Synchronicity — Some Bizarre Coincidences Investigated
This article can be read as a separate item by those interested in synchronicity, as it contains many examples of extraordinary coincidences. I do not think, however, that synchronicity, in the classical Jungian sense, is the explanation for many of them. They nevertheless suggest that there are mysterious powers behind the scenes organising our lives, influencing events in the material world. This is yet more evidence, albeit circumstantial, that the rational, materialist scientists’ understanding of the world is way off the mark.
It is also chapter 12 of a book I wrote some time ago, exploring whether there might be any truth in astrology. Here is a summary of the book so far, all chapters available on Medium. In the first part, I developed a worldview derived from Jungian psychology and quantum physics, which would allow the possibility of astrology. This was summarised at the beginning of part 2 in chapter 9.
During my research I had come across a book called Hymns to the Ancient Gods by Michael Harding who, although believing in astrology, was putting forward a completely different explanation, in essence trying to remove all traces of spirituality, by denying the existence of archetypes, and arguing against the Jungian concept of synchronicity. He said that what appears to us as meaningful coincidence is attributable to astrological factors (celestial mechanics, the movements of the planets).
In chapter 10 I offered a general critique of this book. In chapter 11 I then went into more detail, defending the Jungian concepts of synchronicity and archetypes. This article continues from there, and should be understood in that context.
(For a guide to everything so far, please see Astrology near the bottom of this page of my website.)
Chapter 12. COINCIDENCES: ASTROLOGY OR NOT?
I am going to turn now to an examination of some coincidences, synchronistic or otherwise, to try to establish whether or not Astrology might be a contributing factor. There is a great wealth of examples in some of the books mentioned in the last chapter; I shall use these as sources for the following section. The following important categories emerge:
- The unexpected finding of a lost possession
In Synchronicity Jung gives an example of a woman reunited with a lost photograph of her son. Here are three more in the same vein:
a) A man finds his engraved fountain pen on a street in New York over two years after losing it in South Carolina¹ .
b) A teenage boy catches a large cod and gives it to his grandmother to prepare. Inside it she finds a valuable diamond ring she had lost while fishing ten years earlier².
c) The novelist George Feifer lent a proof copy of a novel to a friend, which was then stolen from the back of his car. Over two years later, Anthony Hopkins, because he was going to appear in a film of the book, came to London to try to find a copy but failed. On his way home he saw a package on a bench at a station, which turned out to contain not just any copy of the book, but the very one that had been stolen³.
2) Unlikely meetings with people you know — which is called the Small World Effect by Ken Anderson
He gives several examples⁴, including an impressive one of a couple from Australia who saw someone they knew walking down a street while holidaying in Ireland. As I have experienced this phenomenon twice myself, I shall give my own examples:
a) I once went to spend a weekend in Edinburgh with some old school friends. We sank a few beers on the Saturday night, and the next morning felt somewhat hungover. In order to clear our heads, we decided to climb up Arthur’s Seat, the famous extinct volcano in the centre of the city. When we got to the top, sitting there was someone we had been to school with in Reading.
b) I once had a very close friend. We somehow drifted apart, so that eventually, having last known her to be in Nottingham, I had no idea where she was or how to contact her. About seven years later, I had arranged to go to the National Theatre with my girlfriend, a friend of hers and her fiancé. We met for a pre-show drink in a wine-bar nearby. During the conversation the other man mentioned Northwood, a suburb on the outskirts of Greater London. I immediately responded “I’ve got a friend who lives there”, meaning the woman above. As we were leaving the bar we walked past a table at which she was sitting. We immediately recognized each other, I took her phone number, and we were in regular contact until she moved abroad⁵. This reconnection proved very important to our friendship. The fact that I had mentioned her in conversation only a few minutes before, suggests to me that this was not merely a random coincidence. So what was it that prompted the other man to say ‘Northwood’?
