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Pauli and Jung
The Meeting of Two Great Minds
By David Lindorff
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 2004 David Lindorff
All rights reserved.
THE CONSCIENCE OF PHYSICS: An Impending Storm
My opinion of formal politeness as a great heresy is for me an unshakable dogma ... [It] must be ruthlessly rooted out from our human relationship.
Wolfgang Ernst Friedrich Pauli was born on April 25 at the turn of the century in Vienna, which at the time was under the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although Pauli was baptized in the Catholic Church, it was the scientific spirit that took root as he matured. That Pauli was raised as a Catholic, however, is significant in light of his discovery when he was in his teens of his Jewish ancestry. Because of the time in which he lived, this belated revelation had a profound effect on his life.
On the paternal side, Pauli's Jewish family line was well established. A thread of literary connections can be traced back to Pauli's great-grandfather, Wolf Pascheles (b. 1814), who at the age of seventeen made his living peddling books. He eventually opened a bookshop in Prague and acquired an editorial reputation that earned him a place in some of the Jewish encyclopedias. The bookstore was eventually taken over by his son Jacob (b. 1839), Pauli's grandfather. Following in their father's footsteps, Jacob and his younger brother were listed "in the register of Sworn Experts at the Imperial and Royal State Court ... as the only two experts in the matter of Hebrew books."
Pauli's maternal roots were Austrian; his mother was of Christian and Jewish descent. His third given name honored his maternal grandfather, Friedrich Schütz (1845–1908), a newspaper editor whose forthright liberal opinions were highly regarded by his friends but not by his enemies. Pauli's maternal grandmother (1847–1916), whose maiden name was Bertha Dillner von Dillnersdorf, was descended from nobility. She had pursued her musical talent to become a singer in the Imperial Opera of Vienna but at the age of thirty-eight quit the stage because of a nervous disorder. Pauli's love of the opera was surely stimulated by the hours that he as young Wolfi spent at the piano with his grandmother.
Paul's father, Wolfgang Josef Pascheles (1869–1955), grew up in the Old Town Square in Prague and attended the same Old Town Gymnasium as Franz Kafka. At the age of eighteen he began the study of medicine at the German university in Prague, together with his school friend Ludwig Mach, the son of Ernst Mach, a professor at the university. The elder Mach (1838–1916), a respected experimental physicist who later developed a close friendship with Pauli's father, was influential in Pauli's intellectual development. Pauli acknowledged his father's role in turning his interest toward physics, but it was Mach who took the gifted boy under his tutorial wing.
When he was twenty-three years old, Pauli's father filled an assistantship at the University of Vienna, where he did his Habilitation in internal medicine, the requirement for pursuing an academic career. Over the years he became highly respected for his research in colloidal chemistry, although as a teacher he was said by one of his former students to be uninspiring (supporting Pauli's statement that his father lacked feeling; see chapter 11).
The death of Pauli's grandfather in 1897 apparently freed Pauli's father to make some drastic changes in his life. This was a time of "enlightened Semitism" in which intellectual Jews were considered assimilable. To pursue an academic career in the Austria of that day, however, it was often deemed prudent to convert to Christianity. Accordingly, in 1898, the year in which he received his degree in internal medicine, Pauli's father sought permission from the state to change his name from Pascheles to Pauli, shortly after having converted from Judaism to Catholicism. In the following year he married Bertha Camilla Schütz.
Within the span of two years, Pauli's father thus underwent dramatic alterations in his identity, changes made easier for him by the passing of his father, whose status as an elder of the Jewish congregation might well have stood in the way.
It appears that Pauli's father walked a path that accommodated his ambitions. That he withheld from his son the knowledge that he was Jewish can only mean that he considered it a handicap to be a Jew in those prewar years. If Pauli was spared for a time the ignominy of admitting to his Jewish identity, he would later have to face it under far more dire circumstances than his father had endured. While the issue of Jewishness became a tragic focus in Europe during Pauli's lifetime, it was also a personal issue for him, in part because of his skewed religious upbringing.
