The place of the 17th century in Jung's encounter with China



Abstract:  After recounting several dreams and related alchemical interests of Jung's tied to the 17th century, a contextualizing look at select scientific and philosophical developments of that century is presented. Several precursors of the contemporary debates on the mind/body relation are noted, with special reference to the work of Antonio Damasio. This in turn leads to a reconsideration of the work of the 17th century polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, which Jung read as a major precursor to his formulation of synchronicity (via Leibniz's concept of ‘pre-established harmony’). Leibniz was the first philosopher to articulate the mind/body relationship in terms of supervenience, sharing an accord with those contemporary philosophers and scientists who see the mind as being an emergent property of the body-brain. Similarly, these ideas are also consistent with a reformulation of synchronicity in terms of emergence.

Tracing Leibniz's interest in China reveals another set of links to Jung and to emergentism. Jung's use of Taoist concepts in developing the synchronicity principle is well known. According to scholars, Leibniz was the first major Western intellect to study the I-Ching, through the assistance of a Jesuit missionary in Beijing, Fr. Joachim Bouvet. Some details of the Leibniz-Bouvet correspondence are discussed here. Despite Helmut Wilhelm's presenting aspects of this correspondence at an Eranos conference, Jung does not appear to have integrated it into his writing on synchronicity—a possible reason for this omission is suggested.