Critique of Synchronicity

Anders Osterlin: Imaginary red
“Imaginary red”. Anders Österlin, 1950.

Abstract: Unlike his dream theory and theory of archetypes, Carl Jung’s notion of synchronicity hasn’t met with success. The metaphysical system surrounding the hypothesis includes notions of supernaturalism (transcendence). This is a religio-philosophical viewpoint, rather than a scientific. The deleterious consequences are obvious. It undermines scientific respectability, promotes superstition, and has kindled obsolete polytheistic ideas in the post-Jungians. There is to date no scientific evidence to support synchronicity. But the strongest argument against the synchronistic notion is the fact that it hasn’t proved helpful in any respect. Jung’s unitarian model of the human Self is criticized. The Self really consists of two complementary aspects, a worldly and a spiritual. It is akin to the Christological notion of hypostasis. This would call for an altered view of reality, according to a paradigm of “dual wholeness”.

Keywords: meaningful coincidence, archetype, unus mundus, psychoid, transcendental, polytheism, hypostatic union, Platonism, complementarian Self.


Synchronicity is defined as meaningful coincidence of causally unrelated events. C.G. Jung accounts for an exemplar synchronicity involving a grouping of events:

On April 1, 1949, I made a note in the morning of an inscription containing a figure that was half man and half fish. There was fish for lunch. Somebody mentioned the custom of making an “April fish” of someone. In the afternoon, a former patient of mine, whom I had not seen for months, showed me some impressive pictures of fish. In the evening, I was shown a piece of embroidery with sea monsters and fishes in it. The next morning, I saw a former patient, who was visiting me for the first time in ten years. She had dreamed of a large fish the night before (1978, p.521).

A more amusing example of synchronicity is when my brother Björn, together with a friend, visited Rome. This was in 78 or 79. While walking along the street, he saw in the distance the name of a pub and spelled it out aloud: “The Pink Elephant.” Immediately an angry voice exclaimed from behind: “THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!” — as he turned around, behind him stood a huge American man clad in a pink suit. The ‘meaning’ associated with the synchronistic event is not of the ordinary kind but stems from ‘objective knowledge’, resident in the unus mundus. It denotes a transcendent continuum that underlies both matter and psyche (metaphysically neutral). This layer of existence is referred to by the adjective psychoid. It manifests in the synchronous occurrence of physical and mental (qualitative) events. The psychic qualities of number are especially significant as the most fundamental of its manifestations in the temporal sphere. The word transcendent should be understood in the Kantian sense as meaning ‘beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge’. M-L von Franz says:

Inner and outer facts then behave as if their meaningful relation were in some way known, but not to our personal consciousness. Differently expressed, a “meaning” manifests itself in synchronistic phenomena which appears to be independent of consciousness and to be completely transcendental. It consists of representational images (simulacra), and its appearance seems to be connected with the momentary activation of an archetype manifesting itself simultaneously in physical and psychic realms in the form of acausal orderedness. The meaning that unites these inner and outer happenings consists of knowledge unmediated by the sense organs. This quality of knowledge is what Jung calls “absolute knowledge”, since it seems to be detached from our consciousness (1974, pp.199-200).

Accordingly, Jung says:

The “absolute knowledge” which is characteristic of synchronistic phenomena, a knowledge not mediated by the sense organs, supports the hypothesis of a self-subsistent meaning, or even expresses its existence. Such a form of existence can only be transcendental, since, as the knowledge of future or spatially distant events shows, it is contained in a physically relative space and time, that is to say in an irrepresentable space-time continuum (1978, p.506).

The metaphysics of synchronicity and causality

Synchronicity is supposed to serve as a universal principle on a par with causality. Our scientific worldview has a metaphysical underpinning. Scientists believe sternly in metaphysical tenets, in the sense of “golden rules of thumb”, as they cannot do without them. Scientists make use of the causal principle because it is useful and brings good results. It is what underlies empirical proof. From this perspective, it is wholly justifiable to try and introduce a new metaphysical principle, such as synchronicity. But it only becomes valuable if it proves instrumental. Should we be able to deliberate our psychological experiences in terms of synchronicity, so that it has both an explanatory and guiding value, then synchronicity will take root in public consciousness. Its usefulness will decide its value. For instance, if it proves helpful in understanding dreams, in patient therapy, or if it were capable of leading us home when astray in the wilds, then it would become equally celebrated as causality.

So Jung should have distinguished areas where it is possible to demonstrate the usefulness of synchronicity. Practicability is what determines its value, whereas empirical veracity is not an urgent issue. Since its practicability has still not been demonstrated, I have come to doubt its value. Jung attempted to support synchronicity scientifically, but his research wasn’t successful. For example, his statistical studies of astronomical phenomena and their relation to wedlock are inconclusive (Jung, 1977b, pp.494-509). Jung’s writings on synchronicity are virtually void of evidence (cf. Clark, 1997, here). This, however, would not be a problem were Jung able to demonstrate the practicability of the synchronistic notion. Compare with the archetypal notion. It has proved quite instrumental in relation to mythological and unconscious material, such as dreams. Although the archetype, as such, cannot be confirmed empirically the unconscious psyche functions as if there were archetypes (cf. Winther, 2011a, here). This is really all we need to know. Thanks to this, we are capable of understanding how things work, which is essential from a scientific point of view. A scientist needn’t know what a natural law is, in itself, or prove that it exists, as such. A scientist can make use of the predictive capacity of the law of gravity whether or not the graviton particle has been empirically detected.

It is a similar issue with causality. A minimum requirement is that the universe works as if there were such a principle as causality. This is good enough. Philosophers can go on for ever discussing the metaphysical nature of causality, but scientists needn’t bother. They are happy as long as they can find good use for it. It is an heuristic stance. Comparatively, it’s not possible to observe ‘energy’, as such. It always turns out to be little electrons, or photons, etc., but nowhere is energy-as-such to be seen. Regardless, scientists time and again make use of the energy concept on account of its heuristic value. They apply laws to it, such as the “conservation of energy”, i.e, that energy can never be destroyed but only shift form. What proves that these are “mere” metaphysical tenets, i.e. “golden rules of thumb”, is that they turn out to be imperfect. Causality breaks down in quantum physics, since there exist events that are unconnected by a causal line. Does energy exist, as such, or does the universe behave as if there were such an entity as energy, or is it all in the mind? Philosophers can go on discussing this forever, but it is no big concern of the scientist. He is happy as long as he can utilize the abstract notion to predict the outcome of experiments. A gradual process will lead to a better understanding of ‘energy’. These principles are very useful, but there seems to be no useful application for synchronicity.

Alternative explanations

M-L von Franz writes:

By synchronistic events are also meant such well-known occurrences as were collected by W. von Scholz, among others. For example, he recounts: “A man is journeying from Norderney to Helgoland. During the crossing, impelled by no outer event, he tells how many years ago the paddle wheel was broken during the same crossing. At this very moment a crash is heard — the paddle wheel of the ship is shattered.” Here the narrators fancy, coming from within, coincides with the actual event taking place a few seconds later. (1974, pp.6-7)

An explanation that is more easily accessible is that the passenger has unconsciously registered a small change in the sound, or in the vibrations in the boat, indicating that something is wrong. This stirred up the memory of the earlier accident. It seems like proponents of the synchronistic theory underestimate our capacity of unconscious perception and cognition. Before the storm that fell upon southern Sweden in January 2005, it was observed how wild animals gathered in the open fields, whereas the humans had no inkling about the scope of the coming disaster. The animals knew intuitively that the trees would come crashing down so, contrary to their natural habit, they abandoned their hiding-places in the wood.

There are many alternative explanations to strange coincidences. It could be an effect of unconscious psychological expectancy. People tend to unconsciously choose their fate. Another factor is the rationalizing propensity of the human mind to find meaning and significance where there is none, denoted ‘apophenia’ (here). It could also depend on the phenomenon of foresight, i.e. the capability to transcend time and see the future, to a limited degree. This idea is explicated by J.B. Priestley in “Man and Time”. J.W. Dunne investigates coincidences from another perspective than synchronicity, and speculates in our ability to transcend time (here). An extra time arrow is a justifiable scientific notion. Theoretical physicist Itzhak Bars has tried to discern how a second dimension of time could help physicists better explain the laws of nature (Siegfried, 2007, here).