3) Extraordinary connections
For example: a woman with a technical problem at work, decides to ring up a colleague at home on his day off. By mistake she rings his payroll number, but nevertheless manages to speak to him because she has rung the number of a public phone box, which her colleague just happened to be walking past⁶. If you think that this is so extraordinary that it must be a one-off, think again. The author, Ken Anderson, assures us that several similar stories have surfaced.
4) Life imitating art
The most common example of this is when a writer publishes a story or play, the events or names of which subsequently come true, usually having no connection with the writer. A simple example would be as follows:
a) “In the 1880s, Arthur Law had written a play in which the sole survivor of a shipwrecked vessel, the Caroline, was called Robert Golding. Within days of the play’s first performance he read a newspaper story about a real shipwreck in which there had been only one survivor. The name of the ship, the Caroline; the name of the survivor, Robert Golding”⁷. (Perhaps the simplest explanation for this would be precognition.)
In the following example, however, the circumstances are so unusual that they warrant special consideration:
b) “Film star Julie Christie appeared in the movie Don’t Look Now, in which she and her screen husband (Donald Sutherland) are haunted by the spirit of their young child, who has drowned in a shallow pond at their English country house. Some years later Christie was visiting her farmhouse in Wales, looked after by a married couple, when the husband found the body of their twenty-two-month-old son floating in the large duckpond near the house. Christie waded in to recover the body from the shallow pond, just as the father (Sutherland) had done in the film”⁸.
Let us try to arrive at some kind of explanation for these coincidences. In 1a) and b), extraordinary though these examples are, they are not synchronistic events according to the usual definition, since there is no obvious inner factor corresponding to the outer reappearances of the objects. The people concerned had presumably given up hope of finding their possessions, so that it is unlikely that they were preoccupied with them years later. Somehow they managed to find their way back to their owners anyway⁹. (There is a quote from the astrologer Geoffrey Cornelius later in this chapter, near the end, which may well be relevant here.) The following example (1c) is truly synchronistic, however, and very powerful.
The same pattern of non-meaning and meaning is also noticeable in my two Small-World-Effect stories. There was no inner meaning to the first one; the person concerned was not significant in our lives, and I have not seen or heard of him since. In the second case, however, because this person was so significant to me, I have no doubt that the meeting was organized by the ‘hidden intelligence’ to which I have referred before, and which wanted to bring us back together. This fits in exactly with Anderson’s description of such events “Some undefined input or power appears to be involved in many such Small-World-Effect stories”¹⁰. This expression is suitably vague, and therefore allows the underlying issue to emerge perfectly. Is this undefined input or power related to celestial mechanics (astrological factors), to the archetypes, or to something else?
Given the way that the evidence is presented, the Julie Christie story is potentially an excellent example of Harding’s astrology. An initially scripted event is re-enacted for real after a gap of several years, there being no apparent purpose to the first manifestation; both of them could therefore have been activated by astrological factors. (One could argue as an alternative explanation, however, that the filmed scene was an acted-out precognition of the future event, as if it were being rehearsed in some bizarre way.)
In all the other examples, however, I find it hard to see how the organizing element could be attributed to celestial mechanics or, at the very least, this would be far from the most likely explanation. In category 1) there is certainly no “cyclical repetition of instances unfolding through the processes of time” (Harding’s explanation of how astrology works). I would suggest that the most likely precipitating factor is the desire, conscious or unconscious, of the people concerned to be reunited with the lost object, rather than anything astrological. How the end results are achieved is of course an open question; it seems to be a hidden intelligence, responding in some mysterious way, to the need of one human being. The same would seem to apply to 2b).
