Rational Mysticism -or- The Dreams of Wolfgang Pauli


As a student studying at the University of Zurich in the mid 70's and early 80's, the name Carl Gustav Jung was hard to miss. In the spring of 1977 I read Jung's book Four Archetypes: Mother/Rebirth/Spirit/Trickster and felt a profound sense of archetypal connection and innate understanding of the collective unconscious. However, for me Jung's work and writings about dreams were too religious and alchemically oriented, so I began to search for answers in other academic fields. In 1981, I began a thirty year journey of discussion and friendship with a Swiss physicist. After I graduated, I found the work of Northrop Frye who provided me with a literary archetypal understanding of the collective unconscious, something I found missing in Jung's published works. In search of a unified model of dreams, mind, body and nature, I have come to the clear realization that such a model was already proposed by the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. Much of the contents of this interpretation were presented at the International Association for the Study of Dreams 2011 annual meeting in Holland. I thank those who came to listen.

Quantum Mysticism -or- The Dreams of Wolfgang Pauli

Carl Jung Psychology and Religion believed that a modern rational prejudice exists causing dreams not be taken seriously, for Jung this "prejudice against dreams is but one of the symptoms of a far more serious undervaluation of the human soul in general. The marvelous development of science and technics has been counterbalanced on the other side by an appaling lack of wisdom and introspection." In this context, Jung discusses the dreams of a patient who he describes as an intellectual of "remarkable intelligence and learning". Jung informs the patient that at the risk of shocking him, that his dreams will provide all the necessary information about his psychological problems. The patient whose dreams Jung discusses were those of the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, a fact that would not be made generally public until after Pauli's death.

Pauli had numerous dreams that he discussed in therapy in which he poured out his nightmares and emotional troubles of ontological insecurity, anger, loneliness, helplessness and problems with men, women and society in general. The thematics of his dreams were about his work in quantum physics, philosophy, mathematics, mysticism, religion, alchemy and the prejudiced attitudes in European society. Jung found one symbol in Pauli's dreams that personified the mysticism of the numinous and that was fire.

Pauli much as Jung also believed that the age old dream of reason and modern rational science had come to a philosophical dead end (aporia). Pauli would argue that quantum theory was not a complete theory, in that it lacked the psychological and scientific power to explain biological and mental processes, such as consciousness. The pioneering work of Jung and Pauli can be seen as a way to enter the scientific no-mans land between physics and psychology, between the nature of mind and the nature of body.

Pauli and Jung's joint work was directed towards the creation of an archetypal language that unified the quantum field nature of physis (matter) and psyche (mind). In their search for a middle ground between their two scientific paradigmatic fields of physics and psychology, Pauli and Jung published their juxtaposed ideas in Interpretation of Nature published in 1952. Pauli believed that his dreams were attempting to create a unified theory of quantum physics and alchemical mysticism.

In 2009 Juan Miguel Marin published a paper in the European Journal of Physics ‘Mysticism' in quantum mechanics: the forgotten controversy discussing the philosophical dispute between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. In the 1920s and 30s Einstein had accused Bohr of attempting to introduce the concept of quantum mysticism into physics. Marin suspects that it was not Bohr who "ignited the controversy" instead it was Pauli. Most likely Einstein did not suspect Pauli because he always presented himself as the epitome of rationality and logical thinking.

Many jokes became part of the quantum mysticism controversy and the philosophical conversation. If Einstein stated that God does not play dice, then Bohr retorted "Don't tell God what to do". At one physics conference Pauli invented one of his multitude of cutting jokes, this one was directed towards all atheistic scientists generally and one in particular. Pauli stated that if the atheists had a religion, then the physicist Paul Dirac was their prophet. Dirac who was present to hear Pauli's joke laughed as everyone else did in the room.

Bohr evidently believed that a form of psychophysical parallelism which accommodated consciousness into quantum theory was necessary to explain "our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence." Looking back at a much later date Werner Heisenberg another member of the Copenhagen School discussing the institutionalization of the official Copenhagen Interpretation described Pauli's philosophy as one of ‘lucid platonic mysticism' which involved a ‘synthesis embracing both rational understanding and the mystical experience of unity'.

In Pauli's own words, "I do not believe in the possible future of mysticism in the old form. However, I do believe that the natural sciences will out of themselves bring forth a counterpole in their adherents, which connects to the old mystic elements.' That counterpole Pauli speaks of, has in fact found an outlet in such popular works as Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics and Web of Life, David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order and Gary Zukav's Dancing Wu Li Masters to name a few. The physicist Fred Allan Wolf turned many of these ideas of quantum mysticism into the popular culture film What the Bleep Do We Know?