Jung describes synchronistic events as rare, since they are the resultant effects of the constellation of archetypes. In Jung’s theory, an archetype is constellated when it has become energized for whatever reason, and shines stronger than other archetypes. Still, Jung regarded the method of divination, known as I Ching, as building on synchronicity, and he often experimented with the yarrow stalks (cf. Jung, 1969, pp.589-608, here). This creates a theoretical difficulty, because one cannot expect the archetypes of the collective unconscious to constellate simply because one opens the book of I Ching. Thus, the notion of synchronicity seems hard to combine with divination practices. Nevertheless, Jung believes that synchronicity is what underlies mantic practices. He also keeps returning to astrological synchronicity despite the deterministic character of astrology.

The metaphysics of monism

In ancient times people were always aware of “omens”. The Romans employed bird-watchers, augurs, to observe what point of the compass the birds flew in, etc. (here). This, they believed, would coincide with events in near future, such as the success of war missions, etc. The way the notion of synchronicity is employed bears a strong resemblance to the ancient notions of omen and portent. Arguably, synchronistic thinking represents a throwback to an ancient frame of mind regarding the interrelation between soul and world. The incentive behind this is to bring back ‘meaning’ to the cosmos. The notion of synchronicity is predicated on Jung’s monistic (unitarian) worldview. He theorized that the outer world and the psyche have a common background that transcends the world, denoted ‘unus mundus’, a term deriving from medieval alchemy. The psychoid archetype resides in this layer, which is neither material nor psychic. The psychoid layer manifests itself in the synchronistic event, since the event is concurrently psychic and material. It represents a form of ‘neutral monism’, with the caveat that it relies on absolute transcendence. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:

Neutral monism is a monistic metaphysics. It holds that ultimate reality is all of one kind. To this extent neutral monism is in agreement with idealism and materialism. What distinguishes neutral monism from its better known monistic rivals is the claim that the intrinsic nature of ultimate reality is neither mental nor physical. (Stubenberg, 2014, here)

The unus mundus as a metaphysical concept allows for a worldview in which ‘psyche’ is intrinsic to the cosmos, unlike the worldview of materialism in which psyche is secondary to matter. Jung often returned to the story of the rainmaker as retold by Richard Wilhelm, the sinologist and missionary:

There was a great drought where Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said, ‘We will fetch the rain maker.’ And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it. In true European fashion he said: ‘They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?’ And the little Chinaman said: ‘I did not make the snow, I am not responsible.’ “But what have you done these three days?” ‘Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came.’ (Jung, 1977a, pp.419-20)

This exemplifies Jung’s ideal of individuated man whose soul connects with the outer world through synchronicity. On this view, the condition of the inner psyche is equally important as the material world. William James’s neutral monism is what inspired Jung’s neutral archetypal foundation of existence. The psychoid layer is an unconscious, impersonal, and spiritual stratum, constituting the foundation of both psyche and matter. Thus, the world is one. According to Jung, the archetype, as such, transcends both the psychic and the temporal sphere. That’s why the archetype is capable of connecting the psychic and the temporal worlds in a meaningful coincidence. Jung’s notion of the archetype, as such, has a Kantian flavour (“Ding an sich”, here). As the archetype inhabits the psychoid layer it forever transcends the categories of consciousness.

There is a logical problem with things-in-themselves, i.e., things that are by nature forever barred from human consciousness. How can anything be, on principle and forevermore, non-observable? If we say that something is by definition, non-observable, it implies that the preexistence of form is postulated, because there must exist something that the mind is not capable of observing. It also means that there is a secret connection between human mind and transcendent reality, since the latter always knows to keep itself hidden. It behaves like a squirrel that hides behind the tree when you walk by. How can we postulate such a strange notion? Arguably, I can only say that it transcends my faculties for the time being, but in the future I might have acquired the ability to see what I can’t see today. Similarly, we are today capable of observing the ultraviolet patterns on flowers that were earlier only visible to insects and certain birds. So the notion of a “potential existence that is, by its very nature, non-observable” is illogical, it seems. Metaphysical transcendence is really a religious concept. Kantian philosophy went aground on the reef of the noumenon and the thing-in-itself. I fear that the same thing will happen to the paradigm of the unus mundus, since it depends on notions of absolute transcendence. Jungian analyst Marilyn Nagy says that “I have identified Jung as belonging to the epistemological tradition whose most prominent members were Kant and Plato” (Nagy, 1991, p.46). She says she was very downcast when she realized how dependent Jung was on the Platonic conception. Yet, Plato, to his defence, does not entertain notions of a radical metaphysical alterity.

The return of polytheism

The archetype of natural number takes up a special place in the metaphysic of Jung and von Franz. They came to view the whole numbers as common ordering factors of psyche and matter. As such they represent the most fundamental of psychoid archetypes. Jung says:

[S]ynchronicity, though in practice a relatively rare phenomenon, is an all-pervading factor or principle in the universe. i.e., in the unus mundus, where there is no incommensurability between so-called matter and so-called psyche. Here one gets into deep waters, at least I myself must confess that I am far from having sounded these abysmal depths.
  In this connection I always come upon the enigma of the natural number. I have a distinct feeling that number is a key to the mystery, since it is just as much discovered as it is invented. It is quantity as well as meaning. For the latter I refer to the arithmetical qualities of the fundamental archetype of the so-called Self (monad, microcosm, etc.) and its historically and empirically well-documented variants of the Four, the 3 + 1 and the 4 - 1. (von Franz, 1974, pp.9-10, loc.cit.)

This feature is reminiscent of polytheism. To the Maya, the number gods ruled existence. Every day and every cyclic event of time was ruled by a particular number deity, such as the god ‘1’ the god ‘2’, etc.

The stela script records a sacred religious foundation, for gods of time and number are included in the texts of most carved monuments. Pure number was accorded considerable potency in ancient Maya religious thought. Each number was conceived as a god with particular characteristics: youth or old age, gender, degree of sexual prowess — just about every range of human personality trait that one could catalog. For example, thick-lipped, his face spotted with tattoos, the god of the number two symbolized death and sacrifice; and the wrinkled countenance of number five reminds us of the wisdom of old age. Zeroes are represented by full figures with their hands clasped against their jaws to denote completeness of a full body count of twenty. Like the codices, the stelae evoke both performance and poetics. People once likely stood in the vast open spaces in front of these number gods chanting their names in the hope that their intervention in daily affairs would lead to a better life.
  Divine number seems to have made the passage of time possible, for the number gods often are depicted in full figure carrying the burden of the days. The weight of time is parceled out into tuns, katuns, and baktuns (scores of katuns), with the gods of number sharing the load in the relay. (Aveni, 1998, pp.324-25)

It’s no wonder that Jung’s metaphysical system has religious overtones since it relies on absolute transcendence. Arguably, in order to achieve a meaningful world Jung has conflated many notions from the scientific and religious realms. As I’ve explicated earlier, in order to follow the scientific paradigm it’s good enough if the archetypal and synchronistic notions prove to be instrumental. On the other hand, if they are hypostatized as entities residing in an archetypal otherworld (unus mundus), we have infringed upon a religio-philosophical worldview. No doubt, Jung has appropriated religious and scientific concepts and subjected them to psychologization. In the place of a split world, Jung has created a monistic world of meaning. But when concepts are torn out of context they tend to be misinterpreted. Jung claims that the notion of synchronicity derives from the Chinese. However, it is not wholly clear that the Tao and its workings overlap with the unus mundus and synchronicity. After all, Taoism is a spiritual teaching whereas Jung’s notions are formulated in a psychological framework. Jung’s philosophy is reminiscent of the overblown systems of the romantic era, formulated by thinkers such as Schopenhauer and Hegel. The latter spoke of the Absolute Spirit underlying existence, that drives history towards a goal. Such philosophical systems have not many followers today and represent a blind alley in human thought. They gave rise to much evil, such as Marxism.

In ancient antiquity people still maintained a polytheistic frame of mind. During that age, unlike today, synchronistic phenomena in the sense of omen and portent made much sense. Polytheism builds on the identification of deities with the powers of nature. For instance, the regularity of the tides depends on the benevolence of Poseidon, and the falling in love depends on the divine intervention of Eros. Today, we believe that the moon’s gravity and hormonal releases in the brain are responsible for these natural powers, respectively. So we have lost the ancient way of seeing things, in the way of a spiritual world which remains one, in which synchronicity could find a place. The conditions aren’t right, anymore, for such a notion to take root in public consciousness.