The example in category 3 is so mind-boggling that it is hard to know where to begin to speculate. It is as if the “undefined input” knew in advance that the woman would need the assistance, where the man would be at this time, and somehow managed to select the man’s pay-roll number so that it would coincide with the phone-box. Such an explanation seems to beggar belief; all I can say is that this example reveals the same type of powers in the “hidden intelligence” that I experienced in the second personal synchronistic event related above. The fact that intelligence or purpose seems to be involved is for me one of the strongest arguments against Harding’s astrology being the explanation of coincidences. In his system the planets are not described as conscious and could not be said to have benevolent feelings towards humans, to ‘want’ a certain outcome. This is in sharp contrast to an example such as this one — which I have abridged — told by Rosalind Heywood in The Infinite Hive: “One day in 1962 her husband handed her a £5 note with the comment that, as she had not bought herself anything lately, she should go out and buy a jumper. The gesture was out of character… (but she accepted. She was too busy at the time so went later.) While turning the jumpers over in the store, another impression came over her with equal force: ‘This is all nonsense, you don’t want a jumper. Go home now’. (On her way home she came across a young man in distress. He told her that) unable to climb stairs he had managed to find, that morning, after much searching, a ground-floor room. But the landlady was demanding the rent in advance and he did not have it. She obediently fished out the £5 note”¹¹.
(One of my correspondents has suggested that this example is nowhere near as strong as the others in this article, and therefore its inclusion detracts from the overall argument. On reflection, I am inclined to agree with him. As it was included in my original book, I’ve decided to leave it in here. Readers can judge for themselves.)
Anderson himself suggests that “supernatural powers” may be at work in coincidences like these, and I would find it hard to disagree. Does the inanimate matter of Harding’s planets care about and conspire to help an individual like the young man in this story? In this context Alan Vaughan says: “Synchronicity happens to people when they need it”¹². Harding does not suggest that the planets and their movements are intelligent or purposeful, so according to him astrological effects should appear as meaningless repetitions.
I’ll now examine some other examples of coincidences from these books which do not fit into the major categories already discussed:
1) Anderson tells this story about Peter Fairley, “at one time science correspondent of Britain’s Independent Television News, (who) had a profitable string of wins on the races all because of coincidences. Names seemed to come to him from nowhere. Though not a betting man, he heard the name Blakeney four times on the morning of the 1969 Derby, none of them connected with the horse of that name which duly won, to Fairley’s glee, at odds of 15 to 2. He backed a filly called Pia at 100 to 7 after he had received a letter from a woman named Pia and then read a story about a woman called Pia Lindstrom. Prior to this he had never heard the name. After eating at L’Escargot, the restaurant in London, he found there was a horse by that name and he bet on it; it came home at 33 to 12. Then the ‘messages’ stopped coming… He shrugged and found something else with which to amuse himself”¹³.
Of all the examples given, this is probably the one where Harding’s Astrology fits as a possible explanation. The idea of an unexpected phase in one’s life which is different to previous experience, and which then disappears as mysteriously as it arrived, fits in perfectly with the idea of the influence of a planet moving through a particular house. This would still leave us with the problem of how the planets conspired to achieve the coincidences which led Fairley to make the correct bets. For Harding these would also have to have been achieved through the motions of the planets. This seems unlikely to me, so that I would prefer to suggest a possible collaboration between Astrology and synchronicity, even though I remain unconvinced by Harding’s argument.
2) Another interesting story that Anderson tells concerns Arthur C. Clarke, who underwent an operation at University College Hospital. “When he woke up, he found himself with three tubes inserted at strategic spots. …after returning home..he came across a passage in Ronald Clark’s JBS: The Life of J.B.S. Haldane (which tells how Haldane himself underwent an operation at UCH, and upon waking up discovered that three tubes had been inserted into him. Afterwards he wrote to Clarke, telling him about the operation). Clarke says he had completely forgotten this letter. Reading the passage twenty-seven years later gave him ‘a most peculiar feeling’. As he said: ‘To have woken up in the same place, with the same number of tubes in me as JBS, certainly does seem to strain the bounds of probability. And there’s no way the choice of location could have been an unconscious self-fulfilling prophecy. UCH was chosen by my surgeon… in fact, as a Fellow of King’s College, I feel guilty at defecting to a rival establishment’ ”¹⁴ .
