By Deepak Chopra, M.D., and Jordan Flesher, BA Psychology
Over the past decade, the hunt for genetic connections with behavior as intensified. For any experience, there must be a physical activity in the brain -- otherwise, the experience has no basis. Using this irrefutable assumption, researchers have looked for the seat of anger, criminal behavior, gender identification, the sense of self, and many other aspects of human nature. This includes spirituality. Where is God in the brain? To many neuroscientists, that's not only a valid question but the only one worth asking, insofar as spiritual experiences have any reality.
Now we are hearing about "God in the genes," as genetics overtakes neuroscience for the top spot in explaining the roots of human experience. Where the brain operates only in the present, genetics peers deep into the past. A geneticist would want to know what evolutionary advantage early humans got from being spiritual -- in the broadest sense of the word -- that led to a better chance to survive. This whole line of inquiry, whether we're taking about the brain or our genes, makes sense if you are a materialist. But it runs the danger of saying that spirituality is only about the physical side of the experience, as if music could never be discussed except by looking at pianos and radios, the physical side of delivering the musical experience.
The materialist explanation is filled with philosophical flaws, but instead of focusing on that, it's more productive to ask how the brain and genes relate to spiritual experience. The physical side must be accounted for, without making it the whole story. To explore a new kind of explanation that embraces both the physical and non-physical, let's examine an experience that most people have had. Without experiencing God, angels, the soul, or other traditionally religious things, almost everyone has had at least one or two inexplicable coincidences in their lives.
Synchronicity is the commonly used term for a meaningful coincidence, such as thinking someone's name and having that person telephone a few seconds later, or opening a book at random and finding the answer to a problem you've been wrestling with. Synchronicity doesn't feel random, which is how it is differentiated from coincidences that have no meaning but happen by chance. The spiritual link involves how to explain a meaningful coincidence. When someone is rescued through a string of chance events, did God intervene? If a car is stranded by the side of the road and a stranger appears out of nowhere to offer help, is God answering a need or a prayer? Events without causes lead to all kinds of unusual explanations.
The term synchronicity was coined by the eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Jung for a phenomenon he experienced with clients in psychotherapy. He first publicly discussed synchronicity in a short essay describing synchronicity as an "acausal connecting principle." By using the word acausal he is pointing to the non-local nature of synchronicity. Non-locality is one of the major principles in quantum physics. Non-locality refers to behavior between particles that doesn't need a specific cause or location in spacetime. Hitting a billiard ball with a cue entails both a cause and a location. The location is the point where the tip of the cue strikes the ball. The force of the strike is the cause that moves the ball.
But in the quantum domain there is a mystery known as action at a distance, where two particles react to each other instantaneously, even though they can be separated by light years. The action occurs without regard for distance or the limitation of the speed of light. Action at a distance has been popularly explained as, "You tickle the universe here, and it laughs over there." Two particles that mirror each other's behavior are said to be entangled, although the mechanism behind action at a distance is unknown. Entanglement fits the mathematical model underlying quantum mechanics, and that is what counts when physics is arriving at reliable, precise calculations.
In the everyday world, however, non-locality is about people, not particles. It's part of human experience to have a meaningful coincidence happen that feels too profound -- or too spooky -- to feel random. A strict materialist would dismiss such feelings as unreliable and subjective, but "meaningful" isn't simply subjective. Finding meaning in our lives, from any source, is essential. So how can we fit synchronicity into a broader context?
The key is to connect inner and outer, because synchronicity is about an event "out there" that has sudden meaning "in here." To make the connection, nine principles apply to genuinely synchronous coincidences.
- Synchronicity is a conspiracy of improbabilities. The entangled events break the boundaries of statistical probability).
- The improbable events conspiring to create the synchronistic event are acausally related to each other. (Buddhist traditions call this interdependent co-arising. This is the equivalent of non-local correlation.)
- Synchronistic events are orchestrated in the non-local domain.
- As we become aware of synchronistic events, we move to higher or more expanded states of consciousness.
- Synchronistic events are actually the result of an intention, which organizes the needed outcome. (The intention may have been introduced consciously or unconsciously.)
- Synchronistic events vary in importance. They can seem incidental or can change the course of a person's life.
- Synchronistic events affect our emotions the way random coincidences don't. A synchronous event creates the experience of emotional fulfillment and joy.
- Synchronistic events allow us to discover the meaning and purpose of our life.
- Synchronistic events are personal. In effect they are messages from our non-local self.
Taken together, these principles enable us to receive clues about the essential unity of two realities that seem to be separate: the inner world of thoughts, feelings, memories, fantasies, desires, and intentions, and the outer world of spacetime events. The inner and outer are the same field, one non-dual consciousness that simultaneously creates both the subjective world and the objective world.
Therefore, synchronicity isn't simply a passing anomaly that can be shrugged off. Something crucial is happening. In the next post we'll discuss the implications of that something as it applies to everyday life.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The 13th Disciple: A Spiritual Adventure.