Ordinarily, a Las Vegas casino would be the last place you might choose to do some serious reading. But it would be the ideal venue to read Berkeley psychotherapist Robert Hopcke's book on the Jungian concept of synchronicity, or "meaningful coincidences."
Gamblers may never have heard of Carl Gustav Jung, but, encouraged by the fantastic and opulent architecture of those pleasure palaces, they live in a quintessentially Jungian world of hot and cold streaks, dreams, hunches, omens and premonitions. They regard their wins and losses not as the products of blind chance but as significant episodes in their life stories.
Meanwhile, however, the owners of the casinos have built them from profits generated precisely by blind chance--by the operation of mathematical probability over time. In their world, the house percentage rules, absolutely.
So as you plunk yourself down on a poolside chaise lounge at the Mirage or the MGM Grand and turn Hopcke's pages, you have a close-up view of both worlds. There's the subjective one, in which gamblers, wired like all other human beings to believe that their lives have plots like novels or movies, occasionally strike it rich. And the objective one, in which a coldblooded industry systematically picks their pockets.
Which world is real? Or more real? Hopcke, who directs a training institute for analysts called the Center for Symbolic Studies, wishes we wouldn't get so hung up on this question.
He quotes Milan Kundera: "It is wrong . . . to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences . . . but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty."
To be considered synchronistic, Hopcke says, a coincidence must link one's inner life with external events in a way that defies cause-and-effect explanation. It must occur when one's life is in a state of transition and, above all, it must feel significant and give the uncanny sense of being "written" by something or somebody outside oneself.
Of course, to list such rules is to imply that synchronicities are part of an objective order in the universe, however dimly understood. To say, as Hopcke does, that synchronicities can tell us that the story we think we're living isn't the story we should be living, is to imply that something or somebody--God, our unheeded souls or, in Jungian parlance, the self, the archetype of wholeness--has defined what that story should be.
Yet Hopcke, like Jung, is wary of going beyond the observable fact that odd things happen to some people. In order to "bring a symbolic attitude to our lives . . . allowing our own capacity to make wholeness out of the random and disparate events," he says, it isn't necessary to believe in ESP, prophecy or organized religion.
He would rather just tell us stories. All of them are true, he says, and many of them are certainly amazing:
* In Beatrice, Neb., in 1950, all 15 members of a church choir were late for practice, each for a different reason, and thus escaped an explosion that leveled the church.
* Pete, a friend of Hopcke's, met Mary at a hot-tub party in Marin County, pined after her but had no way of reaching her. Years later, his flight to Las Vegas fogged in, he decided to drive, got tired and checked into a motel in Mohave, Calif. And there was Mary, who had been living in Texas, had saved Pete's address and was driving to San Francisco to see him.