In his childhood, Pauli developed a strong attachment to both his mother and his maternal grandmother, but his relationship to his father, whom he came to see as disconnected from his feelings and strictly conventional, was problematic. As a child prodigy, not surprisingly Pauli saw the birth of his sister, Hertha, when he was nine years old, as a major disruption in what must have been a self-centered young life. His nostalgic awareness of that lost singular childhood was expressed later in life with his characteristic wit. Of himself as the Wunderkind (wonder child), Pauli said, "The wonder is gone, but the child remains."5 At times this "child" erupted in Pauli's adult utterances and actions.
The positive influence of Ernst Mach on Pauli's maturing mind deserves special comment. In 1895, Mach left the university in Prague to fill a new chair in the history and theory of the inductive sciences at the University of Vienna. This proximity enabled him to develop a close relationship with Pauli's father; Mach was named Pauli's godfather, with Pauli carrying Mach's given name.
Mach was well known as an independent thinker. His broad interests ranged from physics and physiology to psychology and the philosophy of science, although by the turn of the century his star had begun to set. With a temerity verging on scientific heresy, he challenged one of Isaac Newton's fundamental assumptions, that time and space are absolutes. This was consistent with Mach's rejection of metaphysical assumptions, assumptions that cannot be verified by the senses. Economy of thought—with a minimum of assumptions—was for him a ruling principle, which he felt protected science from being overburdened with theories.
Mach's ideas influenced the thinking of some of the twentieth century's leading scientists. Einstein, for instance, credited Mach's probing thoughts on space and time with stimulating his work on relativity theory. And although Einstein eventually became critical of Mach's positivistic views, he acknowledged that "even those who think of themselves as Mach's opponents hardly know how much of Mach's views they have, as it were, imbibed with their mother's milk."
For a boy of Pauli's intellectual brilliance, a godfather such as Mach must have been an inspiring figure. Recognizing Pauli's giftedness, Mach, then in retirement, took an active hand in his godson's intellectual development. But Mach's experience with his son, who had taken his own life, made him cautious about working too intensively with his young charge for fear of overstimulating the boy-genius at too young an age.
Four decades later Pauli glowingly described his boyhood visits to his godfather, whose house was stocked with prisms, spectroscopes, and all manner of electrical apparatus. During each visit Mach would perform an experiment designed to demonstrate the elimination of erroneous thinking. One can imagine the boy's rapt attention in the presence of this gray-bearded nineteenth-century scholar. Although he last visited Mach when he was fourteen, Pauli did not forget Mach's spirit and his "antimetaphysical" approach:
Among my books there is a somewhat age-worn case. In it is a child's silver goblet, and in this is a card.... Now this is a baptismal goblet, and on the card in old-fashioned ornate letters is written: "Dr. E. Mach, Professor at the University of Vienna." ...
I daresay he [Mach] was a stronger personality than the Catholic priest, and the result seems to be that I was in this way baptized antimetaphysical instead of Catholic. In any case the card stays in the cup, and in spite of my greater spiritual transformation at a later date, it remains a label that I carry, namely: from antimetaphysical origin.
Although Pauli, like Einstein, eventually rejected Mach's positivistic philosophy, his godfather's influence went beyond Pauli's intellectual development to affect his general attitude toward science. As Einstein wrote, "Mach's greatness [lay] in his incorruptible skepticism and independence," and Pauli laid claim to both these qualities, but on his own terms.
The early twentieth-century Vienna of his boyhood, as well as the tutelage he received from his father and others, gave Pauli both cultural and intellectual stimulation. In his classical schooling at the Doebling Gymnasium, he was a member of a class composed of geniuses. By the age of thirteen Pauli had achieved an understanding of advanced mathematics, and before his graduation in 1918, he had published more than one paper on Einstein's general theory of relativity. These attracted the attention of the mathematician Hermann Weyl, who, years later at Pauli's Nobel Prize banquet, claimed he had been the first to recognize Pauli's genius.
