Friday, July 14, 2006

Syncrhoncity and levels

Marko posed some interesting questions in relation to my posts on synchronicity:

I have been reading your theory on synchronicity, attention and pattern wiith great interest. There seems to be some amount of thruth in in and I am still looking at it to determine how much. May be your answer will help me with this.

You say that within viewpoints or levels there is causality but in between different levels and viewpoints there is synchronicity. This stays somewhat unclear for me because of a couple of reasons. First I find there is a difference between a viewpoint and a level. So what is your definition of a viewpoint? You had the different pictures of the tree example, but there can be different levels within each viewpoint like having black and white, colour or infra-red pictures. So I would make an important difference between them.

We can also see this when the tree would be moving because of the wind. I could see the movement, hear the sound of the leafs and smell the odour of the blossom. These are all different levels within one viewpoint, won't you agree? Or are they all different viewpoints in your book? The fact is that there is causality from the wind to the smell of the blossom, sounds of the leafs and sight of movement.

And when I take it one step further, f.i. because of the nice smell and the sounds of the leafs my mind relaxes. Is this a different level or no? From your previous posts I would say yes? So you would say the relaxing of the mind is synchronicity although the wind seems to be the cause of the mind relaxing?

I would like to see some precise definitions on viewpoints and levels and some clarity on where causality ends and synchronicity begins to determine how much truth your theory contains.


Thanks for all the good questions, Marko. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.

In regard to viewpoints and levels, I tend to see them as synonymous. But that only means that I consider “viewpoint” to be more than just a superficial attitude. In other words, the physical world is a viewpoint, not a “place”. It's a limited viewpoint, and within that viewpoint everything observed is on the same “level”. Physical experience thus obeys a causal pattern of relationship, whereas relations between levels do not, but obey a synchronous patterning relationship.

In the tree example, it's true one can certainly list many qualities of the tree, such as color, black and white, infrared images. But all these are physical qualities, and hence they are all on the same level. One can point to the physical causes as to why the tree looks a certain way under infrared light, and another way under sunlight. But why do some people love trees, and others chop them down for lumber? This is not “caused” by the tree. One can try to find causes, but it's very complicated, because one is then dealing with a different order of experience, this matter of love, emotion, attraction, brutality, etc. There are some causal issues mixed in there, but many which have no causal explanation. Many of them have no direct physical cause. Something about the pattern of trees attracts some people, aesthetically, while to others it is merely an object to be used for a purpose, such as firewood or furniture. It would be out of place to try to determine a purely physical cause for this difference.

But even that example is still ambiguous, because physical attraction, while having emotional qualities, is still very much related to the physical viewpoint itself. What about a more distantly related example? How about the classic concept of karma. The concept of karma attempts to explain physical phenomena, such as having a terrible car accident, as being “caused” by one's past actions. But this, if examined closely, would seem to require some force that would cause events to happen, that God or someone or something is somehow making this accident occur in accord with one's past actions, or at the very least that one has a “store” of accumulated tendencies on some subtle plane that makes things happen on the physical plane. If that were the case, one would expect to find this force operative on the physical plane. One should be able to detect it acting upon physical objects. And yet nothing of the kind has ever been found? Why? Because there is no such force acting from the subtle dimension upon the physical dimension. It is merely that events happen in patterns synchronous with one's subtle energy body, and vice-versa. The link between the subtle and the physical is not causal, but synchronous. They are each a reflection of one another. One can “read” something about one's physical life by examing the subtle, but neither actually causes one another to be a certain way. They simply reflect the same basic pattern.

Your example of the leaf, the bloom and its smell also are all physical matters that have a causal relationship. But how about this. You are thinking of someone you loved, and who died, and you then you smell their favorite perfume. Now, maybe one could find out that someone just walked by wearing that perfume, and that could account for why you smelled it. But it doesn't explain why you thought about that woman before you smelled her perfume. Did your thought “cause” the woman to walk by wearing the same perfume? No, of course not. The two merely coincided.