The polytheists, such as the Maya, were especially interested in the cyclic regularities of nature. They thought that a divine will was responsible for nature’s repeated occurrences. Whenever an astronomical cycle, such as the synodic period of the planet Mars, came close to its end, it was necessary to placate the god and make sacrifice, in order for the cycle to recur. Otherwise chaos threatened. In Taoism, the naive anthropomorphic pantheon of gods is largely abandoned and replaced with a multilateral divine will named the Tao. It is up to humanity to remain in harmony with Tao by way of contemplation, which is a less naive form of sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing blood, the contemplative sacrifices his time and concentrative effort for the sustainment of the divine will. Due to this effort of harmonization, the Tao, which represents orderliness, will impact reality and put things right. Arguably, the divine prerogative of orderliness in Taoism corresponds with the cyclic regularities in Mayan culture.

These are religious worldviews in which meaning prevails, and in which the world is still characterized by oneness. Jung, as it were, uses the same mould and recasts it, this time employing a psychological medium, in lieu of the ancient spiritual medium. The result is a composite metaphysical construct, a complexio oppositorum, incapable of striking down its roots in the modern soil, since modern people have lost the polytheistic mindset. Of course, it is no longer the question of belief in gods and spirits. Instead we are persuaded to believe in world-transcendent archetypes harbouring psychological qualities, such as the quality of number. Synchronicity could, in a sense, be viewed as an intervention by a deity in that a certain archetype is said to be active at the time of the synchronistic event. Thus, an archetypal power is believed to underlie the event that introduces meaning and orderliness into the world, which is close to the polytheistic conception. Evidently, it is an inherent fallacy of Jungian psychology, in itself, which has allowed the regress that has occurred in James Hillman and the post-Jungians. The centrality of individuation in Jungian psychology poses a great stumbling-block. Individuation is only an alternative to a portion of the population, the rest must needs identify with a group and emulate a collective personality. This is problematic from a Jungian perspective as the theory aspires at universality. Hillman and his Archetypal Psychology tries to meet this demand by a polytheistic throwback.

[When] the monotheism of consciousness is no longer able to deny the existence of fragmentary autonomous systems and no longer able to deal with our actual psychic state, then there arises the fantasy of returning to Greek polytheism. (Hillman, 1992, p.27)

A return to the antique frame of mind, on lines of Hillman, is implausible as modern people are disinclined to interpret the regularity and orderliness of reality as predicated on placable spiritual powers (cf. Winther, 1999, here). Such a paradigm shift is bound to fall flat, as was also the fate of the Flower Power movement. Evidently, there is in Jungian psychology a romantic and polytheistic bias, which is quite detrimental since it gives rise to regressive movements. This romantic inclination is evident in the curious topicality of Jung’s “The Red Book”, and the wooly and superstitious quality of synchronicity. Gary Lachman discusses synchronicity in his biography of Jung:

For anyone hoping to find a clear, unambiguous statement about [synchronicity], it’s a frustrating work. Jung’s most important remark on it can be found, but it is embedded in some of his most tortuous Herr Doctor Professor prose, and it leaves us no nearer to an explanation for this baffling phenomenon […] Other writers, equally open to the reality of synchronicity, complain that Jung lumps practically all paranormal phenomena under its banner. As with the archetypes and the collective unconscious, it became a kind of one-size-fits-all means of explaining a host of different experiences, a tendency that has only increased by synchronicity’s adoption into common usage (nowadays, whenever anything “weird” happens, people often say “Wow, what a synchronicity.”) Of the examples of synchronicity Jung gives, only one meets the requirement of “meaningful coincidence,” while the rest can be accounted for by ESP, telepathy, precognition, astrology, and other paranormal abilities. Readers unfamiliar with parapsychology came away from the book with the idea that the remarkable results J. B. Rhine was getting at Duke University with his experiments in ESP were examples of synchronicity. Ones that were familiar with it shook their heads when Jung chalked up an example of precognition or telepathy to his all-purpose “acausal principle.” (Lachman, 2010, ch.8)

Synchronicity in a psychodynamic light

Psychoanalyst Gibbs A. Williams (2010) has researched synchronicities in his own experience and in patients. Although he rejects Jung’s supernaturalism and instead views synchronicity as a naturalistic and deterministic phenomenon, he argues that they are functional properties of a mind seeking wholeness. He concludes that Jung’s view of synchronicity as an acausal phenomenon is unwarranted and also criticizes the way in which Kantian noumenal nature (absolute transcendence) is described in fine detail, although this should be impossible. Williams has found that what for most people is “a coincidence perceived as evoking little or no particular meaning; the same occurrence for another person (or the same person at a different time) may be perceived as a pivotal life defining experience” (p.112). Says Williams:

Synchronicities occur in a psychological state of deprivation, devitalization of the spirit, alienation, psychological gridlock, generating a wish to be meaningfully connected with or to something or someone that is solid, trustworthy, consistent, reliable, and responsive. (Williams, 2010, p.204)

Coincidences happen all the time. The psychological need of personality at the moment attributes to each of them a special divine significance, which is likely to be caused by an overestimation of a particular detail coincident with subjective facts. Thus, the subjective perception of coincidences represents a function of the psyche to seek ways out of a dilemma. The divided personality experiences an intensified need and wish to make meaningful connections, which underlies the heightened sensitivity to meaningful connections. Thus, “synchronicities grow out of the soil of psychic conflict” and are intimately involved with a felt need for significant psychological change and transformation. Says Williams: “Viewing the production of meaningful coincidences from the vantage point of a science of psychodynamics indicates that they are associated with significant psychological change and transformation of the self” (p.291). Viewing synchronicities as self-generated messages, accentuated by unconscious projection, leads the patient or therapist to make as many meaningful associations with the material as possible. This is a rather different standpoint than standing in awe before a message that is supposed to derive from the transmundane orb.

Theory of mind

Jesse Bering (2012) explains that understanding other minds is very central to evolved human psychology. We assume an “intentional stance” when reasoning about others, which implies that we have evolved the capacity to reason about the unobservable mental states of other beings. However, we do not only interpret the mind-states of persons, but also of animals, artifacts, and natural events. To treat the entity as an agent serves to predict and to explain its actions and motifs. It enables us to learn and therefore to make more appropriate responses in the future. This specifically human capacity, lacking in animals, has been strongly favoured by natural selection (cf. Bering, 2012, Kindle Loc.313f).

We are exquisitively attuned to the unseen psychological world. Theory of mind is as much a peculiar trademark of our species as is walking upright on two legs, learning a language, and raising our offspring into their teens […]
  [Our] theory of mind is applied not only to the mental innards of other people and animals, but also, in error, to categories that haven’t any mental innards at all… (Kindle Loc.541-565) […]
Just as we see other people as more than just their bodies, we also tend to see natural events as more than natural events. And again, this seeing beyond the obvious is the consequence of the very peculiar way our brains have evolved, with a theory of mind. At every turn, we seem to think there are subtle messages scratched into the woodwork of nature, subtle signs or cues that God, or some other supernatural agent, is trying to communicate a lesson or idea to us — and often to us alone. Usually, it’s about how we should behave. So we listen attentively, effortlessly translating natural events into divine or supernatural messages. (Kindle Loc.1166f)

Superstitious beliefs are often viewed as a childish mode of thinking. However, to perceive any event as meaningful, that is, as representing certain unobservable mental states that predicate the event, requires a theory of mind. Thus, contrary to the common assumption, it requires a cognitive skill that is not present in children up to a certain age (cf. Kindle Loc.1441-1456). Bering concludes that, “before the age of seven, children’s minds aren’t quite cognitively ripe enough to allow them to be superstitious thinkers” (Kindle Loc.1482f). This, however, changes drastically when the child has acquired a full-fledged theory of mind. Our cognitive system is dedicated to forming illusory representations of all kinds. Says Bering:

Isn’t it astounding how all the convoluted, endless paths of thought, all the divine wild goose chases ever known or to be known, begin and end with the same cognitive capacity — the theory of mind? (Kindle Loc.1643f)

