It takes a lot to convince an arrogant man of his failings, and Carl Gustav Jung was an arrogant man. Brilliant and creative, the Swiss psychiatrist and developer of analytical psychology was the brightest light in almost any room and undeniably devoted to his work. Jung introduced the world to the collective unconscious, psychic archetypes and, best remembered by early-80s music fans, synchronicity. Synchronicity is an acausal connecting principal, which is a fancy way of saying that a relationship between events may be via meaning instead of cause-and-effect. If you’ve ever arrived at work and discovered that everyone independently decided it was blue-shirt day, and then Bob in Accounting joked that he didn’t get the memo and was inexplicably hurt by the exclusion, that’s synchronicity. Carl Jung was fascinated by synchronistic relationships and the difficulty presented in interpreting them.
Any type of relationship is a complex animal, particularly human relationships, and it was in Jung’s marital relationship that he was not prodigious but modest in his accomplishments. If asked, Jung would dispute that point, insisting such a claim was counter-intuitive since a marriage in excess of 50 years to one woman is worth celebrating. But Carl Jung, being susceptible to extramarital affairs, was frequently unfaithful and Emma Jung was a woman of her time: long-suffering and accepting without public complaint. By twenty-first century standards, Carl would not be considered an ideal mate.
In spite of this moral weakness, there was little doubt that Jung loved his wife. He grieved her loss, truly and genuinely, when she died in 1955. The king of his professional field was left without his queen, as he often referred to her. After a period of mourning, respite, and much introspection about the nature of the afterlife, Jung’s work continued until May 1961 when, at 85 years old, he found himself at the precipice of his own end. He was unafraid, being a man of significant faculties and deep insights. His dreams suggested to him a future beyond time, a future that the scientist in him could not rationalize away. Suffering from heart failure and circulation issues, Jung lingered for a few weeks. Finally, on June 6, two strokes in rapid succession ushered in the pioneering psychiatrist’s death.
When he opened his eyes again a few moments later, Jung was unsurprised by his circumstances.
Carl was in a plain room, off-white in color and shaded just enough to permit him to differentiate between the floor, walls and ceiling. There was no obvious source of light, but Carl could see clearly. Belying its cold appearance, the room was a comfortable temperature, likely a perfect 74 degrees. On the floor, upside down, sat a white bucket, inconspicuously blending in. Standing beside the bucket was an older bearded man who looked suspiciously like how much of the Western world, and Carl in particular, imagined God would look.
“Welcome, Carl,” said the man who looked like God.
“Hello,” responded Carl. His curiosity leading the way, he asked, “Are you God?”
“I am,” said God. He had an English accent, which Carl considered appropriate.
“You’re just like I imagined,” said Carl. He glanced down and admired the familiar, tiled stones that now made up the floor where only white had been before.
“Not entirely,” said God. “My primary experience with Basel Cathedral was to bless it. You imagined something a bit more colorful, if you recall.”
“Ah, my apologies for that.” Carl’s rather shocking daydream at age 12 returned to haunt him at last. In search of distraction, he focused on the unadorned clothing he wore, under which was definitely not an 85 year old body. Exhilarated by the discovery of unexpected youth, Carl guessed he had the physique of his late 20’s, the peak of his physical health. Testing his musculature, he continued his visual assessment of the room, which was now clad in worn stone, gray bricks stacked upon each other.
“Am I in Heaven?”
“No,” said God.
“Oh. That’s disappointing.” A few feet in front of Carl sat the table from his tower at Bollingen, which the room increasingly resembled. The table’s presence helped ease the sting of God’s revelation. Carl did not remember the furniture being there moments before. “Where are we?”
“You are in a place we will call the Archetype Room.”
Carl had decades of experience with archetypes, the concept being a core element of his work on the psyche. “Archetype in the manner in which I think of archetypes?” asked Carl.
“In a general sense, yes,” said God, “but we will not limit ourselves to the twelve archetypes you identified. Platonic forms may be a more accurate description, but the ‘Forms Room’ sounded dull. More importantly, the Archetype Room is a place of transition. Your Jewish and Catholic friends might call it Purgatory. It is a place composed of matter and running on a timeline. However, unlike the universe with which you are familiar, in the Archetype Room both matter and time will be manipulated to suit our needs.”
Carl nodded his head in understanding. God coughed and cleared his throat, a thoroughly human gesture.
“For your benefit,” He continued, “I am allowing your mind to fill in the material details of the room. This place looks quite a bit like Bollingen Tower now, your personal archetype of sorts for a location that is both comfortable and confidence-inducing. My appearance as an old man with a long beard and robes is a God archetype of your Anglo-Saxon people.”
“Are you suggesting that I am actively actualizing these archetypes?”
“Not suggesting. Stating.”
“Should I appreciate the irony that I am creating God in my own image?”
“Only if you would prefer this be a short visit,” said God.
