Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung

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The extraordinary story of psychoanalyst Carl Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli and their struggle to quantify the unconscious.
In 1932, the groundbreaking physicist Wolfgang Pauli met the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Pauli was fascinated by the inner reaches of his own psyche and not afraid to dabble in the occult, while Jung looked to science for answers to the psychological questions that tormented him. Their rich friendship led them, in Jung’s words, into “the no-man’s land between physics and the psychology of the unconscious . . . the most fascinating yet the darkest hunting ground of our times.” Both were obsessed with the far-reaching significance of the number “137”—a primal number that seemed to hint at the origins of the universe itself. Their quest to solve its enigma led them on a lifelong journey into the ancient secrets of alchemy, the work of Johannes Kepler, and the Chinese Book of Changes. This is the captivating story of an extraordinary and fruitful collaboration between two of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Viewed from a distance, Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875–1961) and Austrian theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900–58) had little in common except worldwide fame in their respective fields. Their paths converged, however, in ways that shaped them both. In early 1932, Pauli suffered a complete breakdown after the collapse of his first marriage. He began an intensive therapy with Jung, with whom he shared an interest in numerous obscure subjects, including alchemy, astrology, and synchronicity. In the course of their deepening friendship, these two intellectual giants became convinced that there existed some meaningful intersection between their two specialties. Dr. Arthur I. Miller (Einstein, Picasso) tracks this truly strange association and the far-reaching ideas that it spawned.
Walter Isaacson
“Arthur I. Miller is a master at capturing the intersection of creativity and intelligence. He did it with Einstein and Picasso, and now he does it with Pauli and Jung. Their shared obsession with the number 137 provides a window into their genius.”
Publishers Weekly

Miller (Einstein, Picasso), professor emeritus of history and philosophy of science at University College London, has written a difficult but rewarding account of the intersection of two great minds. Pauli and Jung, groundbreaking thinkers in physics and psychoanalysis respectively, had extensive interaction, beginning in 1932 when the deeply troubled Pauli went to Jung for treatment. The two men shared an interest in alchemy, astrology, the concept of synchronicity and a search for the single number they believed lay at the heart of the universe. Both were convinced a viable intersection of their two fields existed. Although Jung published analyses of hundreds of Pauli's dreams and the two coauthored a volume on nature and the psyche, Miller makes a weak case that those works significantly enriched physics or psychology. Miller spends more time with Pauli than Jung, and the complex mathematics of his physics leaves the reader a bit at sea. In the end, readers do gain insight into Pauli's personality, making Miller's tale illuminating on a human more than a scientific level. Illus. (Apr.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Odd, often difficult but mostly engrossing account of Carl Jung's treatment of physicist Wolfgang Pauli and their search for symbols that reveal universal secrets. A founder of quantum physics, Pauli (1900-58) sought help in 1932 while at the height of his powers but tormented by personal failures. Jung (1875-1961) was a brilliant Swiss physician who sought to understand the workings of the mind. Initially impressed by Freud's theories, in which sex played a central role, Jung later rejected them, concluding that all humans share a collective unconscious revealed through dreams, art, mythology and religion. Dreams play a central role in Jungian analysis, so readers will encounter dozens as Miller (Empire of the Stars: Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, 2005, etc.) recounts two years of Pauli's therapy followed by 25 years of correspondence. Jung confidently explained that each dream revealed how Pauli's inner desires and frustrations emerged through images shared by everyone in our collective unconscious. Pauli accepted this, and readers will have to accept Jung's assertion that his interpretation of dreams was scientifically correct. Jung felt the therapy succeeded; Pauli's colleagues noted a modest improvement in his caustic personality and moderation of his heavy drinking. There's no doubt the experience left Pauli fascinated with metaphysics, dreams and mystical exotica, including astrology, psychic phenomena and numerology. Readers will get an obviously learned yet somewhat heavy dose of both quantum physics and Jungian philosophy. Miller draws no line between Pauli's physics (proven by experiments) and Jung's theories (proven by assertions), and herepeats uncritically the pair's delight at various anecdotes, coincidences and juxtapositions of numbers that enthusiasts claim unveil cosmic truths. Readers who persevere may find this intense mixture of science and psychoanalysis to their liking.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065329
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/27/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur I. Miller is a professor emeritus at University College London. He has published many critically acclaimed books, including Einstein, Picasso; Empire of the Stars; and 137. He lives in London.

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