Again Harding’s astrology could be the explanation. An event is repeated after a long gap with no apparent meaning for either of the two participants. If there is an alternative explanation, it would have to be either:
a) that Haldane and Clarke were in some way ‘twinned’ and therefore tended to live similar lives, according to ideas I shall be discussing in a later chapter,
b) that a hidden intelligence somehow arranged the events in order to impress them.
3) In chapter two Anderson gives several examples which come under the general category of what he calls the ‘Clustering Effect’, the fact that events tend to repeat over a short period. He applies this principle to various phenomena which are almost certainly not astrological, for example his observation that a run of cars with more than one occupant will be followed by “a cluster of…solo-driven vehicles to balance the sudden ‘run’ of vehicles with two or more occupants”. However, cases like the following could be different: “Another believer argues: ‘I have found that using the Clustering Effect I can almost predict the news before it happens. If I hear of a fatal airline crash somewhere, I can say with a degree of certainty that shortly there will be another. Almost invariably there is. An example, three recent incidents involving planes crashing into houses’ ”¹⁵. Anderson gives another example of five major roof collapses within the space of ten days (p39), and wonders “why suddenly and without warning for ten days in 1994 did roofs of public buildings in different parts of the world become vulnerable?” (Strangely enough, while writing this section, I heard a news item on the radio that three people had been injured or killed by trains in separate incidents overnight; it was the ‘clustering’ effect that was considered newsworthy. Thus an element of synchronicity reinforced the point. Again, on the news, it was reported that three light aircraft crashed on the same afternoon.)
Arthur Koestler also discusses clustering in The Challenge of Chance. He quotes a letter from a doctor: “In the medical profession we have a law called ‘the law of repeating’ — it goes like this: If, during a surgery or out-patient session a rare and unusual case turns up — one can guarantee that a similar case will turn up as the 2nd or 3rd patient — or perhaps later during that session” (as footnote 4, p194). He then provides another letter containing several further examples including: “A typewriter supplier and repairer also noticed that either machines of the same make would come in one after the other for repair (at other times hardly at all) or else it would be the same thing had gone wrong with machines of different makes”, and “the manager at a small hardware shop said he had sudden runs on particular goods for which he couldn’t account, since there had been no advertising or other publicity for them” (p195).
Could astrology be responsible for the clustering effect? One astrologer who thinks so is Dennis Elwell. He says: “Nobody who follows the news intelligently can fail to notice that there will sometimes be whole runs of similar events, many of them very striking. For example, 1985 was notable for its aviation accidents, including the worst ever single aircraft crash and the world’s biggest airline disaster at sea. Suddenly it seemed unsafe to fly, especially since the previous year had been one of the safest”¹⁶. He goes through various other possible explanations, then asks: “What if, when faced with a run of coincidences, we find that they are occurring at a time which is astrologically significant of them?” (footnote 16, p67). He points out that “at the eclipse of 19 May, Uranus — planet of the drastic and unexpected — in Sagittarius, the sign of international travel, was standing exactly opposite Mars, planet of emergencies and trauma. Moreover, Uranus, on its seven-year journey through the sign, was also forming significant angles with both Saturn and Pluto in Scorpio, the sign traditionally associated with death, and which is certainly often involved in sorrowful or painful events” (p72). (He gives a further example of clustering in relation to gas and chemical leaks together with astrological explanation — p88, p118.)
Uranus is also the planet of “explosions, lightning flashes, and similar unlooked-for occurrences” (p77). On August 23rd 1985 three TV programmes were shown simultaneously on different channels with the theme of bombs. “It just so happened” that Uranus had become stationary on that day, and the “three programmes started at a time when Uranus by earth rotation was on the upper meridian (that is to say, at its most potent) at London (the place from which the programmes were broadcast)” (p66–68).