Wilber gives the example in Grace and Grit of a great wind striking up when his wife died. Now, did his wife's death cause the wind to blow? No, of course not. If one analyzed the wind, I'm sure one would find a perfectly fine meteorological explanation. The relationship between the two events is not causal, but physical. Ghosts would also be an example of a similar phenomena. They do no exist or act in the physical world, they simply coincide with it. Psychisms of all kinds are not really what people think. Precognition, mind-reading, etc, all these are not causal events, but examples of synchronicity. Science may be able to study the phenomena, but they won't be able to find the causal relationship they are looking for, because there is none. The mind is merely able to “coincide” with phenomena of other levels of experience, and resonate in their pattern.

I think this is in some respects a test to differentiate levels. If there is a causal connection between two things, they are on the same level. If their connection is only one of similar pattern, of synchronous coincidence, then they are on two different levels.

An example would be the physical brain. Wilber finds neuroscience to be devastating to much of mysticism and metaphysics, because he thinks that brain chemistry explains so much of how we think and what we do. In a sense, he's correct. But its not as simple as that. While the brain does indeed create a chemistry that corresponds to our inner thoughts and subjective experience, it isn't clear which comes first. Do we think a thought, and this causes the brain to produce a chemical reaction, or does the chemical reaction come first, and the thought is just a product of the chemistry? This question is not resolvable in a causal fashion, and this indicates that mind and brain are on different levels. The best we can say is that thought coincides with brain chemistry. But we cannot say that thought exists only as a brain phenomena. Some interesting NDE out-of-body experiences during induced hypothermia, where there is no brain activity, demonstrate that thinking and observing processes can occur without the brain being involved. So the brain isn't necessary to all thought and perception, but when active it does coincide with thought and mind.

Now as for the mind relaxing when the wind blows and nice smells come into the room is a mixture of the two. We conventionally say that the mind relaxed because it smelled something nice. But this is only because it liked that particular pattern. It chose to relax on cue. It uses that pattern as an excuse to relax. The wind didn't literally cause the mind to relax. It simply gave the mind an excuse to relax. The mind relaxed all on its own, really. It could have relaxed just by remembering that smell. It could have relaxed without any cause at all. Emotional responses are not generally “caused” in the same way that physical events are caused, because we can generate them without cause. Tiny “causes” can set some people off, and yet major trauma may not. Linking all these things to hormones and other brain chemistry issues is trying to mask synchronicity with causality, and often with disastrous results, in that people always like to “blame” their emotional reactions on some cause, and now the excuse is brain chemistry, when in fact these things exist on distinct planes, and hence cannot be treated simply as causal events. The effect of drugs on the brain and the mind is not a wholly causal one, because these only effect one side of the equation.


Anonymous said...

Hi Broken Yogi,

Thank you for your answer. I am sorry to say that I am still not clear about the truth of your theory.

The confusion I still have with your explanation (as also mentioned in my previous entry) is that for me you don’t sufficiently explain where causality ends and where synchronicity starts. And I think answering this question is important, it seems to be one of the methods of seeing how your theory works. You also hint to this when you talk about using the difference between causality and synchronicity to define it is one level or more levels.

And another problem of not answering this question is that it becomes too easy that when you don’t find causality, you just say ‘Oh it is probably synchronicity so it must be different levels’. But the fact that you don’t see causality doesn’t mean there is none! It is very possible that you just don’t see it. So that can become very tricky. Some New Age adepts fall into this trap and you appear to be to serious to want to do that.

It is obvious that for you within the physical level there is causality. And that you see the relationship between the physical and all other levels as synchronicity, be it between the physical and the mind (as long as people try to solve the mind-body problem in a causal way they end up in trouble), the physical and the emotions, the physical and the subtle etc. So you seem to define the emotional, mental and subtle as levels of there own, which means they would follow causality according to your rules? You seem to doubt about the emotional; that would be an interplay, why?

And then you say that defining the levels could best be done by determining if the level under the rule of causality of synchronicity. Besides the danger I already mentioned of not just seeing causality, you also don’t really explain the interplay between synchronicity and causality enough to make the difference the leading factor in defining if you are in one level or in different levels.