Since “everything happens for a reason” we also tend to create a narrative, a mythology, of our lives that accords with Jung’s notion of individuation, i.e. that we have been created for a special purpose (cf. Kindle Loc.2431ff). The conclusion is that our species is predisposed to formulate beliefs in the same vein as the theory of synchronicity. Such ideas are not simply errant ways of thought invented by religious charismatics. In fact, it is part of our nature to think in a religious way. According to Bering, “culture develops and decorates the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief” (Kindle Loc.1835). These are adaptive illusions, because being observed by a supernatural audience promoted inhibitory decisions against ancestral biological drives, which in turn bolstered reproductive success. After all, being “good” would have been highly adaptive, especially since our verbal capacity of gossip often has the consequence of ostracism. Supernatural reasoning has served to restrain our selfish and impulsive behaviour, since it undermines the anonymity of the situation (cf. Kindle Loc.2844f). Says Bering:

The cognitive illusion of an ever-present and keenly observant God worked for our genes, and that’s reason enough for nature to have kept the illusion vividly alive in human brains. (Kindle Loc.2912f)

On this view, God is an adaptive illusion, which means that the notion has been functional in human history. This opens up the question whether supernatural beliefs should be regarded psychologically real, since they have a pronounced effect on psychic and social life. After all, that which works is usually regarded real. Comparatively, our self-conscious ego is an illusion created by the brain. Although we know this, few people question the reality of their own ego. Maybe this is what Jesus means by “faith”, namely belief in that which doesn’t (yet) exist, because it is functional and has a wholesome effect. After all, he seems to reject metaphysical conceptions of the Heavenly Kingdom and instead explains that it present inside us and all around us, as a function of faith. Thus, in the beginning it is only a mustard seed planted in the earth (Luke 17:21; Mat. 13:31, Thomas 3).

Following this line of reasoning, the theory of synchronicity rest upon “the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief”, that is, the innate archetypes of the unconscious. Jung has merely persevered with an archetypal pattern of thought that has gone on since times immemorial. It follows that synchronicity is a cognitive illusion that has nothing to do with reality, as such.


If Jung’s conglomerative worldview doesn’t hold water, how can the collective loss of meaning and the split in the collective mind be remedied? In my article ‘The Complementarian Self’ (2011b, here) I argue that the structure of our psychological Self is a two-unity. The one side is spiritually oriented (trinitarian) whereas the other is worldly oriented (quaternarian). On this view, the Self is Janus-faced. The two sides are complementary, that is, either one of them represents an adequate ideal of Self. In other words, each is a wholeness, in itself. Each side is associated with a particular worldview and outlook of life, incommensurate with the other. Either side can serve as a model for the life of the individual. However, complementarity also means that something is amiss with either aspect of Self. Although either side represents completeness, it is not adequate as Self ideal during the entire life of the individual, and under all circumstances. At some point it is necessary to change outlook, i.e., to adopt the ideals of the complementary aspect of Self.

This is borne out by the life experiences of regular people. Individuals who have accomplished much on the worldly scene may suddenly change their outlook. Occasionally, people even become world-denying ascetics. However, at a later stage the spiritual person sometimes takes the step to return to the world. But these changes needn’t always be explicit and wholly obvious to the surrounding world. Such transformational phases are predicted by Asian spiritual traditions, such as Zen. Typically, at a certain stage the contemplative ascetic goes back to the world and takes up a humble trade. In the ‘Ten Zen Ox Pictures’ (here), after having captured and tamed the sacred bull, the enlightened one “returns to the marketplace of life, leading life in the world, yet also in the Self”. Note that he is no longer interested in his own spiritual transformation; instead he affects the surrounding, and dead trees will turn green. The notion of two-naturedness is also evident in the traditions of aboriginal culture. Occasionally a member of a tribe dons the paraphernalia characteristic of the individual’s totem, and turns into a spiritual person. This is his alternative Self, in the guise of a red cockatoo, for instance. He will insist, at the inquiry of the anthropologist, that he is indeed a red cockatoo. It is not just a masquerade.

It seems that the human personality can harbour two different worldviews and alternate between them. While the one remains in the shadow (although not forgotten) the other basks in conscious sunlight. Yet it’s not possible to combine them, that is, to live them simultaneously, because they are mutually exclusive. After all, each Self aspect is complete, and personality cannot be more than complete. To combine them amounts to a regressive solution, causing an abatement of the conscious level, from a modern consciousness to an antique frame of mind. Arguably, this is the consequence if a worldview is created where the religious and spiritual outlook, and the worldly and scientific paradigm, are conflated. In that case, the conscious level must needs abate to a level characteristic of New Age or esoteric tradition. In traditional society there exists no strong distinction between the sacred and profane. Only in an unconscious state may the opposites remain loosely united without flying apart.

According to this model, the modern dividedness of personality is overcome by an alternation of personality over time. The complementary aspect of personality is allowed to slowly grow in the shadow, during which time it is continually furnished, metaphorically speaking, with just enough water and sunlight. The worldly oriented Self (quaternarian) coincides largely with the Jungian self, minus the superstructure of transcendental irrationality which amalgamates the sacred and profane according to traditional and obsolete ways. Jung overtly rejected traditional notions of religious faith, including contemplative ascetic practices. Instead, he reinstated the divine in another form. But my argument is that the mindset of faith belongs in the complementary aspect of Self, which Jung has excluded from his unitarian Self-image. This depends on the fact that the two Self aspects are mutually exclusive. Jung concluded that the spiritual (trinitarian) Self is simply wrong. Thus, he resolutely threw the child out with the bathwater. It is not wrong, it is a complementary aspect to be lived to the full during another phase of life.

The human brain is capable of sustaining two incompatible worldviews at the same time, making allowance for two irreconcilable Self aspects, provided that either one is kept more in the shadow for the time being. Although a spiritual worldview based on faith cannot be combined with a rational and scientific worldview, they may supersede each other. It is a twofoldness, i.e., a form of wholeness, that does not give rise to a neurotic conflict. In fact, the worldly personality is sustained by its spiritual counterpart. It represents the water hole of ‘meaning’ that the individual can always return to. Since he knows that he has recourse to this alternative in the future, it only strengthens his resolve in the worldly sphere. His career and material success is not that important, a circumstance which tones down materialism and makes personality less obsessive. Most importantly, thanks to the complementary partition, the Self ideal according to which he lives is chiefly realizable. It is not self-contradictory, which is something that could give rise to a neurotic conflict.

Critique of the unitarian Self

Arguably, Jung to some extent misinterpreted his youthful experience of the two personalities (No.1 and No.2), as related in his autobiography (Jung, 1989). He came to understand No.1 as ego and No.2 as Self. Alternatively, they would represent two complementary aspects of Self, of which one remains in the shadow. Personality No.1 was more extraverted, characterized by no-nonsense, whereas the No.2 was more introverted and emotional. If No.1 and No.2 are viewed as complementary, they are capable of changing place: No.2 takes precedence and No.1 ends up in the shadow. This cannot occur in Jung’s model, while No.2 represents the one and only wholeness, whereas No.1 is viewed as a kind of outgrowth on the psychic tree, known as the ego. On a complementarian view, the psyche may experience a reversal, whereby No.2 becomes the new ideal. However, it would require a much different ego, much toned down and less expansive.

Jung’s unitarian Self is a ‘complexio oppositorum’, characterized by a strong inner tension. The Jungian Self combines the worldly personality with the spiritual. The ideal is to excel as a worldly and as a spiritual individual, simultaneously. It is the underlying rationale for Jung’s metaphysical system that attempts to combine two mutually exclusive worldviews. Scientific ideas (such as the archetype) are being hypostatized while religious ideas are subjected to psychologization. It also explains the contradictory nature of Jung’s writings. By example, although he professes a Platonic interpretation of the archetype, he also takes strong exception to such an otherworldly interpretation that relegates the idea to the “unverifiable realm of faith and superstition” (Jung, 1980, p.75). Jung, it seems, tries to envelop all opposites. According to the complementarian notion, maximum selfhood as a spiritual person cannot occur simultaneously with maximum selfhood as a worldly person. They must occur consecutively. When either aspect is maximized, the other is minimized. As one aspect remains in the sunlight, the other must remain in the moonlit landscape of the unconscious, where it is potentiated with archetypal meaning. Yet the hidden aspect of Self must not be allowed to go extinct, which would destroy the complementarian dynamic.

A Self that harbours all opposites cannot be realized in the daylight world. The ego must needs become torn between the opposites. It stands to reason that it could be harmful as Self ideal, as there are limits to how much inner tension the conscious personality can carry. Jung’s composite ideal explains why there is no room for the spiritual reclusive in Jung’s model, that is, the personality who centers his life upon faith, purity, frugality, and simpleness. Jung rejects asceticism and the life of the contemplative, and therefore also rejects the philosophy underlying spiritual practices of the East, such as Yoga (cf. Jung, 1969, p.484). The problem is, namely, that the gurus and the sadhus teach that the spiritual pupil must overcome the “ego”, and thus become absorbed in the Self. Jung’s polemic is inadequate as it draws on the different meanings of words: “if there is no ego there is nobody to be conscious of anything.” In fact, from a Jungian perspective, an egoless state is out of the question as it is tantamount to psychosis.

