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BOOK REVIEW: "The Roots of Coincidence" by Arthur Koestler

Vintage Books
"The Roots of Coincidence" by Arthur Koestler was originally released in 1972.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Roots of Coincidence: An Excursion into Parapsychology by Arthur Koestler (Vintage Books) 1972

With psychologist Carl Jung most associated with discovering the concept of “synchronicity” (the occurrence of two or more events that appear to be meaningfully related but not causally related) and physicist Wolfgang Pauli the discoverer of what he called the law of “seriality,” and the two researcher’s contributions to the “genesis of the concept of acausal synchrony” are strong.

And the late writer Arthur Koestler (1905-1983), who died three months to the day prior to the UK release of The Police album Synchronicity (via suicide) – more about that in a bit – was struck by these theories and decided to expound upon them in his 1972 book The Roots of Coincidence, one that appears to be out of print but available in used form at

Journalist Arthur Koestler, a particularly fascinating 20th century figure and Hungarian Jew who spent time in a horrific fascist prison during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 (which he wrote about in Dialogue with Death and an incident I noted here in my Dust Devil Dreams post "Oh mi corazon"), wrote the powerful anti-Stalinism novel Darkness at Noon and would later embrace psychic phenomena and mysticism.

“We are surrounded by phenomena whose existence we studiously ignore; or, if they cannot be ignored, dismissed as superstitions,” writes Koestler, in a book that coincided with a famous 1972 Time magazine cover story: “The Occult Revival.” UFOs, ESP, mysterious creatures, astrology, ghosts … Koestler’s book came out at a time when there was serious interest in synchronicity and dream interpretation.

“The Jung-Pauli theory of ‘Synchronicity,’ conceived by a physicist and a psychologist, both eminent in their fields, represents perhaps the most radical departure from the world-view of mechanistic science in our time,” writes Koestler.

Continuing, he writes,“Synchronicity and Seriality are modern derivations of the archetypal belief in the fundamental unity of all things, transcending mechanical causality," adding later that these limiting terms should be referred to as “confluential events.”

Sting, singer and bass player for the rock band The Police (and now a successful solo artist) has long advocated Koestler’s ideas, naming the band’s 1981 album Ghost in the Machine (for Koestler’s 1967 book and mentioned here in The Roots of Coincidence) and their 1983 album Synchronicity.

Writing over at, Jack Feerick addresses Sting’s infatuation with Koestler and Jung and their influence on his former band’s music, writing: “Koestler’s 1972 The Roots of Coincidence addressed psychic phenomenon – precognition and the like – in terms of quantum mechanics, with Koestler postulating that subatomic events could send ripples back in time. (Sting’s) reading of Koestler sent him to the works of Carl Jung, especially Synchronicity (1952).

Back to The Roots of Coincidence, Koestler is a bit all over the map. In the chapter “The ABC of ESP,” he notes how NASA even embraced the possibilities of extra-sensory perception and noted that during Edgar Mitchell’s flight aboard Apollo 14, in 1971, the astronaut “attempted during the flight to establish telepathic contact with four selected subjects on earth,” notes Koestler. The results, while not available in 1972, were later said, by Mitchell (in a 2010 interview) to have been “good,” considering he was 200,000 miles from the subjects he was psychically connecting with in a lab on earth.

Koestler’s talk of “Janus-faced holons” where humans (a “holon” or an entity that is more than the sum of its part while also part of a large “whole”) are really embracing a Janus-like “duality” (“the Jungian thing, sir!” as Private Joker puts it in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket).

Yes, Koestler's work is 43 years old and some of his embrace of (the true Seriality discoverer) Paul Kammerer, a Lamarckian, has brought some of his ideas into question, as Kammerer was accused of faking results related to his study of midwife toads, something Koestler wrote extensively about.

Regardless, Koestler brings up some fascinating subjects and idea throughout The Roots of Coincidence. In fact, even then, he felt we had so much more to learn about coincidence, seriality and synchronicity and that it was time to end the ridiculing of parapsychology and paranormal research, as many so-called "skeptics" are apt to do in our increasingly nihilistic society.

Concludes Koestler: “In science fiction it is taken for granted that telepathic communication and psychokinetic manipulation of matter will become commonplace in the not-too-distant future; and science fiction has proved to be an astonishingly reliable prophet.”

Let's hope he is right!

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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