The Outer Game

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Posted by Charles Cameron on December 29, 1997 at 14:08:36:




Synchronicity is described by Carl Jung, who coined the term, as "an acausal connecting principle": the term is generally used to describe seemingly meaningful coincidences.


Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961)




humor, learning, myth, science, time


When events in the "outer" world appear to us to correspond to states of mind and heart in our "inner" world, are we witnessing a purely random phenomenon with no intrinsic meaning, or "meaningful coincidence" -- i.e. a patterning of the world at cross-purposes to "cause and effect", which we can perhaps view as the hand of Grace, the calligraphy of God, or an example of the Hermetic postulate, "as above, so below"?


What I found were "coincidences" which were connected so meaningfully that their "chance" concurrence would be incredible. By way of example, I shall mention an incident from my own observation. A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which cointraryt to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since, and that the dream of the patient has remained unique in my experience. -- Carl Jung, in his essay, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle


There are few persons, even among the calmest thinkers, who have not occasionally been startled into a vague yet thrilling half-credence in the supernatural, by coincidences of so seemingly marvellous a character that, as mere coincidences, the intellect has been unable to receive them. -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Viking Portable Poe

Chains of more-than-coincidence occur so often in my life that, if I am forbidden to call them supernatural hauntings, let me call them a habit. Not that I like the word 'supernatural'; I find these happenings natural enough, though superlatively unscientific. -- Robert Graves, The White Goddess

And once again Fate fixed the scales for shocks and surprises, arrivals and departures. And all the while these two solitary strollers did not for a moment think on coincidence, that unswum stream which lingers at man's elbow with every crowd in every town. Nor did they ponder the fact that if man dares dip into that stream he grabs a wonder in each hand. -- Ray Bradbury, A Medicine for Melancholy

When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don't, they don't. -- Archbishop William Temple


One of my own most impressive experiences of synchronicity had to do with the book Carl Jung co-authored with his one-time patient and friend, the Nobel laureate physicist Wolfgang Pauli, under the title The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche -- in which his essay, "Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle", is found.

I was a "book scout" at the time, one of those lowly folk who trawl yard sales and library sales to find the occasional "rare book" which can be bought for a song and resold at a profit to a dealer in such things. It's a fascinating job -- perhaps the closest thing to a treasure hunt that one can imagine as a paid occupation for adults -- and of course one makes many friends with others who are "scouting" or "dealing in" rare books.

Once at a library sale, I found a very nice book for a dollar -- a bibliography of the works of Thomas Hardy -- which I could not doubt have sold for $8 to a dealer who would have resold it for $20. But one of my companions at that sale was a book dealer who happened to collect Hardy, and at breakfast after the sale I gave him the bibliography: he tried to offer me money for it, and I refused, saying it just seemed to be his book and I was happy to make him a present of it.

For months thereafter, whenever I came into his bookstore, he would tell me he was looking for a book to give me in return, a book which would be perfectly suited to my own collecting interests as the Hardy bibliography was to his -- he used the phrase "a book to die for" -- and I would remind him that it should be a book he'd purchased for a dollar or less.

One day, he passed me a slim green-covered volume, and asked me whether I would consider it "a book to die for". He knew of my interest in Jung, of course, and the book he had found me was a copy of the original German-language edition of Jung's essay on Synchronicity and Wolfgang Pauli's kindred piece on archetypal ideas in the work of Kepler. It was inscribed by Pauli himself to a friend named "Max". And my bookseller friend had purchased it for a dollar...

It was indeed a "book to die for" in my terms -- Jung's essay on Synchronicity, in a first edition signed by Jung's co-author, Pauli -- and brough to me by the apparent "chance" (read "meaningful coincidence" or "synchronicity") of my having found my friend a similarly appropriate "book to die for" at that booksale some months before. I was delighted -- not least by the "synchronicity" that the book itself was about synchronicity.

And my joy was only intensified when I discovered -- again by "chance" -- that the "Max" to whom Wolfgang Pauli had dedicated this particular copy of the book was his young friend Max Delbruck, a later Nobel laureate whose work was hugely influential in the solution of the structure of the DNA molecule.

As Jung himself says, such things leave an indelible impression on those who experience them. I felt as though Grace had once again nudged the details of my life in such a way as to show me with a certainty beyond proof that I was and am not an isolated individual, but an integral part of the far vaster "web" of all that is -- a web which I find consistently more "intelligent" and "gracious" than I am.


Technically, Jung's term "synchronicity" refers specifically to those apparently meaningful coincidences which connect our inner and outer lives (the scarab appearing at Jung's window at the very moment when his patient is recounting a scarab dream; the gift of the book on synchronicity appearing as an example of the psychic phenomenon of synchronicity which passionately introgues me).

Synchronicity is not merely coincidence, in other words, but coincidence which specifically bridges the "subjective" and "objective", "inner" and "outer" worlds.


I'll only mention one link here -- because it seems to me to be a very important one, and I don't want to water it down with a half-dozen less-central links. The link I see is with The Glass Bead Game, move 1. Hesse's Game is based on, and derives its peculiar beauty from, the linkages made between moves -- linkages of analogy, isomorphism, metaphor -- and I therefore see the Glass Bead Game itself as operating with an "acausal connecting principle", that of similarity.

If I am right in this, it suggests that synchronicity and metaphor might have much in common, and that similarity might be the fundamental aesthetic principle operative in all the arts -- and the fundamental principle, too, for exploring the "meaning" of life itself.

Hesse and Jung were friends, after all, both of them interested in the ways in which the "inner" life can enrich the "outer" -- and it should perhaps not surprise us too much to find that Jung's "synchronicity" has a direct parallel in Hesse's Game.


I searched the web for an image of a golden scarab... and came up with "scarab.jpg", a free-for-downloading scarab at:


Jung's essay, Synchronicity; An Acausal Connecting Principle, can be ordered from the ISBN number is 0691017948.


Congratulations on your first CoreWave Game, Robert -- and I wish you a blissfully peaceful and free year now that your duties as Game Master are drawing to a close...

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