June 16th, 2003

As far as I have been able to discover, the first synergic scientist was an Austrian biologist named Paul Kammerer.  He was born in 1881 and died in 1926 at the age of 45 by suicide. By all reports, Kammerer was a remarkable and gifted scientist, but also a very controversial one. His life story forms the basis for the science classic The Case of the Midwife Toad by Arthur Koestler.Paul Kammerer:

What interests me however is not the controversy, but a little known book written by Kammerer and published under the title Das Gesetz der Serie (The Law of the Series) in 1919. This is the book in which Kammerer introduced the the ideas of synchronicity and synergy.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the understanding of ‘parts’ or ‘components’ in isolation has been well developed by classical science—this is the very definition of reductionism. But the studying of ‘wholes’ or ‘unities’ required a new inclusiveapproach, and new methods which would come to form the synergic sciences. This new approach was originated by Kammerer.

Arthur Koestler described Kammerer’s idea this way:

Side by side with the causality of classical physics, there exists a second basic principle in Universe which tends towards unity; a force of attraction comparable to universal gravity. But while gravity acts on all mass without discrimination, this other universal force acts selectively to bring like and like together both in space and in time; it correlates by affinity regardless whether the likeness is one of substance, form, function, or refers to symbols.

Elsewhere, General System scientist George Landhas written:

Kammerer originated a concept that can now be seen to be true. Along with the process of entropy there is another process occurring in parallel, that of ‘syntropy’; information constantly produces new combinations, producing diversity and higher levels of organization.

As a matter of fact, the function of entropy is complementary to that of syntropy. Because no organization of information can reach an absolute state, entropy aids our re-organization by breaking down old materials. It is the catabolic function of the physical Universe just as syntropy is anabolic. Life cannot exist without death, for life would have nothing to resynthesize into higher organizations if it were in static equilibrium. As the great biologist Haldane put it, “Normal death must apparently be regarded from the biological standpoint as a means by which room is made for further more definite development of life.” Death contributes to life in a specific causal chain. Decay is the handmaiden of creation.

As an illustration of the radical difference between the entropy of some manifestations of energy and the syntropy of information, consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics as it applies to two bodies of unequal temperatures that are brought together. In time, heat energy will distribute itself evenly between the two bodies, and in contact with a wider environment as well, will continually equalize and redistribute their heat. The order of heat runs ‘downhill’ for organization to chaos. Yet, if we considerinformation as a function of energy, we see the reverse phenomena. The two bodies, rather than diffusing their data, can actually increase their order and organization. Two atoms, two molecules, two cells, or two humans can exchange and share information, and will in time, through evolution, continually organize it into higher levels.

Yet the foundation of physics assumes the verity of the law of Entropy: that the Universe is progressing into disorder. Time and time again experiments have demonstrated the facts of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the facts are true—as far as they go. Unfortunately a great deal of scientific thinking is based on investigation of what we now can only characterize as closed systems, systems isolated from their normal environment. A classical statement is that when a phenomena is ‘left to itself’, this or that will happen. A researcher will do his best to isolate his experiment so that it will not be affected by outside influences or “perturbations”. In doing so he is in fact creating an isolated system, one which has no choice but to behave in an entropic manner as it is removed from the interactive growth with the larger system. Even in our age of sophisticated science this artificial methodology continues—violating the advice given by Max Planck over four decades ago when he said, “The assumption that the orderly course of a process can be represented by an analysis of it into temporal and spacial processes must be dropped. The conception of wholeness must therefore be introduced in physics as in biology.”

Elsewhere on the net, Vidette Todaro-Franceschi writes:

Paul Kammerer studied and classified sequences of repeating events or events that seemed related. In his book Das Gesetz der Serie, Kammerer systematically classifies events that he believed to be somehow related.  For example, in one of his files he notes, two soldiers, both 19 years old, both born in Silesia, both volunteers in the transport corps, both admitted to the same hospital in 1915, both victims of pneumonia, and both named Franz Richter.

