Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Synchronicity tales: Late on the train, on time for the Savior
I took the train to Manhattan on Tuesday to give a lecture on Jung, Pauli and the development of synchronicity theory for the C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology. I allowed for a 2-hour delay on the ride. I arrived at Penn Station precisely 2 hours late, and not on the train I had booked with a 2:00 PM departure time. The 3:00 PM train was opening its doors as the delayed 2:00 PM train shunted in from a long journey from Toronto and - after wavering between the two - I decided to go with the "later" train. We were then stopped for an hour after hitting an ATV [all-terrain vehicle] on the tracks; the kid who had been fooling around on the ATV was - remarkably - unhurt.
At Penn Station, I calculated I had just enough time to walk through the evening rush hour to the brownstone on East 39th Street that houses the C.G. Jung Center.
When I first came here, many years ago, I had to wait at reception while the fellow manning the booth dealt with a telephone call. I heard him say to the caller, "I'm afraid it won't be possible to book a private session with Professor Jung. Doctor Jung died in 1961."
Tickled, I asked, "Does Jung get a lot of calls like that?"
"At least three or four a week."
Reflecting on how Jung used to talk to the dead, I said, "Maybe, given who Jung is, you could manage to arrange some appointments. Of course, this would require a very long-distance call."
With a few minutes to spare before the start of my lecture, I headed for the bookshop at the Jung Center. A dapper, older gentleman came up and introduced himself. "I am Sotiris Kitsopoulos, and I challenge you to say that back to me." I made what I thought was a fair attempt, and was struck by the first name. "Sotiris?" I repeated. My Greek is limited, but I recognized the derivation of the name. "Doesn't that mean Savior?"
His eyes gleamed.
"It's a very Jungian archetypal moment," I observed. "The name of the first person who introduces himself to me tonight is Savior."
"Did you know Pauli?" Dr Kitsopoulos asked.
"I was eleven when Pauli died."
"Ah yes, you are younger. I took a class in theoretical physics with Pauli in Zurich. I have some personal reminiscences. Would you like to hear them?"
Of course. We sat together on a sofa in front of the collected works of Jung and my new acquaintance regaled me with accounts of the performance of Wolfgang Pauli - the brilliant pioneer of quantum physics who won the Nobel Prize and helped Jung develop his synchronicity theory - as a teacher.
Pauli must rank high in the pantheon of those regarded by their students as crazy professors. In front of a class, he would be seized by a violent nervous tic that had him heaving his torso back and forth. He would chalk great arcs of numbers and equations on a blackboard, but as the sequence continued the figures would become vanishingly small so that no one could make out where the process led. He would pause in mid-sentence and stare up at the ceiling for what seemed like an aching eternity.
With his vivid recollections, Sotiris walked me around Zurich with his crazy professor and his fellow-students. Through his eyes, I watched Pauli eating lunch most days at his favorite restaurant, the Sunnehus. Dr Kitsopoulos recalled the day when he saw Pauli crossing a street, heaving his torso back and forth, apparently oblivious to a tram that was rattling towards him. "He didn't see the tram. We held our breath. He just escaped being hit, never changing his pace. Then we saw a second tram rushing from the opposite direction. Caught between them, Paul vanished from view. We really thought we had lost him, but when the trams had passed, there was Pauli, quite unaware. His pace must have been just right."
I caught a little rhyme in the day. At Albany-Rensselaer station, four hours earlier, I had hovered between two trains, needing to decide which to take. I was also tickled by the way synchronicity comes in to play when I speak in public about Pauli. Last year I spoke on a public radio show in San Francisco about how I solved the mystery of the "Chinese Woman" in Pauli's dreams, and as soon as the show was over I found an email from a listener who had known the "Chinese Woman" (the experimental physicist Dr Chien Shiung Wu); you can read the full report here.
My conversation with Pauli's student - a man who went on to make a distinguished scientific career - was interrupted by my hosts. Time to get started. The auditorium was full. I was cautious when I took my place at the podium, because I recalled the Pauli Effect. Wolfgang Pauli was notorious for his alleged ability to make mechanical things go haywire, on a fantastic scale, by his mere presence; you can read about this in "The Man Who Blew Things Up, my chapter on Pauli in The Secret History of Dreaming. The air conditioning wasn't working, they explained. So a fan had been set up in the corner, perfectly positioned to blow any notes I placed on the lectern all over the room. I reverted to my default mode, of speaking without notes.
I ran out of time before I came to the last recorded exchanges between Jung and Pauli, which had been much on my mind since I reviewed the extraordinary 26-year correspondence between these two intellectual giants whose minds worked together on the quest to understand the interweaving of mind and matter, psyche and physis, in the larger reality. In his last letter to Jung (August 5, 1957), less than a year before his sudden death from pancreatic cancer, Pauli reported that in dreams, he was spending a lot of time in the constellation of Perseus, in the vicinity of the "demon star", Algol, a variable star that blinks off and on, from an earthly observer's perspective. In his response, Jung spoke to Pauli with deep respect and gratitude, and edged towards a perspective on synchronicity that - contrary to his previous insistence on the "acausal" nature of this phenomenon - allowed for the possibility of "an independent causal chain of events" hidden from the comprehension of contemporary science.
As I rode the night train home, I remembered that Jung once remarked that he was not a Jungian. If he were still with us, I am confident he would be surprising us with new models and definitions of synchronicity, and much else. To check on that would require a long-distance call.