So f.i. within emotions you say it is both causality and synchronicity. So when is it causality and when synchronicity? How to define the difference? What is the methodology?

How about the mind? Is association (which tends to produce new thoughts) synchronicity, causality or both?

If everything on the emotional level and mental level would be only synchronicity we can throw away mainstream psychology and go for tarot instead, haha.

How about the spiritual realm? Most spiritual practices are designed to produce a certain result. Would you say that the spiritual realm is just following synchronicity or do you see causality playing a role here?

And then the question of hierarchy. When you mention that people that have NDE have been proven to have thoughts doesn’t that also prove that the mental dimension is more basic then the physical and that in the relation between them the physical follows the mental, be it under the rule of causation or synchronicity? And how would you define a hierarchical relationship following the law of synchronicity? How would that look like?

This is also important for the question of the relationship between ‘me’ and the uberpattern. If the uberpattern is spitting out smaller patterns which is manifesting in my life as my life on all kind of different levels which are related under the law of synchronicity, doesn’t that show a hierarchical level between the uberpattern and the pattern I call ‘me’? How does that work in synchronicity?

The last question is about the viewpoints and levels. You seem to define a couple of levels like physical, mental, emotional, subtle. But also you seem suggest that every viewpoint that you fix your attention on becomes a level. Certainly there are many different levels within the physical, mental etc then. So then your theory of causality within one level and synchronicity in between levels doesn’t match up anymore.

Now I may have missed out on some of the answers in your previous posts because of my limited ability of the English language (I am Dutch). And also please don’t see my questions as negative. I am a questioner by nature (keeps me from seeing the world through fixed conclusions). But that just shows I am interested and that you might be on to something. And I understand that you may not have thought through everything yourself so my questions can be of some help too? I like it that you like to see us liberated from the controling spell of causality a bit more.

PS Have you ever read Joseph Jaworski’s book on synchronicity?

Take care,

Broken Yogi said...


These are really great questions. I appreciate your input in trying to hone this matter down. I will try to answer them, but I really ought to state at the outset that I don't actually know the answer to all of them, or maybe even any of them. I am just speculating and trying to develop these ideas into something more serious, and I',m not sure how far I can really take it at this point. So your input is valuable, and your rigor is a great thing, but I'm not really qualified to make declarations here, only investigations.

Now as to where causality ends and synchronicity begins, I'm not entirely sure. I suspect it has to do with viewpoint itself. In other words, one can look at synchronicity itself as a viewpoint, or one can look at causality as a viewpoint. The viewpoint of causality is that things are connected only by causes, and without a causal relationship, everything is separate and distinct. This is the scientific viewpoint about astrology, say: that since there is no causal relation between star positions and human affairs, astrology is bunk and worthless. The viewpoint of synchronicity says that everything is connected, and that even causality is merely a special case of synchronicity. In other words, causality is how synchronicity works within a particular level or viewpoint. Outside of that level, connections are only synchronous.

I know it sounds solipsistic to define levels or viewpoints by whether they are synchronistic or causally related, and that may even be true, but I think it helps to separate what one might call major levels distinctions from minor sub-levels. As you point out in your examples of smell, wind, taste, sight, etc., even the physical or material level has many sub-levels. Each of the senses could be seen as a level of experience, and even within those sub-levels exist. In effect, the breakdown could almost be infinite, with smaller and smaller distinctions of viewpoint being made. That is why I say that its not so clear where synchronicity ends and causality begins.

The general rule seems to be that the further away two viewpoints are, the less of a causal relationship can be found, and the more one sees a synchronous pattern. This is true even within the physical realm. In astrology, for example, the stars and planets are so far away that only the most minute causal relations could be proposed, certainly nothing that would account for the descriptions of astrology. So the coincidence of astrological patterns and human patterns is almost entirely one of synchronicity. But even astrology is a comparison of two physical patterns, that of the physical stars and the life of humans. If we compare patterns at two greatly distinct levels of manifestation, the causal relationship is even further stretched.