He came to the conclusion that there was some kind of acausal connecting or organizing principle and deemed it to be  a case of what he referred to as seriality:   “We thus arrive at the image of a world-mosaic or cosmic kaleidoscope, which, in spite of constant shufflings and arrangements, also takes care of bringing like and like together.”

Kammerer’s book Das Gesetz der Serie (The Law of the Series) has never been translated into English, but the following exposition was included as an appendix in The Case of the Midwife Toad.


The Law of the Series

Arthur Koestler

Camille Flammarion, the astronomer, tells in his book “L’Inconnu et les Probl‘mes Psychiques” the veridical tale of Monsieur de Fortgibu and the plum pudding. A certain M. Deschamps, when a little boy in OrlÈans, was given by M. de Fortgibu, a visitor to his parents, a piece of plum pudding which made an unforgettable impression on him. As a young man, years later, dining in a Paris restaurant, he saw plum pudding written on the menu and promptly ordered it. But it was too late, the last portion had just been consumed by a gentleman whom the waiter discretely pointed out – M. de Fortgibu, whom Descamps had never seen again since that first meeting. More years passed and M. Deschamps was invited to a dinner party where the hostess had promised to prepare that rare dessert, a plum pudding. At the dinner table M. Deschamps told his little story, remarking, ‘All we need now for perfect contentment is M. de Fortgibu’. At that moment the door opened and a very old, frail and distraught gentlemen entered, bursting into bewildered apologies: M. de Fortgibu had been invited to another dinner party and came to the wrong address.

Flammarion belonged to that secret guild, the collectors of coincidences. Some addicts keep personal logs enriched by newspaper cuttings to prove their point that coincidences ‘have a meaning’; others regard collecting as a vice in which they indulge with guilty knowledge of sinning against the laws of rationality. Kammerer was a collector belonging to the first category; so was C.G. Jung. ‘I have often come up against the phenomena in question’, he wrote, ‘and could convince myself how much these inner experiences meant to my patient. In most cases they were things people do not talk about for fear of exposing themselves to thoughtless ridicule. I was amazed to see how many people have had experiences of this kind and how carefully the secret was guarded.’   

A typical case from Jung’s own collection is the following:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned around and saw a flying insect knocking against the windowpane outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabacid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetomia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get in a dark room at this particular moment.

Kammerer started his case collection when he was twenty, and kept it up at least until Des Gesetz der Serie was finished in 1919. The book contains – by design or coincidence – exactly one hundred samples. Unlike most collectors with a predilection for dramatic cases, Kammerer’s are nearly drawn from trivial occurrence. The first chapter contains a motley collection of incidents from his notebooks under various headings: numbers, words, names, meeting people, letters, dreams, disasters, and so on. A few examples will illustrate his matter-of-fact, pedestrian approach:

(2a) My brother-in-law, E. van W., attended on November 4, 1910, a concert in the Bˆsendorf Saal (Vienna); He had seat No. 9 and his cloakroom ticket No. 9.

(2b) On November 5, that is the next day, we both attended the concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra in the Musikvereinssaal (Vienna); he had seat No. 21 (given to him by a colleague, Herr R.) and cloakroom ticket No. 21.

Kammerer then comments that examples 2a and 2b have to be classified as ‘a serie of the second order’ because the coinciding numbers of seats and cloakroom tickets recur twice on successive days; ‘we shall soon see that such clusterings of series of the first order into series of the second or nth order are common, almost regular occurences’.

(7) On September 18, 1916, my wife, while waiting for her turn in the consulting rooms of Prof. Dr.J.v.H., reads the Magazine Die Kunst; she is impressed by some reproductions of pictures by a painter named Schwalbach, and would like to see the originals. At that moment the door opens and the receptionist calls out to the patients: ‘Is Frau Schwalbach here? She is wanted on the phone.’

(22) On July 28, 1915, I experienced the following progressive series: (a) my wife was reading about ‘Mrs Rohan’, a character in the novel Michael by Hermann Bang; in the tramway she saw a man who looked like her friend, Prince Josef Rohan; in the evening Prince Rohan dropped in on us. (b) In the tram she overheard somebody asking the pseudo-Rohan whether he knew the village of Weissenbach at Lake Attersee, and whether it would be a pleasant place for a holiday. When she got out of the tram, she went to the delicatessen shop on the Naschmarkt, where the attendant asked her whether she happened to know Weissenbach on Lake Attersee – he had to make a delivery by mail and did not know the correct postal address.