At eighteen Pauli entered the University of Munich. There the distinguished Prussian physicist Arnold Sommerfeld, who fathered a generation of world-class physicists, recognized Pauli as his most gifted student. Pauli's friend from his student days, Werner Heisenberg, claimed he learned more physics on his walks with Pauli than from Sommerfeld's lectures.
When Pauli was nineteen, Sommerfeld, realizing that his student had nothing to learn from his lectures, challenged the young man by assigning him the task of writing a book-length encyclopedia article on Einstein's theory of relativity.
The work, which still is considered definitive in the field, inspired the following comments from Einstein:
Anyone studying this mature and important work would find it hard to believe that the author is a man of twenty-one. One wonders what is most to admire, the psychological appreciation for the development of ideas or the reliability of the mathematical deduction, the deep physical insight, the ability of clear, systematic interpretation, knowledge of the literature, the factual completeness, the trustworthiness of the criticism.
Even at a young age Pauli was recognized for his biting wit, which he could express with shocking effect, albeit with a twist of humor. Shortly after the twenty-two-year-old Pauli had published his extensive article on relativity that won such high praise from Einstein, he attended a conference at which Paul Ehrenfest, a senior Dutch physicist, presented a paper. True to form, Pauli made several critical comments during Ehrenfest's presentation. When the two met later, Ehrenfest confronted the young upstart: "Herr Pauli, your encyclopedia article pleases me better than you yourself." Referring to Ehrenfest's recent book, Pauli responded, "That's comical. For me, it's just the opposite." Ehrenfest eventually developed a high admiration for the junior physicist's sagacity and candor. But he complained to Pauli about his "damned over-cleverness," according to which Pauli always seemed to spot the fallacies in an idea before the idea was even published.
The letters between the two men reveal a wily humor in which Ehrenfest addressed Pauli as "der Geissel Gottes" (the scourge of God) or "der fürchterlicher Pauli"(the frightful Pauli). Pauli reciprocated by signing letters to Ehrenfest as "der Fürchterlicher" or simply "G.G." Nor did he reserve this title for his correspondence with Ehrenfest. In 1926 he wrote to his friend Kramers in Copenhagen about an upcoming visit, warning that Bohr and Kramers would again be exposed to the "Geissel Gottes." He boasted that this title had been given to him by Ehrenfest, and that he was proud of it.
Early in his twenties Pauli was already recognized by distinguished scientists such as Einstein and Hermann Weyl. It was to be the most creative decade of his life.
At twenty-two, Pauli assumed a position at the Physikalisches Staatsinstitut in Hamburg. There he was no longer under the paternal eye of Sommerfeld, who, with his Prussian ways, was unaccustomed to Pauli's free spirit; in his Munich days Pauli had often caroused through the night and then missed Sommerfeld's lecture the next day.
Despite a somewhat dissolute lifestyle, Pauli's six years in Hamburg were by no means all play. Hamburg at that time was one of the leading centers of physics in Germany and therefore in the world. The future Nobelist Isidor Rabi, a visiting young American physicist who studied in Germany in the 1920s, found it an electrifying environment. Moreover, Pauli's presence attracted well-known scientists such as Niels Bohr and Max Born. But while the atmosphere was stimulating, Rabi "chafed under the general contempt toward American physics."14 Within a decade, with the rise of Hitler, this elitist bulwark would be shaken to its core.
It was in Hamburg that the Pauli Effect—which was his legendary capacity to affect physical events by his presence—received its name. George Gamow, one of the pioneers of the big bang theory, observed, "Pauli was famous on three counts: the Pauli Principle [the exclusion principle], the neutrino, and the Pauli Effect."15 Gamow's inclusion of the Pauli Effect was lighthearted, of course, and indeed the Effect sometimes gave rise to humorous situations. Erwin Panofsky, a prominent art historian, recounts that during their youthful days in Hamburg Pauli had met with Panofsky and a mutual friend for lunch. After a prolonged time at the table, when they got up to leave they found that two of them had been sitting in whipped cream, but Pauli's chair was clean. It was characteristic of the Pauli Effect that it never involved Pauli.