Humans, of course, do not live at only one level. We have gross bodies, to be sure, but we also have subtle and causal bodies. And each of these bodies has many levels or dimensions to them. So the problem with separating synchronicity from causality has to do with the fact that truly distinct and separate levels or viewpoints simply don't exist, except when we artificially separate them, as in the practice of science. In science, one looks only at purely physical evidence, and within that realm we only see causal patterns between physical events. When we do science, therefore, we are taking on a strict discipline of maintaining only one level of viewpoint. Other disciplines, such as art, also maintain discipline of viewpoint, but do so on multiple levels, moving even from one to the other in rapid succession. A poet may not even “touch” the physical level with his work, or only refer to it in metaphysical, symbolic, and metaphorical ways, using the subjective dimension of mind and memory rather than physical sensuality and perception. Thus, the connection between science and poetry is not very great, and poetic truths do not bear directly on scientific truths, but bear only a symbol and metaphorical relationship to one another.

Although I should mention that even science is not strictly limited to the physical. It too is a hybrid, in that it uses symbolic mathematical logic to understand the physical. It thus uses both the gross physical and a specialized form of the higher mind to come to an understanding of how the physical world works. One of the great mysteries of science is how this actually works. One of the strange “facts” of science is that there are no actual numbers in the physical world – they are purely mental abstractions. The laws of the physical universe obey strict mathematical patterns, and yet we cannot find anything out there that is enforcing these patterns. It is as if the world is run by gigantic computers spitting out endlessly minute algorithms governing every tiny particle in the vast cosmos, perfectly and without glitches, in every pico-second – and yet no sign of this computing machine exists, whatsoever. What I would suggest is that this is because mathematics and the physical world exist on very distantly related levels of being, and hence their relationship is purely syncrhonistic, not causal. So we are never going to find some machine or mechanism which “runs” the physical universe by mathematical law. It is simply that mathematics coincides with the physical universe in a precise patterning relationship of synchronicity. The resonance between the two is great, but not causal in nature. It simply happens that the symbolic precision of mathematics matches the material precision of the physical world. They are likenesses to one another in a harmonic relationship that lines up perfectly. And yet math does not cause an apple to fall as it does, nor does the the apple create mathematics as it falls. They are simply descriptive of one another.

And that is one of the keys to understanding such patterning arts as astrology. Astrology does not define a causal relationship, it only creates a description of a pattern. Astrology is not terribly precise in describing the physical world, but it can be much more so at describing the emotional and energy worlds that human beings live in.

So the answer to your question is that one never precisely finds a place where causality ends and syncrhonicity begins except by exclusion. In doing science, if one excludes everything but the physical, one will only find causal patterns meaningful. One will see the brain producing chemical reactions, and see thoughts and feelings as purely the product of those reactions. But stepping outside of science, and including more and more viewpoints and dimensions, the picture becomes more complex, because within the realm of thought or emotion, one can see a corollary between the body and brain and one's emotions and thoughts, but it isn't a causal one, its simply one of synchronicity. Is one's headache caused by something going wrong in the body, or is it that something went wrong in one's emotional sphere and produced a corresponding reaction in the body? Or are both simply manifestations of a single, deeper pattern? My suggestion is that when we are dealing with such “chicken and egg” dilemmas, we are actually looking at syncrhonicity, not causality.

All this suggests that causality itself is actually the illusion, not syncrhonicity; that causality is simply a special case of synchronicity as it appears within a single viewpoint. So science, which confines itself to a single viewpoint, sees the synchronicity of patterns as a directly causal affair. But the more one widens one's perspective on any given event, one sees that it is not only not a purely physical event, but is happening on many different levels at once, and each of its levels merely coincides with the others in a synchronous pattern, not a causal one.