According to popular belief, coincidences tend to come in clusters or series. Gamblers have their lucky days; at other times it is one damn thing after another. The title that Kammerer chose for his book, Dea Gesetz der Serie, is in German almost a clichÈ – the equivalent of ‘it never rains but it pours’. He defines his key concept as follows: ‘A Serie manifests itself as a lawful recurrence of the same or similar things and events – a recurrence, or clustering, in time or space whereby the individual members in the sequence – as far as can be assertained by carefull analysis – are not connected by the same active cause.  

The crucial phrase is ‘lawful recurrence’. Indeed the purpose of Kammerer’s book was to prove that what we traditionally call a coincidence or a series of coincidences is in reality the manifestation of a universal principle in nature which operates independently from the known laws of physical causation. The ‘laws of seriality’ are, on this view, as fundamental as those of physical causality, but hitherto unexplored. Moreover, when Kammerer speaks of ‘individual members of the sequence’ he means that what we regard as isolated coincidences are merely the tips of the iceberg which happen to catch our eye, because we are conditioned, in our traditional modes of thinking, to ignore the ubiquitous manifestations of ‘seriality’, which otherwise, would stare into our faces. In other words, if we were conscious coincidence-collectors, we would soon find ourselves transferred into a serial Wonderland universe.

Thus Kammerer set out to explore the unexplored ‘laws of seriality’. It may have been an eccentric undertaking, but he went about it methodically as a zoologist devoted to taxonomy: he classified coincidences as he had classified the lizards of the Adriatic islands. The first hundred massive pages of the book are devoted to this task. If he was Byron among the toads, one might call him the Linneaus of coincidence. In the opening chapters of the book we get a typology of non-causal occurrence relating to names, numbers, situations, etc., as already mentioned.

This is followed by a chapter on the ‘morphology of series’. We learn to distinguish between series of the first, second etc. power, according to the number of successive ‘similar or identical events’: the ‘Rohan’ case would thus form a series of the third order (three successive occurrence). We may also distinguish series of first, second,etc. power, according to the number of parallel concurrences. Thus the information about Kammerer’s liaison with the dancer Grete Wiesenthal was contained in a letter which Lacerta wrote from Australia dated June 24, 1970: on the same day I received the same information independently from Professor Paul Weiss over dinner; half an hour later, on the same evening, the Austrian television announced that Grete Wiesenthal had died in Vienna, aged eighty-five – which makes this a ‘series of the third power’.

Besides ‘order’ and ‘power’, series can also be classified according of the number of their parameters – that is, the number of shared attributes. Thus, according to Kammerer’s ‘case 45’, during the holiday season of 1906, Baroness Trautenberg, a spinster born in 1846, was injured by a falling tree, and at a different place, Baroness Riegershofen, a spinster born in 1846, was injured by a falling tree. Four parameters: Baroness, spinster, age, tree. A little more spectacular is Kammerer’s case No. 10, concerning two young soldiers who, in 1915, were separately admitted to the military hospital of Katowitze, Bohemia. They had never met before. Both were nineteen, both had pneumonia, both were born in Silesia, both were volunteers in the Transport Corps, and both were called Franz Richter. Six parameters.

After typology and morphology we get also a systematisation of series: homologous and analogous series, pure and hybrid series, inverted series, alternating, cyclic, phasis series. and so on. Kammerer spent hours sitting on benches in various public parks, noting down the number of people that strolled by in both directions, classifying them by sex, age, dress, whether they carried umbrellas or parcels. He did the same on his long tram journeys from suburb to office. Then he analysed his tables and found that on every parameter they showed the typical clustering phenomena familiar to statisticians, gamblers and insurance companies. He made, of course, the necessary allowances for such causal factors as rush-hour, weather, etc.  