Harding comes from a very different school of Astrology to Elwell, but I think he would accept clustering as fitting his own system. Astrologers can therefore make a strong case in some of these examples. I still think that it stretches the limits of credibility to suggest that there is a type of planetary energy/ influence which can affect the working of typewriters in specific ways. The problem in attributing any significance to clustering effects, however, is that classical probability theory says that randomly spaced events are more likely to concentrate in clusters than to come in even intervals¹⁷, so that one relies on only the subjective feeling that an organising factor is operating.
On the other hand it is hard to see how the following coincidences could be explained by Astrology, Harding’s or otherwise:
- “The Alton (Illinois) Evening Telegraph reported in September 1946 that when its normally busy obituary writer Mildred West — she reported an average of ten deaths a week — took a week’s holiday, the people of Alton obligingly stopped dying. Once back on the job, the death rate of ten or so a week immediately resumed”¹⁸.
- “Irving Kupcinet, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, tells the story of how he checked into the Savoy Hotel, London, in 1953 to cover the Coronation. In a drawer in his room he found some personal belongings of an old friend, Harry Hannin, a Harlem Globetrotter. Two days later, Hannin sent a letter to Kupcinet from the Hotel Maurice in Paris saying, ‘You’ll never believe this, but I’ve just opened a drawer here and found a tie with your name on it’. Kupcinet had stayed in that room a few months before”¹⁹ .
- “On the day Prince Charles and Lady Di married, 9 July 1981, a quarter of the horse-races in Britain were won by starters with names such as Tender King, Favoured Lady and Wedded Bliss. Of the 200 horses that ran that day, eleven had ‘royal’ or other suitable names and, of those, six won or came second in seventeen races at combined odds of 54,000 to one against such an occurrence, and not one was a favourite”²⁰.
The following example, which I have summarized, is stunning and made all the more interesting by the fact that it happened to an astrologer!
On the eve of the eighth birthday of her son, Stella Recamier sent him on an errand to a shop, which triggered a memory of an incident on her eighth birthday, when she had wanted to buy a “small brass-framed mirror with a picture of Avignon on the back”, but her parents prevented her in order to avoid missing a bus. Her son seemed to take a long time, but when he returned he said that “he had seen a trash ’n’ treasure stall and suddenly decided he wanted to buy her something. He produced his gift — the same brass-framed mirror she had seen in the shop in Avignon many years before, complete to the picture of the southern French city on the back. She had never mentioned the incident to Roger. In fact, it was only the fact of his eighth birthday that had reminded her of the incident on her own eighth birthday”²¹.
I find this example absolutely fascinating. On the one hand it is so powerful that at a stroke it dismisses the arguments of rational sceptics who claim that coincidences are purely the result of chance factors. Possible explanations are:
a) An unconscious paranormal power of the woman managed to attract the mirror to her. (This might also be the explanation for Jung’s example in Synchronicity of the film containing the picture of her son which mysteriously returned to a mother.)
b) a ‘hidden intelligence’ not directly related to the woman herself helped her to achieve her desire. As the astrologer Geoffrey Cornelius says: “And which student of Magia and the imagination, ancient and modern, could there be who did not know of the capacity of the Soul to draw the object of its desire towards it across time and space?”²².
The two explanations are not all that different, for the Soul could be described as a hidden intelligence, or an unconscious paranormal power. If it is neither of these, we can consider what role Astrology might have played. Was there a repetition of a planetary configuration? The example seems to me to give clear evidence that an incident is somehow imprinted in the (non-material) collective unconscious, since the son managed to achieve what the mother had failed to do, thus crossing the boundaries of the skin-encapsulated ego. To suggest that the incident was transferred genetically seems to me to stretch the limits of credibility, since the incident would somehow have to have become imprinted in the woman’s genes after its occurrence. There is no known mechanism for this, which would in any case be tantamount to the ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’, an idea which is anathema to modern biological theory, although not to Harding, based as he is on Freud. His explanation would presumably be that the first incident is stored in the Collective Zodiac, and that the second is then triggered by celestial mechanics. This can be neither proved nor disproved since the precise timings are not available. The coincidence as it is presented, however, focuses on the eighth birthday, so that number/anniversary, which does not in general coincide with the positions of the planets, seems to be the organising factor. We are still left with the difficult task of understanding what factors triggered the repetition to coincide exactly with the eighth birthday, and what inspired the son to choose that mirror of all the items available²³.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, and politics. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. Alan Vaughan, Incredible Coincidence, Corgi, 1981, p33. Repeated in Coincidences, Tony Crisp, London House, 2000, p61.