The Pauli Effect could sometimes be carried to an extreme. At the age of fifty Pauli wrote (playfully?) from Princeton to his friend Dr. Carl Meier, a one-time associate of Jung, that the entire cyclotron at Princeton University had been destroyed in a fire of unknown origin, suggesting that the conflagration might have been due to the Pauli Effect.
The Effect was widely discussed among his colleagues and taken seriously by some. The experimental physicist Otto Stern was so convinced his laboratory apparatus would not function properly if Pauli were present—or even nearby—that he asked Pauli to avoid the vicinity during any important experiment (admonishing, lest anyone should think otherwise, that he was in deadly earnest). Even Pauli's presence in a train passing through was thought to bring on the Effect. Skeptics may argue that the Effect was unconsciously induced in the mind of the "victim," but stories abound that point in a different direction. Heisenberg said Pauli took these occurrences half-seriously, but only half. In contrast, Pauli's colleague, Markus Fierz, claims Pauli thoroughly believed in his Effect. According to Fierz, "Pauli would perceive a calamity before it happened as an unpleasant tension. Then, upon encountering the actual mishap, he would have a curious feeling of being freed and relieved." Fierz put it in the category of a synchronicity, about which more will be said later. Pauli's future interest in sychronicity and the relation between psyche and matter may be attributed in part to the Pauli Effect.
Behind these characterizations was something deeper, the shadow side of Pauli's personality. Ralph Kronig, Pauli's first assistant, describes his first impression of Pauli: "He looked quite different from what I had expected, but I felt immediately the field of force emanating from his personality, an effect both fascinating and disquieting at the same time." Indeed, Pauli claimed to be a mystic. Some of his mystical thoughts are known to us from his letters, but others remain hidden. He once said to one of his assistants that he thought Christianity would be replaced by something else, but he preferred not to say what it would be. As far as I know, he never elaborated on this.
Markus Fierz, who over the years had close contact with his colleague, found Pauli easy to get along with, but he avoided relating to Pauli as a friend, thinking it was better for their relationship to maintain a certain distance. Fierz valued foremost the "eternal Pauli."
During his first year in Hamburg, Pauli met Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist whose theory of atomic structure had won him a Nobel Prize in 1922. Bohr was a genial man, an incessant worker, and a father figure to the young physicists who frequented his institute in Copenhagen. With his Socratic style and unfettered manner of speech, Bohr acted as midwife to the nascent ideas of the small group of talented young men in the new field of quantum physics. Indeed, the ages of these young men were such that it was common to speak of "Knaben Physik" (boys' physics).
Excerpted from Pauli and Jung by David Lindorff. Copyright © 2004 David Lindorff. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 THE CONSCIENCE OF PHYSICS: An Impending Storm,
Chapter 2 ONE THOUSAND DREAMS: A Spiritual Awakening,
Chapter 3 THE DUALITY OF TIME: A Prelude to War,
Chapter 4 TRINITY: The War Years (1940–1946),
Chapter 5 THE ALCHEMIST: A Path to Salvation,
Chapter 6 PSYCHE, MATTER, AND SYNCHRONICITY: The Unus Mundus,
Chapter 7 THE DARK SIDE OF GOD: Aion and Answer to Job,
Chapter 8 THE FOUR RINGS: The Archetype of Wholeness,
Chapter 9 SPIRIT AND MATTER: TWO Approaches to the Secret of Being,
Chapter 10 A LESSON IN OPPOSITES: A Conversation with the Unconscious,
Chapter 11 THE TWO STARS OF DAVID AND THE DANCE OF THE DIAGONALS: Finding the Right Key,
Chapter 12 THE REDEEMING EXPERIENCE OF ONENESS: A Unity of Essence,
Chapter 13 ASPECTS OF THE CONIUNCTIO: A New Religion,
Chapter 14 MAKER OF REFLECTIONS: The Redeeming Third,
Appendix A PAULI AND QUANTUM PHYSICS,
Appendix B A LIST OF PAULI'S DREAMS AND OTHER UNCONSCIOUS MANIFESTATIONS,