Marin's suspicions that Pauli was the one who "ignited" the mysticism controversy is given credence, by pointing to a dream that Pauli had in October 1949;

"I am with colleagues on one of the upper floors of a house where a local conference on mathematics and physics is being held. I see that under my name a course of cookery is announced: ‘Start; December 15.' Surprised, I ask a young man near me why the course begins so late in the year. He answers, "Because then the Nobel Prize will be granted." Now I notice that a fire has been started in an adjacent room. I take fright (affect), run down a staircase along many floors (hurrying-panic). Finally I succeed in getting outside.

Looking back, I see that two floors of the house, where the colleagues were gathered are burnt down. I walk across the level ground and enter the garage. I see that a taxi is waiting for me and that the taxi driver fills the tank with petrol. I look more closely, I recognize "him," the light-dark "stranger." Immediately I feel secure. Probably he has lighted the fire," I think without saying it aloud. He says to me quietly, "Now we can refuel, because upstairs there has been a fire. I will take you where you belong!" He then drives off."

I believe that the dream is a synoptic (hermeneutic) view of Pauli's life and times employing both a psychodramatic retrospective and a prospective dramatic personae viewpoints. We can read Pauli's dream as his dramatic ego's fears of showing (mimesis) and telling (diegesis) the story of the inner struggles of his life and sense of self.  In the dream Pauli is "looking back" and at an earlier point in the dream he asks a younger man why the course on cookery (an allusion to alchemy?) starts on December 15 so late in the year. The younger man who can be viewed as a younger version of Pauli, having decided to remain silent and not disclose his interests in alchemy and quantum mysticism to his colleagues or the public for fear that it might affect his chances of winning the Nobel Prize.

Pauli clearly understood that there was strong scientific and academic opposition to his ideas about quantum mysticism. Pauli had an earlier dream in December 1947 which involved a dialogue with the Persian who wanted academic access for his ideas. He also may have feared being derided, ostracized or even fired from his status and position within the scientific and physics community. Had these fears become a reality, they would also have had profound behavioural economic consequences for Pauli's lifestyle. In fact Pauli did win the Nobel Prize in 1945 four years prior to this dream which Pauli had in 1949. Ironically it was Einstein who nominated Pauli for the Nobel Prize. Pauli appears to be recalling and reflecting in the dream upon the choices he made when he was younger man and shows us his reasoning, psychological and emotional state. That Pauli towards the end of his life started to overcome these fears, is evidenced by his joint publication of The Interpretation of Nature with Jung in 1952.

Pauli's dream substantiates Marin's belief that Pauli indeed was the one that ignited the quantum myticism controversy among his collegues. However, I would like to present the possibility of an even broader and much darker controversial scientific and professional significance that Pauli was perhaps alluding to and reflecting upon in his 1949 dream, namely the apocalyptic fire of nuclear warfare. Albert Einstein in a series of letters starting in 1939, had already warned President Roosevelt of the risk of Germany's developing nuclear weapons before America did.

In 1941 Bohr and Heisenberg had discussed the possibilties of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The theatre play and film Copenhagen attempts to portray the events surrounding these discussions and moral controversies among physicists working on weapons of mass destruction. After America had droped the atomic bomb in 1945 on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the physicist Robert Oppenheimer in charge of the Manhatten Project quoted from the Bhagavad Gita saying; "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds".

This defining scientific and socio-political moment in history would inturn soon ignite the arms race between America and Russia providing fuel to the apocalyptic dreams of the MAD (mutual assured destruction) Cold War era. Pauli who was touted as the "conscience of physics", was not interested in such dreams. We can see in his dream above that if he was the one who ignited the fire (the conflict), he does so to extricate himself from the goings on. Again, in Pauli's own words; "Now we can refuel, because upstairs there has been a fire. I will take you where you belong!" He then drives off." Pauli could freely go about his own business and follow his own dreams of a unified theory of mind and body.

Ironically, what became known as the Pauli Effect and synchronicity can be seen in Pauli's October 1949 dream (above), Wolfgang Pauli died on December 15, 1958 in room 137, a number (fine structure constant that defines the structure of life in the fine tuned universe as we understand it) that haunted him for most of his adult life.

For those wanting to read more about Pauli's dreams, the dream above can be found in; The Dreaming Universe by Fred Alan Wolf p290 of the paperback edition.



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