The theoretical value of these classificatory efforts is difficult to decide. It is easy to pick holes in the system: how many parameters has Jung’s scarab knocking at the window? The quantitative assessment of similarities of form has always been a stumbling block in problems of this kind. Kammerer was not versed in the more sophisticated developments of the theory of probability. He was, therefore, unable to give a convincing answer to the classic argument of the sceptic that, given sufficient time, the most unlikely combinations are bound to turn up by pure chance – a scarab at the window, or a callosity on the ostrich. But however justified, scepticism may be, this first attempt at a systematic classification of a-causal serial events may perhaps at some future date find unexpected applications.

Einstein, for one, thought highly of Kammerer’s book; called it ‘original and by no means absurd’. Perhaps he remembered that the non-Euclidian geometry’s for multidimensional curved space, which some nineteenth-century mathematicians had invented as a perverse mathematical game, provided the basis for his cosmology.

At the end of the first, classificatory part of Das Gesetz der Series, Kammerer concluded:

So far we have been concerned with the factual manifestations of recurrent series, without attempting an explanation. We have found that the recurrence of identical or similar data in contiguous areas of space and time is a simple empirical fact which has to be accepted and which cannot be explained by coincidences – or rather, which makes coincidences rule to such an extent that the concept of coincidence itself is negated.

He then proceeds to the theoretical part of the book, in which he attempts to give a scientific explanation of the ‘law of seriality’. This theory can be shown tantalising flashes of intuition. It contains some astonishingly crude fallacies in physics, but leaves nevertheless a paradoxical aftertaste of persuasiveness and intellectual beauty, which lingers on. Its effect is comparable to that of the Impressionist paintings, which has to be viewed from a distance; if one puts one’s nose into it, it dissolves into chaotic blobs.

The central idea is that, side by side with causality of classic physics, there exists a second basic principle in the universe which tends towards unity; a force of attraction comparable to universal gravity. But while gravity acts on all mass without discrimination, this other universal force acts selectively to bring like and like together both in space and time; it correlates by affinity, regardless whether the likeness is one of substance, form or function, or refers to symbols. The modus operandi of this force, the way it penetrates the trivia of every day life, Kammerer confesses to be unable to explain because it operates ex hypothesis outside the known laws of causality.

But he points to analogies on various levels, where the same tendency towards unity, symmetry and coherence manifests itself in conveniently causal ways: from gravity and magnetism through chemical affinity, sexual attraction, biological adaptations, symbiosis, protective colouring, imitative behaviour, and so on, up to the curious observation that ageing couples, master and servant, master and dog, tend to grow more and more alike in appearance – as if they were demonstrating that they are well advanced on the road towards the ‘I am thou and thou art I’.

We thus arrive at the image of the world-mosaic or cosmic kaleidoscope, which, in spite of constant shuffling and rearrangements, also takes care of bringing like and like together.

In space the unifying force produces clusters of events related by affinity; in time similarly related series; hence the rather awkward label ‘seriality’, as distinct in causality, which Kammerer chose for his postulated universal principle.

Series in time, i.e. the recurrence of similar events, he interprets as manifestations of periodic or cyclic processes which propagate themselves like waves along the time-axis in the space-time continuum. We are, however, only aware of the crests of the waves; these enter into consciousness and are perceived as isolated coincidences, whereas the troughs remain unnoticed (this, of course, is the exact reversal of the sceptic’s argument that out of the multitude of random events we pick out those few which we consider significant). The waves of recurrent events may be kept in motion either by causal of by a-causal, i.e. ‘serial’ forces.

Examples of the former are the planetary motions, and the periodic cycles derived from them – seasons, tides, night and day. But the recurrent peaks and troughs of promenaders in the park, equipped with umbrellas, and the lucky runs of the gambler, are clearly non-causally related – they are patterns formed according to the autonomous ‘laws of seriality’. Some of these are still completely obscure, others Kammerers considers as tentatively established, devoting a long chapter to theories about significant periods – from the Pythagoreans’ magic seven through Goethe’s ‘circles of good and bad days which revolve inside me’, to Swoboda’s and Fliess’ twenty-three and twenty-seven-day periods. It will be remembered that Freud, too, believed in periodicity and entertained a protracted correspondence with Fliess on how the numbers 23 and 27 must be combined to obtain significant data for individual cycles. (Oddly enough, Kammerer mentions Freud’s name only once, in passing.)