Now, living as we do in a fragmented fashion, where the non-dual universe has been seemingly broken down and fragmented into many different levels and viewpoints, even an infinite number, and where significant distinctions exist between major levels, causality seems to simply be a fact of life. If we live primarily in the waking state, and in the gross dimensions of the waking state, causality is simply how things seem to occur. But any widening of viewpoint beyond that reduction of consciousness to the gross waking state makes things more complicated. The problem I think that occurs with many metaphysical thinkers who are trying to incorporate multiple perspectives into their work and create a larger understanding of things, as Wilber is clearly trying to do, is that they still manage to retain the habit of seeing relationships as causal in nature. So Wilber thinks that there is an eros force behind the universe, and that scientists should take that into account. But Wilber still sees even the eros force as a causal force, rather than one of synchronicity. He is still applying causal principles to patterns which are actually synchronous in nature. And so it is with many people involved in such things, including astrologers. They postulate forces and energies emanating from the stars and planets which “influence” us on earth. They see the whole univese as a causal phenomena, with subtler energies than the physical somehow causing the physical to move as it does, like shadows on a wall.

But Plato's shadow-play analogy should not be taken literally and causally. It is not that shadows are “caused” by the movement of objects at a higher level, it is merely that they follow the same patterning. Neither causes the other, they only share a similar pattern. If attention is focused at only one level – and strictly speaking, just being born in the gross, physical realm is enough to do that to a pretty significant degree – then one lives in a world of causality. But any movement beyond that narrow reductionism widens the picture, and one begins to see events as occurring in synchronous coincidence with one another. Even physical events can then be seen that way. Even the most seemingly causal of events can be understood as synchronous events, within that wider viewpoint. It is only the narrowing of viewpoint which creates a causal impression.

Now, you ask about the spirit realm, by which I think you mean the subtle realms. I think the same principle holds. If one narrows one's attention exclusively to the spiritual realm, one will also find causal relationships only. One will see witches and demons, angels and supernatural powers behind everything, causing one's spirit to feel a certain way, even causing the physical world to act in various ways. If one were “in” a subtle realm, and one identified exclusively with that realm, then I think one would see that realm as operating in a causal manner. Scientists in that subtle realm would find causal relationships everywhere, and would reject non-subtle phenomena from their viewpoint.

You are right that most people engage spiritual practices in order to produce a result. Again, I think this is a sign of a narrow viewpoint. Spiritual practices don't produce results, they merely coincide with a pattern of change that is already underway. It is this deeper change that is meaningful, not the practices themselves. What causes a person to practice self-enquiry, for example? And what “results” come from the practice? I'd suggest that this is a false way of looking at the whole issue. He practice of self-enquiry is simply one sign of a change that is already under way. Whatever results appear are not the “result” of self-enquiry, but the sign of the progression of this process that is already underway. Self-enquiry and the process of awakening simply coincide, naturally.

“When you mention that people that have NDE have been proven to have thoughts doesn’t that also prove that the mental dimension is more basic then the physical and that in the relation between them the physical follows the mental, be it under the rule of causation or synchronicity? And how would you define a hierarchical relationship following the law of synchronicity? How would that look like?”

That would be one possible conclusion. But I think it's just as false as examining how physical effects in the brain produce changes in thought and emotion, and concluding from that that the physical dimension is senior to the mental. What appear from opposite perspectives to be competing cases of causality are in fact, when viewed from the larger perspective that includes both, to be examples of syncrhonicity.

“This is also important for the question of the relationship between ‘me’ and the uberpattern. If the uberpattern is spitting out smaller patterns which is manifesting in my life as my life on all kind of different levels which are related under the law of synchronicity, doesn’t that show a hierarchical level between the uberpattern and the pattern I call ‘me’? How does that work in synchronicity?”

I think the hierarchical question has some meaning, in that one could certainly say that when one throws a stone in a lake (the lake of non-duality, say), the splash widens out from the center towards the periphery. One could certainly say that the causal, subtle, and material worlds are consequatively further from the splash, but that in itself is simply a dualistic way of looking at things. In fact, the whole “splash” occurs instantly, at all levels, and yet one can see a hierarchical pattern nonetheless, that looks like causation. I suggest that this is again the result of a narrowing viewpoint itself. So the more narrowed one's viewpoint, the moer hierarchical the cosmos seems. The wider one's viewpoint, the more that hierarchy breaks down and dissolves into synchronous elements that are essentially “egalitarianisn”, or of equal value and meaning. In the narrow view, the causal seems closer to “truth” than the physical, but in reality that simply isn't true. All things coincide with truth equally. And yet, from the point of view of any particular “thing” or level or view, a whole hierarchy appears that implies separation and a structure of value. The wider one's view, the more those hierarchies fall apart.