Chastened, Carl returned to serious questions. “Is this place called the Archetype Room because of my work…did you name it after my concepts?”
“Yes and no. This room does not have a name of its own. I am calling it the Archetype Room because that name suggests characteristics that you can easily comprehend, characteristics that happen to be true.”
The Not-Really-Called-The-Archetype Room is one of God’s favorite creations. As a being existing outside of time and space, He enjoys occasionally inserting part of Himself into a room constrained by matter and time. Slumming it, so to speak. In the Archetype Room, God sometimes chooses to meet with the intellectual giants of Earth as they transition between shuffling off their mortal coils and lounging for eternity in Heaven.
To Carl, the existence of this room demonstrated a self-awareness in God that he had not anticipated. He suddenly regretted some rather critical bits of writing on that subject.
“And you should,” said God.
“I’m sorry- and I should what?” Carl had not spoken aloud since God’s exposition on the room’s name. He noted that even the smell was now reminiscent of Bollingen Tower.
“You should regret ideas that prove to be erroneous. Truth matters.”
“I spent my life in the pursuit of truth,” justified Carl.
“It is accurate that you spent an atypically large quantity of time in that pursuit, but you still erred. You were wrong as often as you were right. And being human, you embraced falsehoods in order to mask truths that made you uncomfortable.”
“I’m not sure I understand that assertion. Will you share an example?”
“I meant an example of errors in my work.”
“I know exactly what you meant, Carl.”
Feelings of shame passed over Carl. Toni Wolff was a collaborator then lover. He referred to her as his ‘second wife,’ phrasing that seemed inconsiderate at best from beyond the grave. Emma would forgive him, he hoped. He perked up at the thought that he was closer to his wife than he’d been in years. Then he girded himself for God’s criticism of his work.
“Brilliance is often a function of time and place,” obliged God. “What appeared to be relevant and interesting to you may be considered naïve and out of touch by the brilliant men and women of the future. It is a consequence of living on a timeline, the ability to build upon what others built. To answer your question about errors in your work: alchemy comes to mind.”
“I suppose that’s to be expected,” said Carl. “It was ever a fringe concept. What about collective unconscious? Is that true?”
“Conceptually accurate, though with many erroneous details. To be fair, it is not possible as a mortal to validate the details of the unconscious mind. Most would consider your theory pseudo-science as a result.”
“That was certainly my experience” said Carl. “What about introversion and extraversion, the attitudes of personality?”
God smiled. “Synchronicity: the acausal connecting principle. It was not one of your unique ideas, but it became a thread of consistency through your life’s work.”
“Not unique…you’re referencing the I Ching, I presume?”
“That and other theories and frameworks lost to time.”
Carl was now curious, taken aback by the idea that many others could have explored synchronicity but were relegated to obscurity due to timing or circumstances. The fact that synchronicity was still relatively unknown in the twentieth century was a testament to its difficulty as a concept embedded in a world governed by the lock-step movements of time. As Carl was thinking, the lighting in Bollingen Tower changed, taking on a washed-out cast.
“What’s happening with the room?” Carl asked, again noticing the out-of-place object at his feet. “And why the bucket?”
God ignored the questions. “One reason for your presence here is to explore this concept of synchronicity in greater depth, to help you see things from a new perspective. To start that exploration, it is necessary for you to meet Travis.”
There was silence before the room shifted abruptly, seeming to blink out of existence. Carl could no longer see the walls or the ceiling, though he could perceive the outlines of the stones in the floor at his feet. They were now moving rapidly, flying over water then over land that Carl correctly guessed was the North American continent before reaching a large, shallow lake in the middle part of the western United States. The visual moved at such speed that it remained blurry until they stopped as suddenly as they started. Carl, feeling dizzy from the ride, sat down hard on the bucket.
They were in a medical facility, that much was obvious, but far more advanced than Carl had observed during his lifetime. A woman was lying on a bed, in distress, her head and upper body angled up. Her legs, draped with a sheet, were spread apart. A poorly painted nature scene was hanging, slightly askew, above her head (Carl was ever the art snob, even in death). People were bustling around the room. A man stood near the woman, stroking her hair as she rested, obviously someone who cared for her. Behind and adjacent to them were pieces of equipment Carl did not recognize. A woman in medical attire - a nurse, Carl assumed - moved to assist a man who had just entered the room, talking to everyone present briefly, and positioning himself between the patient’s legs. A physician. Carl absorbed all this information quickly, recognizing it as childbirth.
The woman began pushing while her husband (Carl assumed) stood, looking helpless and uncomfortable. The medical personnel moved with confidence and practice. Though the physician was speaking, the volume was low and Carl suspected this was a visual scene with the audio extraneous. Bearing down, the woman pushed hard until a tiny head emerged into the world. The body of a baby boy followed soon after. The doctor quickly moved the baby to the woman’s chest and continued working below the sheet. Assisting the mother, the nurse also carefully attended to the baby. Then the perspective changed, moving to focus on the baby’s face.