However, the notion of “ego” in traditional spiritual philosophy does not overlap with our Western notion. What spiritual teachers really mean is that the spiritual Self takes over from the worldly Self. The ego is still present, but it basks under another sun that shines with a different light, which transforms the ego and makes it unassuming and unassertive. It is evident from the Zen tradition (see above) that the seeker changes his perspective. It is as if he now looks at the world with a third eye, which sees the world differently. So it really signifies an alternation between the quaternarian and trinitarian Self aspects.

Human beings are endowed with a Self that is a two-unity. Adjustment to the spiritual path necessitates that we absorb the spiritual worldview of faith and seclusiveness that is already present inside us as the trinitarian aspect of Self (the ternarius, using a medieval term). This spiritual pattern of personality is already inside us, from the beginning. It grows in the moonlight, while we are busy with worldly matters. Jung’s critical argument is really predicated on his own Self model. His position is that the Self is quaternarian, that is, committed to worldly realization of wholeness and completeness. The trinitarian Self of religious tradition, and the spiritual practices surrounding it, are incompatible with Jung’s model and must therefore be rejected. It has been argued that Jung’s position depends on a misreading of the Eastern traditions. Leon Schlamm says:

Welwood insists that meditation is a royal road to non-dualistic experience, rather than to a subterranean unconscious mind, revealing awareness of a unified field where divisions between subject and object, the inner world and outer reality, and consciousness and the unconscious, are recognized as possessing only conventional significance, but from the perspective of a higher order of truth of Buddhism simply do not exist. Such divisions, including Jung’s division between ego and unconscious, are, for Welwood, symptomatic of the confused state of mind known in Buddhism as samsara […]
  Mark Epstein, for example, has argued that, from the Buddhist perspective, it is mistaken to view egolessness as a developmental stage beyond the ego. During transpersonal states of consciousness the ego is not abandoned, nor completely transcended; rather, the spiritual practitioner realizes that the ego lacks concrete existence. It is not the ego that disappears; rather the belief in the ego’s solidity, the identification with the ego’s representations, is abandoned in the realization of egolessness during states of ordinary waking consciousness. (Schlamm, 2010)

It is evident that the trinitarian Self brings with it a quite different, “non-dualistic”, way of seeing reality. From a complementarian standpoint this is unobjectionable, since its quaternarian complementary is retained, anyway. According to Jung’s quaternarian standpoint the “dualistic” perspective does not at all represent a “confused state of mind”. We can accept both views although they are mutually exclusive. Thus we may solve this endless schism. But Jung’s model is unitarian, i.e., there cannot be two wholenesses in one Self, but only one, so the trinitarian interpretation is rejected as erroneous. On the other hand, the teachers of the East regard Jung’s worldview as a confused state of mind known as ‘samsara’. This would be equally wrong.

In order to postulate a unitarian Self and a monistic metaphysic Jung rejects the transcendental Godhead. He discards the transcendental aspect of personality, which is a very radical step since it is universally present in spiritual teachings around the globe. Nevertheless, in accordance with Jung’s ideal of enveloping all opposites, he proceeds to postulate transcendence in a radical psychological form, that is, a “psychoid” form of transcendence. What constitutes the world according to Jung? It is neither esse in re nor esse in spiritu, rather it is esse in anima. His metaphysic and his writings are predicated on a Self that harbours irreconcilable opposites. The tree is known by its fruit. Evidently the Jungian Self has given rise to a cumbersome and self-contradictory theoretical construct. What’s worse, the deleterious metaphysics in Jung’s thought is the seed of the regressive movement that has occurred in Hillman and the modern polytheists. It is necessary to take this “shadow” of Jungian psychology to task because it leads to unconsciousness. Jung said that an increase in consciousness is critical for the survival of civilization, but the Jungian movement risks turning into its own opposite.

The complementarian Self

To adopt Jung’s unitarian Self is to bite off more than one can chew. Theologians have presented a better Self model in the form of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ. Of course, since it is a model of Christ’s nature and not of the human Self, we cannot expect the same laws to apply. Still, it lends credence to a complementarian interpretation of human personality. There is a clear resemblance between the hypostatic union and the complementarian Self. The Christ is wholly human and also wholly divine. It is a Christological dogma, yet Jesus Christ also serves as model personality for millions of people. It is probably true what Jung says, that the Christ image is too one-sidedly spiritual. Yet, correctly understood, the theology surrounding the Christ lends credence to a balanced and complementarian Self image (cf. Winther, 2011b, here).

The quaternarian Self aspect (quartarius) lets the ego focus on improvement and conscious expansion, including scientific understanding. During this phase one finds a place in the world and settles down. The quaternarian consciousness does not depend on transcendental notions, such as the unus mundus and synchronicity. It represents a pragmatic and rational attitude that contents itself with that which has heuristic value. The integration of the unconscious is central to the individual who is devoted to the path of individuation. This Self aspect can be likened to a sun that has spots. It is necessary to integrate the dark sides of personality in order to exist in the world. Our dark and instinctual qualities, such as assertiveness, acquisitiveness, eagerness, and shrewdness, can be turned to the good, provided that they are acknowledged and remain under control. Quartarius would represent a scientific mindset, devoted to work.

The trinitarian Self aspect (ternarius) allows notions of transcendency to come to expression, in a mature way. This is the way of the mystic, the ascetic, the artist, and the contemplative. The integration of the unconscious is no longer central. Instead, complementation is now the dominant exercise (cf. Winther, 2012, here). It might seem extravagant to introduce a new term, but I deem it valuable as a counterweight to the emphasis on integration in psychology. Integration means conscious integration whereas complementation is a process of unconscious integration during which consciousness fulfills a more passive role. In the ancient temple of Apollo, and among certain Gnostic sects, the initiate went through a process called “incubation”, during which he/she dwelled in darkness and silence for a period. The ritual of incubation, which also occurs among Amerindians, represents an important aspect of religious life, which today only continues among devoted mystics.

The Gnostics set themselves the task of bringing back to the Pleroma the divine sparks that have fallen and are now imprisoned inside material existence. In fact, when the mystic tones down the light of consciousness, yet remains focused, he does exactly this. He sacrifices conscious light and thereby returns the divine sparks to their origin, thus reciprocating the sacrifice that was once made when the world was created. (The original world-creating sacrifice, when the gods sacrifice their limbs, is a central theme in religious mythology.) The contemplative stands aside from the stressful onrush of the world, devoting himself to spiritual practices such as discursive mediation. In the Christian conception sacrifice of life implies that the devotees give up their own life of the ego. Accordingly, they choose to live as cloistered contemplatives, etc. Thus, their time and energy is devoted not to themselves and their own well-being, but to God, in the form of prayer, etc. It is a religious mindset where faith plays a central part. However, it needn’t be as austere as in medieval spiritual practice.

There is One Self consisting of Two complementary wholenesses symbolized by the numbers Three and Four. In logical terms, the complementarian Self is characterized by an exclusive disjunction (here). It is true if the operands, or disjuncts, have opposite truth values. A simple way to state this is “one or the other, but not neither nor both.” Interestingly, the logical operator for exclusive disjunction is . If T is ternarius and Q is quartarius, the complementarian Self is written as: T ⊕ Q.


Since matter (‘mater’ — mother) is fundamental to the universe, and ideas are viewed as secondary, the latter also become relativized. They are regarded as invented, and that’s why no idea is regarded more objective than the other. What’s absolute is only the stuff that makes up the world and what sustains us, such as foodstuff. Thus, the motherly principle becomes dominant, while the fatherly principle is undervalued. As a consequence people become enmeshed in the mother complex. The consequence of one-sided materialism is that we are about to dive headlong into matriarchy. But if the realm of ideas — the spirit — were fundamental to the universe, then it would function as a counterweight to matriarchy and relativism. The complementarian perspective postulates a spiritual complementarity. This is a working solution, unlike the unitarian perspective that conflates notions of transcendence with a worldly outlook.

