Pauli and Jung: When Quantum Spin Entangles With The Collective Unconsciousness


On a whim, I picked up Deciphering The Cosmic Number, by Arthur I. Miller.  I was not interested in reading about one of these mystical numbers that supposedly appear everywhere (take your pick, there are a few), but I was in the mood for a light review of the development of early Quantum Physics and of early Psychology (which happened to overlap at the beginning of the 20th century)– and this book appeared to offer what I wanted because it tells the story of the meeting of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung.  (In truth, the book is very little about the “Cosmic Number,” itself, and as I was not that concerned about it to begin with, I can’t even recall what it is supposed to be).

I wanted light reading, and light reading is indeed what I got.  Mister Miller chose to write in the style of a children’s book (I exaggerate only slightly).  Yuck.  I wish I could believe that such writers underestimate the intelligence of the general audience they aim for with such books, but I fear they are probably correct to assume that the average reader can only handle science at about an eighth grade reading level.

The book at hand (at my hand anyway), mostly in alternating chapters, superficially describes the early careers of Pauli and Jung.  Both of these men were trying very hard and ingeniously to see what is not there but what they really, really wished was there.  For Pauli, it was tiny particles that would fit his mathematical equations.  For Jung, it was archetypes embedded in the psyche that would fit his spiritual/mystical leanings.  Eventually, Pauli sought psychological counseling from Jung (called “a walking asylum in himself, as well as its head physician” by his own friend, R.F.C. Hull).  That is how they met.

Jung famously split from Freud in the early days of “the talking cure”– the psychoanalysis they were coming up with on the fly for treating mental illness.  Freud is usually stereotyped today as being obsessed with sex when it comes to explaining psychological hang-ups, but to give the man proper credit, weird sex stuff is, indeed, the source and/or symptom of much neurosis.  I think respect for Freud, which perhaps is already recovering from its reactionary nadir, will rise again not so long from now.  But back to Jung…

Instead of sex, Jung saw psychological problems through the lens of mystical connections– and as every mystic loves the dreamworld– Jung not surprisingly was bonkers for dream interpretation as therapy.  Only, where Freud would nine times of out ten interpret a woman in your dream as representing something sexual, Jung might interpret her as your soul (if you were a man) trying to get in touch with you (he thought the male’s soul was feminine, and I’m pretty sure he thought the female soul was masculine).  He felt that we each inherited (in some mystical way) the collective unconsciousness of our forebears, and so he was always on the lookout for clues indicating the presence of the primitive mind:  mandalas especially, but he also liked totems.

I think Jung’s “collective unconsciousness” is one of the most misunderstood– and purposefully misunderstood– terms of psychology or spirituality.  The least mystical interpretation is simply that the brain is predisposed to collect information about the world in a certain way.  Thus, we are pre-wired to use certain themes and narrative-constructions as organizing principles to help our little brains navigate this big, complex world.  Because of this predisposition, it should come as no surprise that we– creative geniuses though we might be– often spontaneously come up with stories and images that are — sorry– really not all that original.  Jung described the sum of archetypes shared by the collective unconsciousness as an invisible lattice giving shape to thoughts.  I think of our mental predispositions as contours of the vessel of the mind– whatever flows through is naturally going to be given a certain shape.

According to Jung, certain perceptions or experiences can cause the predisposed archetypes to precipitate– one may show up in a dream, we mind find ourselves doodling another, et cetera…  Jung fairly early-on started connecting the ideas behind Alchemy to archetypal thought, and so references to the concepts and images of Alchemy are often made by him.

Jung also imagined there was something called “Synchronicity” that could connect (err, mystically) events beyond cause and effect, and as he assumed dreams were important, he assumed Synchronistic coincidences were also important.

Much of the book was about dream interpretation, and as I find my own dreams fascinating but the dreams of others dreadfully boring, I unashamedly skipped much of these parts.

Sometimes in life, we can come to right decisions for the wrong reasons.  Jung actually seems to have diagnosed Pauli’s condition correctly– the man had shifted his mental and emotional life too far toward science and work and too far away from true human connection.  Of course, sex pops up here (Freud who?), and one of the symptoms of this underdeveloped persona of Pauli’s was the seeking of sex without love– the mechanical over the emotional.  He had his science life in the day (or rather afternoon) and his crazy life at night in a different part of town, and he tried very hard to never let them cross.

Pauli’s science life at the time was centered on theorizing about the atom.  The then-current view of the atom was that it was a nucleus surrounded by electrons.  There were still plenty of details to be worked out and drive certain physicists crazier, such as why the electrons did not all fall into the nucleus and what the relationship was between electrons and light and between electrons and magnetic fields.

Pauli is the man who came up with the idea that one and only one electron could occupy each zone around a nucleus.  This is called the Pauli Exclusion Principle.  He figured-out there were four (not three, as had been previously thought) components to describing each electron zone;  the first three, already conjectured before Pauli were:  1) the radius of the zone,  2) the shape of the zone,  3) and the orientation of the zone [I’m going by memory here, but I’m pretty sure those were the three].  Pauli added a fourth.  It was only later that other physicists labeled this fourth quantum number “spin” (which at first, Pauli resisted).  Pauli’s Exclusion Principle states that no two electrons on the same atom can share the same four Quantum Numbers.

Later in life, Pauli achieved some fame for proving mathematically the following:  a universe  1) made up entirely of anti-matter, and  2) where time runs backwards, and  3) where everything is flipped to its mirror image so that right becomes left– that universe would be indistinguishable from our own.  I make no comment upon this, for I make it a practice to side-step a pile of anything that steams questionably.

Pauli was probably never a completely healed man.  For one thing, his father left his mother for a younger woman– and his mother soon committed suicide.  That would be psychologically challenging enough (dude, your dad just killed your mom), but there was also this twist:  Pauli had grown up not knowing his dad was Jewish.  His dad had converted to Catholicism and brought Pauli up that way.  By the time of his mother’s suicide, Pauli had discovered this, and –probably spurred to take action at this moment because of the Catholic church’s condemnation of suicides– Pauli converted to Judaism.  Pauli– famous for his wit (often caustic), described himself thereafter as “Jew from the waist up.”

One of my favorite things Pauli ever said, however, was not when he was trying to be funny but when he slipped into a moment of complete and soul-bearing sincerity and stated, “the eternal soliloquy is so tiresome.”  Those are the words of a lonely, lonely man.



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