“PS Have you ever read Joseph Jaworski’s book on synchronicity?”

No, I haven't. I'll look for it though.


Anonymous said...

You have answered my questions in a great way, Conrad! Thank you for that.

It is fun to have this dialectical or dialogical inquiry with you answering and investigating and me questioning and focusing. I except your disclaimer on any absolute truth on this subject and I want to return the favor by stating here that I don’t own any absolute truth here as well, but just like to investigate and experiment (like you).

I would like to zoom in a little more on how spiritual practice works in the context of synchronicity. You say:

“Spiritual practices don't produce results, they merely coincide with a pattern of change that is already underway. It is this deeper change that is meaningful, not the practices themselves. What causes a person to practice self-enquiry, for example? And what “results” come from the practice? I'd suggest that this is a false way of looking at the whole issue. He practice of self-enquiry is simply one sign of a change that is already under way. Whatever results appear are not the “result” of self-enquiry, but the sign of the progression of this process that is already underway. Self-enquiry and the process of awakening simply coincide, naturally.”

I agree and would add that spiritual schools or teachings are a certain pattern of unfolding within the spiritual realms (I mean subtle and causal by the word spiritual). When somebody is connecting himself with a spiritual school and applying its practices and teaching the student is creating a synchronistical connection with the pattern of unfolding of the teaching in the spiritual realm that makes the ‘individuals’ unfolding resonate with the larger unfolding of that teaching just like a tuning fork that resonates with the piano next to it.

The self-enquiry then is the method in which one recognizes these unfolding patterns which ‘produces’ insights and awakening. Or you could also say insights and awakening happen spontaneously since one is unfolding within the frequency of the unfolding of the spiritual teaching and one is then also naturally attracted to the process of self-enquiry.

But still it seems to me that in order for this process of unfolding patterns to happen one needs to be in sync with a larger unfolding pattern in the spiritual realm. Otherwise the fixated viewpoint of the ego realm will keep the person vibrating on that ego frequency. There needs to be some spiritual influence or pattern to create this synchronistic connection so that the student is able to resonate and unfold in spiritual patterns as well. That’s why I think usually a school or teacher is necessary, except for exceptional cases where individuals seem to be open to and in sync with an unfolding spiritual teaching without a physical conduit in the form of a school or a teacher.

Also the fact that the connection between the ‘personal’ unfolding and the unfolding of the teaching is synchronistical and not causal means that no guarantees of results can be given and most of the time results seem not to be happening. Also most people do not seem aware that it is easier to follow a teaching that has a frequency and unfolding pattern that overlaps as much as possible with their own frequency and patterns so that synchronicity can happen easier. By this I mean features like: is it based in your own culture, is it a path of understanding, devotion, action or combinations like yourself, are you attracted to it by yourself in a magnetic way or just following other’s advice to go there etc.

Finally I see that a teaching that is the closest to the uberpattern gives the most wideness in possible sub-patterns unfolding, where the students can have self-enquiry and unfoldment. But it needs to be an original unfolding pattern coming from that dimension to be able to help the students unfold to that same level again. Just creating a spiritual teaching by assembling working pieces from other teachings will not be a living teaching and, in my humble opinion, will not really do it. In that sense I am skeptical towards Ken Wilber’s project of Integral Spirituality although I admit I have not seen the man nor read his upcoming book about the subject. So we will see.


Broken Yogi said...

I think you make a great point about the need for a living teaching, and even a teacher. This accords very well with my views. I gather that when the time is right, such a teaching and teacher appear to one. And you are also right, I think, that an intellectually cobbled together overview such as Wilber is trying to create simply doesn't fit that bill. The Self must appear and teach out of the depth of the Self, not out of the intellect. The teachings of the Self are not cobbled together from others, but represent the Voice of the Self. Wilber is not that Voice. So if that's what you know you need, I think it's fairly clear that Wilber can't fit the bill.