Synchronicity does not commend itself, it seems. Coincidences are valuable to take note of, but that doesn’t mean that it should be seen as a principle of nature. Such events could equally well be purely coincidental, interpreted as intentional. Alternatively they are parapsychological phenomena, such as the capacity to transcend time and unconsciously to foresee the future, to a degree. The capacity of unconscious perception, as observed in animals, must also be taken into account. Synchronicity is not really an explanation. It is a statement of just-so-ness, a mere statement of fact: a synchronistic event just occurred. Instead it is hypostatized as a metaphysical statement about the nature of the universe. It is like a huge impersonal spirit, metaphysically neutral, capable of forging coincidences in the realms of its offspring, namely the material and psychic realms. Jung held that psyche is equally real as matter. But the monistic model (i.e., that they are inherently one) is problematic, it seems. Jung’s metaphysic of an unus mundus and its concomitant principle of synchronicity remains sheer metaphysical speculation. He holds that the psyche has the same reality status as the outer world. He achieves this by saying that there is a psychoid reality that underlies them both. It is a form of transcendental monism.

In order to maintain wholeness and meaning in the universe it is not necessary to endorse a monistic metaphysic. In the complementarian model the psyche occupies a special place. Consciousness furthers a complementarian bipartition of the world, much like the role of the observer in quantum physics, who decides whether to view the phenomenon as particle or wave. At the moment of observation the quantum potential collapses into either one of the two complementary models. The physicist chooses whether to be part of the material world of particles or the world of non-substantial waves. But he can’t choose both alternatives at the same time. There is no monistic alternative, on lines of Jung. By way of analogy, the psyche, as the observer, plays a central part in a complementarian metaphysic. This is central to my argument, although my sketchy thoughts about the role of the psyche in the complementarian paradigm need further elaboration.

Synchronicity and the psychological (psychoid) form of transcendental layer is the mortar that holds together Jung’s edifice of metaphysical monism and unity of Self. The transcendental concept makes very much sense in the trinitarian paradigm, where God is relatively transcendent being, but it has no place in the quaternarian paradigm where it is logically inconsistent and excites the return of pagan ideas. Jung’s world is characterized by wholeness. Yet, behind the drapery of advanced psychology it sanctions paganism, in the sense of Celtic or Roman polytheism. There is no reason to implant the archetype in a transcendental psychoid substratum in order to endow the archetype with reality-status, and thus to achieve ‘absolute meaning’ and ‘absolute knowledge’. A trinitarian complementary reality is transcendentalism proper, and it is a wellspring of meaning.

In the fairytale the old king must step down in favour of the young stableman, who is chosen by the beautiful princess since he has saved the kingdom from demise. Fairytale characters do not signify human egos. M-L von Franz holds that the emergence of the young king signifies that new ruling ideas will come to dominate collective consciousness. To maintain vitality and avoid stagnation, it is necessary to allow for new developments. To cling to old beliefs will lead to the demise of the kingdom. Only new ideas can save it. It is a misapprehension that critical views serve a destructive purpose. My incentive is to propose new ways of seeing things, which hopefully will contribute to the survival of the “kingdom” of Jungian psychology. The growth of superstition and obsolete polytheistic ideas are highly damaging to Jungian psychology.

I hold that the metaphysical superstructure of synchronicity ought to be discarded. The notion is better used to denote interesting coincidences, which are viewed as quite mundane examples of unconscious intuitive foresight, etc. In the complementarian model, the transcendental and psychoid aspect of the archetype has no place since it fulfills no function. The complementarian model also warrants a way of life in which the individual refrains from realizing both aspects of the Self. Thus, it includes the collective of people who has no propensity to walk the individual and the spiritual path. This solves the dilemma of elitism that some have criticized in the Jungian model.


© Mats Winther, 2012 (augmented 2015: ‘Synchronicity in a psychodynamic light’; 2016: ‘Theory of mind’).


The sacred and profane as complementary truths

Jung’s archetypal notion depends on the transmission of acquired traits, which was anathema in his own time (except in the Soviet union, during a time). The latest findings in epigenetics show that acquired traits are sporadically passed on to subsequent generations — at a surprisingly high degree and at a high pace, to boot. Jung knew nothing about this. It undergirds the notion, forwarded by Jung, that our medieval history has forged our modern mentality. In my article, ‘Understanding European Psychology’ (2011c, here), I discuss the psychological legacy of the medieval era. According to recent findings, human evolution has been moving at breakneck speed in the past several thousand years (Dunham, 2007, here. See also Science Daily article, 2010, here, and EU Times article, 2007, here). Today, we are quite different from people living even a few thousand years ago. The new findings also show that the human genome in the different continents have diverged and continue to do so. It stands to reason that there are different variants of psychic structure in humankind, as genomic changes can occur within the time frame of a couple of thousand years.

Moreover, it has been suggested that the findings of chaos theory, such as the phenomenon of “strange attractors”, could contribute to the understanding of archetypal determinants. We know today that nature, especially biological nature, makes use of fractal geometry. We only need a tiny seed, in the form of a very simple algorithm, that is repeated recursively, to create a very complex structure. Arguably, diverse psychic structures could emerge from simple seeds, too.

Still, this is in the way of reductive science. It views the archetype as secondary to the physical world. Jung aimed to elevate the archetype as a reality in its own right. That’s why he created his metaphysical system where neither psyche nor matter takes precedence. However, his system smacks of 19th century idealistic philosophy. Hegel’s philosophy relies on the existence of absolutes, embodied in a World Spirit that permeates reality. Hegel’s dialectic is characterized as a three-step process, “thesis, antithesis, synthesis”. Jung was overly fond of this thinking.

Jung failed in his attempt to authenticate the reality of the psyche. The modernized variant of 19th century metaphysical cosmogony didn’t work. His synchronicity notion has proved fruitless, and his Platonic metaphysic is abstruse. M-L von Franz, in Number and Time (1974), fails in her attempt to clarify it. Of course, much of Jung’s theory is immensely valuable, but nobody seems to have lived through his programme of individuation: from the shadow, via the anima and the wise old man, to the Self. To my knowledge, nobody claims to have followed this path. Jung’s notion of Self, which is extravagant and out of proportion, has contributed to the backlash to pagan beliefs.

Carl Jung, in old age, realized that people had not been able to adopt his system. Towards the end of his life, he said: “I have failed in my foremost task — to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul, there is a buried treasure in the field, and that our religion and philosophy are in a lamentable state.” (Rolfe, Encounter with Jung, 1989). He also had a vision, or dream, in which he saw the whole earth scorched, and only a part of China had survived. Of course, according to Jung’s view, the Chinese already employed the synchronicity notion, and the Tao would correspond to Jung’s psychoid layer of ‘absolute knowledge’. This is perhaps the reason why only the Chinese could be rescued from annihilation, in the dream.

I have tentatively suggested that there is a way out of this dilemma. According to the complementarian notion, the above physicalistic explanations of the archetype are wholly adequate. It is a standalone view of reality which is unobjectionable. Nevertheless, it needs to be complemented with another standalone view of reality, which is equally unobjectionable — a world in which the spirit takes precedence. In this way, both psyche and archetype have acquired reality status, in a complementary fashion. If the archetype is secondary to matter in the worldly paradigm, it is viewed as primary in the spiritual paradigm. Thus, there are two different ways of looking upon reality, both equally satisfactory.

This is borne out by the perspective of the unconscious psyche, which aspires at independent reality status. Figures that appear in dreams insist that they are real. When people are about to die, a dream might express that now its time to travel to the Otherworld, as if existence would continue there. The unconscious is adamant about this perspective, which seems naive and animistic (cf. Winther, 2011a, here). It is as if the unconscious psyche views itself as an independent reality in itself. From this perspective, the archetypes are “entities of psyche”, i.e., they have a light of their own, and a degree of free will. They correspond to psychic deities, in a sense, which is the picture that mythology relates.

According to the complementarian view, it is a worldview wholly adequate in itself, although not real in the physical sense. To view the archetype as autonomous psychic being is wholly sufficient. There is no need to undergird it by recourse to abstruse metaphysics or reductive physicalistic science. If spirit is viewed as real ontic substance, it follows that there can be entities of psyche, endowed with psychic qualities, such as a relative degree of consciousness and free will. On this view, that such psychic entities exist is as self-evident as the existence of stones in the materialistic paradigm. Thus, by applying a complementarian metaphysics the quandary can be elegantly solved. Although the physicalist perspective is retained, the psyche is granted a proper reality status as a complementary aspect of reality, simply because we are living it. Thus, there is no need to create an awkward conglomerative of matter and psyche, in the way of Jung’s metaphysic.