However, Kammerer was too much of an evolutionist to believe in Nietzche’s ‘eternal return’. He realised that his universal tendency towards repetition and symbiotic trend which would account for the emergence of novelty and diversity. The merging of sperm and egg into a single cell is followed by the splitting of the zygote and subsequent differentiation.

The recurrence of a previous event [Kammerer concludes] is also a renewal in the literal sense in so far as it does not merely reproduce the past, but also carries some of the unprecedented with it. It is this blending of the old and the new which conveys the experience of progression in time – which would be lacking if events were to return as identical copies of themselves, like the bands of a clock having completed their circles. Thus the progression of reality should not be compared either to circular or to pendulum motion, but be compared along a three-dimensional spiral . Its turns, repeat themselves and curve always in the same direction, but always at some distance along their axis: returning, yet advancing.

The book ends on a quasi-Messianic note: Kammerer expressing his conviction that the study of seriality will change the destiny of man, for its action ‘is ubiquitous and contiguous in life, nature and cosmos. The law of seriality is the umbilical cord that connects thought, feeling, science and art with the womb of the universe which gave birth to them.  

If Einstein found Kammerer’s idea ‘by no means absurd’, it was perhaps because theoretical physicists in the age of relativity and quantum theory are accustomed to employ as a matter of routine such seemingly absurd concepts as negative mass, ‘holes’ in space, time flowing backwards, waves of probability and subatomic events to which no cause can be assigned.

Another great physicist, Wolfgang Pauli – one of the greatest of our century, he postulated the so-called Pauli Exclusion Principle – the cornerstone of the quantum theory – went one step further, equal in importance to physical reality. The result of Jung’s famous essay, ‘Synchronicity: An A-causal Connecting Principle’, in which he quotes Kammerer at length, pays somewhat grudging tribute to him, and adopts his Law of Seriality – though he gives it a different name. Jung defines ‘Synchronicity’ as the ‘simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but not causally connected events’, or alternatively as a ‘coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or similar meaning… equal in rank to causality as principle of explanation’.

This is almost verbatim repetition of Kammerer’s definition of ‘Seriality’ as ‘a recurrence of the same or similar things or events in time and space’ – events which, as far as can be ascertained, ‘are not connected by the same acting cause’. The main difference appears to be that Kammerer emphasises Seriality in time (though, of course, he includes contemporaneous coincidences in space), whereas Jung’s concept of Synchronicity seems to refer only to simultaneous events – but he then explains that ‘Synchronicity’ is not the same as ‘synchronous’, but can refer to events at different times. It is psychologically interesting that Jung felt moved to coin a term and then to explain that it does not mean what it means – probably to avoid using Kammerer’s term ‘Seriality’.

Another difference between Kammerer’s book and Jung’s essay is that Jung tries to relate all a-causal phenomena to the collective unconscious and extra sensory perception, whereas Kammerer relies on analogies with physical principles such as gravity, magnetism, etc., rejecting all para-psychological explanations. The most impressive and popular examples of meaningful coincidences are veridical dreams, premonitions, telepathic experiences, and so on. Kammerer believed in Seriality as an irreducible principle of life, dismissed all para-psychological explanations as occult superstition. Nor did he apparently believe in the significance of unconscious processes, either in a Freudian or a ‘serialistic’ context. There are only two dreams mentioned in his collection of coincidences, both trivial and dreamt by others.

The paradox is that he thought of himself as a hard-boiled philosophical materialist. He was also what one may call a devoted atheist; a freemason; a member of the Austrian Socialist Party; and a regular contributor to the Monisticshe Monatshelfe, the monthly published by the German league of Monists. His last article appeared in it posthumously: a description of the Darwin Museum in Moscow.


About Arthur Koestler

At Amazon: The Case of the Midwife Toad

Timothy Wilken’s ORDER (PDF)

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