics of matter and touches the numinous field of meaning that suffuses the universe.

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[F. David Peat (born in Liverpool, England) is a physicist and writer whose interests include psychology, art, and culture. He has authored many books on quantum and chaos theory, and on synchronicity, including a biography of David Bohm. Peat lives in Pari, Italy where he created the Pari Center for New Learning.]