The models that attempt to explain archetypal nature are founded upon either the physicalist paradigm or the Jungian conglomerative metaphysic. The former has the advantage that it is academically inclined and intellectually sound. The latter has the advantage that it endows the archetype with ontological reality status, which is quintessential to Jungian psychology. However, it is intellectually ungainly and has reinforced an outdated way of thinking, along Neo-Pagan lines.

The complementarian solution dispenses with the 19th century type of conglomerative metaphysics and separates the spiritual paradigm from the worldly paradigm, allowing reality status to each. However, it is characterized by an exclusive disjunction, that is, “one or the other, but not neither nor both.” In the life of the individual, the two aspects of reality are not parallel in time. It’s not possible to live in both realities at the same time. Thus, one has to make a choice. It is borne out by the nature of the Self, which is complementary: one side of me is a worldly, highly curious and scientific person, eager for knowledge. Another side of me is a reclusive who would like to cease this worldly strife and go live in a grotto on a mountain slope above the clouds (cf. Winther, 2011b, here).

I do not only speak for myself. I know that this double-naturedness is prevalent, and it is not considered diseased. Rather, it is viewed as worthy of imitation. By example, the Roman emperors were typically very dutiful and ambitious bureaucrats (although we hear only of the mad emperors, like Nero). After having ruled the world they would withdraw to their humble little country estate where they devoted themselves to growing cabbage. At least, this was the ideal. They were said to enjoy their “otium cum dignitate”. The preserved letters contain trivial matters of how they enjoy their little garden, etc. It is a remarkable shift in attitude, which is not uncommon in human nature. How is this possible, if there is no complementary aspect of Self? The twofold Self is associated with a twofold worldview. It cannot work with a monistic worldview, on lines of Jung’s neutral monism. Nor does it square with the physicalistic monism of the materialistic scientists, or the idealistic monism of the philosophers.

Is this a satisfying solution? Philosophically minded people will perhaps argue that it is a cop-out. It is not to the taste of people who would like to live in a unified world. Yet the nub of the matter is that they may continue to live in a unified world, it’s only that they must decide whether to belong to the one paradigm or the other, without rejecting the alternative paradigm. Science and faith ought to be viewed as parallel worldviews that aren’t quite self-sustaining, in themselves, and therefore must be brought to completion by their counterpart. As a consequence, their respective paradigmatic status is maintained despite the fact that religious and scientific truth is relativized.

A scientific worldview cannot take into account moral, spiritual, and psychological factors, as reality is portrayed without relation to the human soul. It implies that the scientific paradigm is not quite adequate as a worldview on its own. For instance, medieval paintings have a value perspective in which important persons look larger than others. This is a moral perspective that is equally relevant as the optical perspective, and it is not a sign that medieval man was ignorant. Science and faith ought to be viewed as parallel worldviews that aren’t quite self-sustaining, in themselves, and therefore must be brought to completion by their counterpart. What I have in mind when I discuss the spiritual paradigm of faith, is primarily the mystical and the contemplative tradition, and not so much the exoteric and ritual tradition, which is characterized by a monistic metaphysic.

Biblical versus historical facts

The complementarian perspective maintains the paradigmatic significance despite the fact that science and religion are regarded as relative, and not as absolute truths (i.e., as the one and only Weltanschauung). The biblical stories is a case in point, which illustrates this doubleness. The creation story is not a dogma of the church. It is not to be regarded as incontrovertible truth. Comparatively, Christ’s nature as wholly human and wholly divine is dogma and absolute truth, but the biblical creation story is not. It is relative truth and thus it is malleable and changeable. The biblical stories about Jesus are also to be viewed as truth with reservations. After all, they do not coincide perfectly.

What are the historical facts about Jesus? It is evident from the bible that he took over the messianic movement of John  the Baptist at the time when John was put in prison (Mark 1:14ff and Matthew 4:17ff). Jesus started his oeuvre by following in John’s footsteps. He baptized people and preached in John’s voice: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The disciples weren’t all poor and unknowledgeable fishermen. Several of them were already members of the movement, and many were well-to-do. With all likelihood, Peter and Andrew already belonged to the Baptist messianists. Many of Jesus’s disciples must already have been baptized and they probably had great insight into the scripture.

So the Gospels have downplayed John the Baptist’s role and the intellectual level of the disciples. In our scientific age we regard this as a deviation from the truth. But, in fact, the Gospels relate the deeper truth, and thus they give the true picture. If Jesus had been portrayed as second to John, it would have related a fallacious picture. Jesus was second to nobody, not even the emperor of Rome. That’s why we are told that Jesus built his own movement and that he had called his disciples from the unsophisticated and unknowledgeable people. It is truthful to portray the disciples as novices, since they had not yet heard the Gospel of joy. As long as people haven’t assimilated the teaching of Jesus Christ, they all remain at the stage of the novice.

From a complementarian perspective, there is an historical truth and a spiritual truth. Both are valid in their own context. When he felt ripe for entering nirvana, the Buddha voluntarily lied down on his side, in a state of transcendental peacefulness. Yet, historical sources say that he died of food poisoning after having eaten at a restaurant (depending on tradition). This is neither a voluntary nor a pleasant way of entering nirvana. Anyway, tradition has it that he forgave the cook before dying. Again, there is a spiritual truth and an historical truth. However, the Buddhists seem untroubled by such discrepancies. Historically, people are accustomed to existing in a world without any strong distinction between the sacred and profane. It’s a world where a pronounced spiritual-worldly dichotomy has not yet developed.

In animistic society, at sacred occasions, the celebrants become one with their totem spirit, often in the guise of an animal. Their spiritual guise is regarded as equally real as their human nature. There is a double-naturedness to reality and there is a double-naturedness to the Self. In olden times, the two aspects of reality, although mutually exclusive, weren’t experienced as conflicting, partly because both were given their due time, but also because logical contradictions are tolerable to pre-scientific consciousness. They represent different ways of looking at reality. Such a worldview still prevails among the Australian aborigines who live in the traditional way.

The biblical creation story relates a truth that is complementary to scientific truth. The creation that took place before man’s emergence on the sixth day, is handled concisely. It took only a couple of days. The underlying message is that history only began at the origin of human consciousness, at the day when we became modern human beings. If the whole timeline is laid down, mankind only emerges in the last minutes, from a geological perspective. Although it is historically true, it doesn’t relate a truthful picture of this remarkable event, which is comparable to the emergence of Jesus in Galilee. Adam is first man, and Jesus Christ is Second Adam, that is, he is the first man in God’s new creation. Thus, God renews his relation to mankind. In a sense, the emergence of human ego consciousness is a world-creating event. Only at this moment there is full awareness of creation. Only at this point, when Adam and Eve opened their eyes, God begins to truly relate to his creation. So, from a religious perspective, this is where history begins.

What took place before, such as the age of dinosaurs, etc., can’t really compare with these world-creating events. That’s why it’s incorrect to argue that the religious authors were mistaken. They looked at reality with different eyes. In fact, the universe is still geocentric, and earth is still in its centre. Nobody can deny that the earth is central, since it means everything to us. The creation myth gives expression to this truth. What if the earth is the only place in the universe where an ego-consciousness has developed? It means that the earth remains at the center of the cosmos, not geographically but morally. As long as there is no proof of the opposite, the earth remains a very special place, and the geocentric perspective cannot be discarded. Not long ago scientists believed that the universe is stationary and has no beginning in time. In a sense, the bible was closer to the truth.

Viewed from this perspective, the biblical creation story is highly relevant. From the standpoint of faith, history before man can be summarized as five days of divine creation. The authors of the Pentateuch conveyed the spiritual truth, since history only begins at the moment when we become aware of God, which coincides with the emergence of a full-fledged theory of mind. So remarkably important is this event. God sees himself through his relation to man, and so mankind mirrors God. The notion that man was created in the image of God relates an important truth. Had they written about the historical and geological truth, things would get the wrong proportions. Similarly, the authors of the Gospels corrected the historical facts and conveyed the real truth, which includes the real moral proportions. Paradoxically, these “improvements” make the Gospels appear authentic, since only real events need to be improved upon.

