Qualitative Temporality and Formal Causation

The idea that time has qualities is an ancient one, visible in the I-Ching (the Chinese “Book of Changes”), in the Mayan calendar of interlocking rounds, and in the various forms of astrology practiced in many premodern cultures, all of which sought to map the qualitative contours of temporality. At the dawn of modernity, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, who simultaneously confirmed the Copernican heliocentric hypothesis through the innovation of elliptical motion and improvements in telescopic technology respectively, were committed astrologers, and Isaac Newton was apparently more devoted to his studies of Biblical prophecy than to his epochal work in physics. However, in the wake of the Enlightenment of the seventeenth century, any mode of thought based on the premise of qualitative temporality became anathema to the newly emerging spirit of positivist inquiry. Although these and other qualitative approaches to time continued to be practiced at the margins of the predominant cultural networks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was not until the twentieth century, largely in the Bergsonian concept of duration, and then even more prominently in Jungian synchronicity, that a qualitative approach to understanding time began to seem a viable proposition again in the educated sectors of Western culture. Since Jung’s initial seminar on his theory in 1928, and particularly since the publication of Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle in 1952, the idea that time exhibits qualities has grown steadily in prominence, though it is still a minority view among most academics as of this writing. 


In a representative moment of synchronicity, Jung recounts his work with a patient who seems to feel psychically constrained by her culture’s rationalistic assumptions, but who is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to go beyond the limiting beliefs characteristic of modernity. In the course of her therapy, the patient describes a dream in which she is given a golden scarab, an amulet modeled on the ancient Egyptian reverence for scarab beetles. As she is telling Jung her dream, there is a “gentle tapping” on the window of the study, and Jung opens the window to find a scarabaeid beetle, the insect most like the Egyptian scarab found in that latitude, trying to get inside. Jung presents the beetle to the woman with the simple pronouncement, “here is your scarab,” which sparks a revelation for the woman, who suddenly feels liberated from her disenchanted skepticism by this subjectively meaningful coincidence. This experience apparently initiated the resolution for the woman of the neurotic symptoms that seem to have been the result of cognitive dissonance between her rationally held assumptions and her intuition of the more expansive metaphysical reality revealed by such instances of formal causation. The content of the woman’s dream, her recounting of that dream, the previous lack of success in her therapy, the apparent significance of the beetle’s intrusion, and Jung’s portentous presentation of it to her all seem to have participated in the archetypal quality of that moment. 

[This post is an excerpt from The Dynamics of Transformation: Tracing an Emerging World View.]

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