2. Ken Anderson, Coincidences: Chance or Fate?, Blandford, 1995, p79
3. ibid. p191
4. The Coincidence File, Blandford, 1999, p99–103
5. Arthur Koestler says: “Among the commonest ‘coincidental’ experiences are thinking or dreaming of a person with whom one has lost touch a long time ago — and the next day receiving a letter from, or bumping into, that person”. (The Challenge of Chance, Hutchinson, 1973, p187). He then goes on to give his own excellent example. The fact that these incidents are very common does not not make them seem any less amazing when they happen.
6. as footnote 2, p14
7. ibid., p58
8. ibid., p57
9. The fish story (example 1b) is especially interesting. It seems so extraordinary that it must be a freak event which could only happen once. This is exactly what Anderson himself thought, but then came across “a surprising — even disturbing — number of similar stories”. He gives a total of four recent such occurrences involving fish, and then goes on to point out that such an event has a mythological precedent:
“There is the story of the Pharaoh Amasis (circa 550 BC) and Polycrates, the tyrant of the island of Samos. Amasis advised Polycrates to test his luck by throwing a valuable ring into the sea. A few days later a fisherman brought him a fish as a gift and, on opening it, the ring was found inside”.
Anderson then gives two more historical examples, and concludes: “I have come across similar anecdotes widely circulated as valid coincidences, leading me to believe that a number of tales…must be apocryphal”. The fact that some of the stories may have been invented, rather than diminishing the validity of these events, merely serves to confirm that the finding of lost jewelry in a fish is an archetypal idea which has fascinated human consciousness down the ages. (See footnote 2, p79–81.) For further examples of the return of long lost objects, see footnote 1, p33–4. Places where they turn up include a can of pears, and inside a potato forty (!) years later.
10. as footnote 4, p100
11. related by Ken Anderson, as footnote 2, p24
12. as footnote 1, p13
13. as footnote 2, p23
14. ibid., p232
15. ibid., p37
16. The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999, p66
17. as explained to Arthur Koestler by two professors, as footnote 4, p197. He is unimpressed by their objections, however.
18. as footnote 2, p127. Also, as footnote 1, p26.
19. as footnote 2, p171
20. ibid., p221
21. ibid., p157
22. The Moment of Astrology, Arkana, 1994, p88
23. For an equally impressive story bringing up the same issues regarding astrology see The Golden Matchbox in Incredible Coincidence, as footnote 1, p164. It originally appeared in My Remembrances by Edward H. Sothern.
Given that Ken Anderson has spent so much time compiling and thinking about coincidences, it is interesting to note his thoughts about Astrology (as footnote 2, p45–54). He is aware of Gauquelin’s findings and the hostile and dishonest response of the various scientific groups that I described here in chapter 1. He decided to conduct a similar experiment of his own to test an astrological hypothesis, namely that doctors tend to be Taureans, which he found to be correct. Encouraged by this he went on to study other professions, drawing analogous conclusions. He goes on to give examples of well-known people who correspond with their astrological descriptions, including Stephen Hawking who “fits the astrological picture so exactly that it is an amazing coincidence” (p51). He concludes that Astrology should be re-examined “on the basis that, like the Clustering Effect, it may contain unrecognized knowledge” (p54).