“This is Travis,” said God.
Carl stared into the baby’s eyes, nose to nose, before the scene shifted back to Bollingen Tower, née the Archetype Room, with its normal, insufficient lighting and gray stone.
“Who is Travis?” asked Carl. “And how is he significant?”
“Travis is the central character in our exploration. It is his story that we will follow, starting approximately 24 years from the event you just witnessed.” God turned over the bucket.
“As a man, then,” said Carl, considering the big jump in time. “Are there other characters?”
“Yes, but most you will meet in context. For now, there is only one more key element of this drama to be introduced. Then we will follow the story as it unfolds.”
Again the room shifted, but this time to a place surrounded by near total darkness. There were pinpoints of light all around them. Space, Carl thought. He was enthralled and able to handle the transition without losing his balance this time, which made him feel competent. In the middle of his visual field, he noticed a modulating bit of semi-darkness that seemed to block the light of the stars behind it. The longer he watched, the more he could see that it rotated against the background. Though too dark to assess with any precision, in the distance he could see a blue-green circle. Earth.
“I’ve been here,” whispered Carl, admiring his home planet.
“Yes, your vision during your near-death experience.”
“But we are not here to look at the Earth,” said God.
A minor shift in location this time, and Carl was spinning rapidly. Too rapidly. He felt the rising nausea and was grateful for the bucket, vomiting into it. Though the smell was abhorrent, at least the inside of the bucket didn’t spin. Carl opened his eyes to a squint and pondered the food freshly ejected from his stomach. Not only did he not remember eating much in his last days, he did not recognize the foods that were settling, partially digested, into the bottom of the container. Carl also wondered about experiencing dizziness in the Archetype Room. Before his death, he heard about new theories related to the inner ear and vertigo but could not understand the value in replicating that function in the afterlife. God had a strange sense of humor, Carl thought.
“You can look now,” said God. “You will no longer feel the disorientation or the nausea. Nor will you notice the tell-tale signs of resumed arrogance.”
Again chastened, Carl removed his head from the bucket, ensured a proper attitude and glanced up. The bucket vanished along with the contents of his stomach and Carl could see the dark, spinning object for what it was. There was still no light, but Carl enjoyed a form of night vision. He and God were looking at a rock, spinning in space, from a short distance above its surface.
God spoke before Carl could formulate the question.
“This is a space rock that will eventually be identified as an asteroid by the authorities on Earth.”
Carl was quiet, not recognizing the reference to asteroid authorities. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory was yet to be established in 1961. “How is this space rock pertinent to Travis’s story?” he asked, a little more meekly this time.
“At the center of this space rock is an unusual feature.”
As God, shadowed in darkness, pointed to the rock, Carl could see into its middle, like he was looking at a cross-section. There was a dark but shiny texture in the center. He couldn’t identify it.
“A diamond. Diamonds are often created as side effects of events in space. If the conditions are right - carbon being present in abundance and the presence of adequate pressure - diamonds are formed. The event that formed this diamond was small and thus the diamond is a relatively small size. It is approximately 14 inches in diameter.”
The ‘small’ diamond sounded enormous to Carl. He sucked in his breath audibly and then marveled at his ability to do so in deep space. It was a useful reminder that he wasn’t actually in deep space. God continued.
“This diamond, while large by Earth standards, is tiny on the universal scale. It is surrounded by agglomerated space dust and rock, which is a normal way for space rocks like this to form. Also, because of its proximity to certain stars and dense objects during its travels through space, it has developed an unusual trajectory that is not an orbit.”
Carl was grateful for the details God provided. Very little of what He was describing was understood by scientists in Carl’s day, let alone the lay public. Carl wished it had been possible to know more about space while he was alive.
“Travis’s birth and the presence of this space rock mark the beginning of our story. It would be helpful for you to think of the Archetype Room as an advanced television, operating in color and three dimensions. We will be witnessing events that have already occurred. You cannot directly influence those events and, even though it may feel like you are present in real time, you are not.”
“I understand, I think,” said Carl. “And I am meant to consider how synchronicity figures into the story, as well?”
“Yes, assuming you wish to proceed. This will not be a simple task, and it may have consequences.”
Carl not only wished to proceed, he was nearly giddy with excitement over the opportunity. While he did not understand God's reference to consequences, he concluded they could not be any worse than the stakes when one was alive on Earth. He nodded his head definitively.
God leaned forward and looked directly into his eyes. There was enough light that he could make out the deity’s irises against the white of the sclera. Carl was startled by the sudden feeling of fear as a result of God’s focus. As an archetype, God was comforting, but in His eyes were the power and the omnipotence of the ruler of the universe. It was harder to absorb than Carl expected. He wondered if he had thought through the potentialities adequately.
“Then let us watch,” said God, and the room shifted again.