The trinitarian and spiritual paradigm provides a perspective that always stands in relation to the human soul. However, the trinitarian paradigm isn’t quite sufficient as self-contained solution. Worldly knowledge is needful, after all. In medieval times, the Christian church endorsed science. It seems like both paradigms, the sacred and the profane, present a worldview that aspires at completeness. Nevertheless, it turns out that only the complementary perspective can mend the holes.

The gist of the idea is the following. Not only is the sacred and the profane capable of existing side by side in society, but they may also find expression in the same person. They are mutually exclusive as worldviews, but over time an individual may change paths in life, from one truth to the other. If they are viewed as complementary truths, the conflict between science and faith is mitigated. But Christianity must develop its mythic perception in order to remain attractive. The biblical creation story, for instance, could be elaborated, or complemented, to better suit the modern intellect. If the Christian truth isn’t viewed as the whole truth, but as a complementary truth, it is easier to accept that the biblical texts aren’t absolutely final. Thus, the spirit is released from its captivity in words and letters. Religion and science aren’t desperate to win souls, because they are no longer enemies of each other. Rather, they are complements. Neither paradigm can achieve total dominion, because neither paradigm is entirely self-sufficient, while it must be complemented by the other. The question of creation illustrates my point. Did God create everything? I propound that divine creation is a complementarian truth. Natural creation is its complementary, and it is equally true. If this notion is accepted, the divine and profane paradigms can coexist in peace and harmony. But the notion that God created everything, and that natural and Darwinian creation plays no role, is a fundamentalist stance that brings discord.

The biblical creation story is an endless bone of contention. Humanist associations and atheist debaters repudiate it as unscientific. But it is relevant in the same sense as the value perspective of the medieval painter, which gives people different dimensions depending on importance. According to the subjectivistic moral perspective, humanity is much more important than the dinosaurs, and that’s why the creation story focuses on mankind. From an objectivistic perspective, homo sapiens is a latecomer, a speck in the boundless ocean of time and space. Of course, which perspective you are brought up with is highly relevant to the moral development of the individual and of society. In certain quarters of life, the scientific paradigm is unable to give us the right perspective, and things are given the wrong proportions. What is insignificant from the perspective of the human soul is blown out of proportion, whereas what really matters, namely the improvement of the individual soul, is deemed insignificant by comparison with material betterment and the maximization of the human population on earth.

That’s why the scientific paradigm, despite being a success story, is deficient. In the end, it must be complemented with a spiritual paradigm that sees things differently. It should be possible for the two paradigms to exists side by side, provided that they both give up their ambition of world hegemony. A scientist must realize that there is some sense to the mythological creation stories and the spiritual worldview. On the other hand, creationists must realize that the scientific version of creation is unshakable scientific truth. It should be possible for two complete worldviews to exist side by side, while giving due admission to the alternative worldview. They are not competing worldviews anymore, but alternative aspects of reality.

The loss of inner meaning

The scientific paradigm studies nature and its laws as wholly independent of the human soul. Prior to this, people thought that calamities would happen if they, in some sense, had kicked over the traces. So there was a connection between the soul and the universe. The autonomy of the material world is central to science. There is no magics anymore. That’s why science is unfitted for matters pertaining to the human soul, as it is only capable of relating to the world objectively. The subjective relation is equally important, which means that the spiritual paradigm is not obsolete. Science can take us a long way towards an understanding of the world and the human condition, but in the end it proves inept since it cannot take into account moral, spiritual, and psychological factors, as reality is portrayed without relation to the human soul.

Carl Jung was painfully aware of this problem, and the concomitant loss of wholeness and meaning. That’s why he tried to restitute the soul’s relation to the world. Accordingly, he poured the new wine of psychology into old wineskins. Due to synchronistic factors, an aircraft may crash, has one of its noteworthy passengers refrained from living up to the demands of individuation. This was Jung’s belief. It is formally similar to the old scheme of divine punishment. It’s time to abandon this timeworn idea. Complementarity is a paradoxical principle invented by Niels Bohr. In the Gifford lectures (Bohr, 1999), he suggested that it be used outside the field of quantum physics. In my view, the sacred and the profane ought to be viewed as two mutually exclusive worldviews, both of which are largely complete. If it is correct that the human Self is twofold and complementarian, then it should be possible to uphold both worldviews. Psychology ought to appropriate profane and scientific terms, void of superstition. However, psychology may also be accommodated in a spiritual and trinitarian universe, where it always stands in relation to God and the world. Such a complementary relation is possible to maintain.

Yet these worldviews cannot be mixed. The modern individual, having developed an advanced consciousness, cannot maintain a conglomerative worldview, since he has been deprived of the unitarian naiveté, characteristic of historical mankind. It is natural for the modern person to relate to a scientific worldview. He is also capable of taking up a sophisticated trinitarian belief involving contemplation, simplicity, and reclusiveness. I know for certain that many intelligent people find this idea attractive, i.e., to go live in retreat and lead a simple life for a time. One must make up one’s mind, for the time being, whether to live in a profane or a spiritual universe. Is this a satisfying solution? In quantum physics, certain theorists have expressed the view that complementarity is a provisional solution. They are expecting something better in the future. But the complementarity principle seems unshakable.

Non-overlapping magisteria

In my view, science and faith are largely separate and standalone systems, although they aren’t wholly self-sufficient. In the end, they can’t make do without each other. A complementarity of science and faith is coupled with the twofold nature of the human Self (here), which mirrors the hypostatic union of the two nature’s of Christ. The trinitarian Self is capable of seeing the universe in symbolic and spiritual terms, whereas the quaternarian Self interprets reality in profane and material terms. Thus, they interpret the same reality, which partly overlap. Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of non-overlapping magisteria (here) is similar only on the surface. In Gould’s system, there is a demarcation line between science, as an explanatory system, and faith, which pertains to moral matters. I am not entirely unsympathetic to his views, but the complementarian view that I suggest is rooted in the human Self. The trinitarian Self looks at reality with a “third eye”, capable of seeing the spiritual reality that overlays physical reality, a reality in which the biblical creation story is true. In a sense, it corresponds to the worldview of Australian aborigines. There is a Dream Time in which creation of the world took place, inhabited by the forefather spirits. The aborigines can still identify the tracks that the forefather spirits made in the landscape. Aeons ago they already knew about the Man of Suffering, that His sign was the cross, and that he dwelled in Heaven. The following is the Australian aborigine story named The Southern Cross, shortened by me:

The first humans, two men and a woman, walked the earth. They ate only plants. But one day during a famine, one of the men broke the rules of Baiame, the sky king, and killed a kangaroo rat. The woman ate of it, but the other man would not eat though he was famished for food. Weak as he was he walked angrily away towards the sunset, while the other two still ate hungrily. He continued to walk until he fell down dead under a white gum tree. The death spirit Yowi, a black figure with huge fiery eyes, appeared and dropped the man into the hollow centre of the tree. Then was heard a terrific burst of thunder and the gum tree lifted from the earth towards the southern sky where it planted itself where the Southern Cross is now seen. Two of the shining stars are the eyes of the death spirit, and the other two are the eyes of the first man to die. When all nature realized that the passing of this man meant that death had come into the world, there was wailing everywhere. So is the first coming of death remembered by the tribes, to whom the Southern Cross is a reminder. (cf. Langloh Parker, p.9f)

As I say in my article on the blood sacrifice (here): “The cross is the symbol of the original man who is faithful to God. The Spanish conquistadors were surprised to find that it is also the symbol of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. His sacrifice coincides with the disobedient act that gave rise to ego emancipation in its pristine form. With disobedience comes death into the world. But original man, the god-man, is also the future ideal of psychic economy. He is the once and future king, the prototype of a new form of consciousness.”

A person who has a sensitive consciousness, since he is living according to the trinitarian Self, can see the truth in the above story of creation. In it, he can also see the truth of Christ. Although a scientific and mundane consciousness is incapable of perceiving such things, it doesn’t mean that the profane view is evil. The profane worldview only becomes evil when it attempts to oust the trinitarian perspective in order to achieve dominion. After all, science is not capable of explaining all creation. In the end, scientists will find that the last piece is missing, and that it cannot be found. The trinitarian paradigm has the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle. The same would be true of the trinitarian perspective. A complete worldview cannot be achieved as long as the last missing piece isn’t provided by the quaternarian paradigm. This is complementarity in terms of Niels Bohr.

© M. Winther, 2012.


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See also:

Berry, R.J. (1997). ‘God’s Book of Works 1997-1998’, ch.2. Gifford Lectures.