Monday, September 4, 2017

The Man Who Blew Things Up

Wolfgang Pauli was one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century, awarded the Nobel Prize for his pioneer work in quantum physics. He was also a world-class dreamer. He described dreams as his "secret laboratory". Early in their relationship, Pauli shared 1,500 dream reports with Jung and his assistants over an 18 month period, and these were a primary source for Jung's book Psychology and Alchemy.
    The creative collaboration between Pauli and Jung over many years is one of the great examples of cross-pollination between great intellects working in different fields. The pioneers of depth psychology and quantum physics found themselves in ever-deepening agreement that there is no fundamental divide between mind and matter. In a paper on "Background Physics", Pauli discussed the need to develop “a description of nature integrating both physis and psyche” He explained that in developing this model he would use terms and concepts from physics that came alive as symbols in his dreams. [1]

    Pauli and Jung found themselves in agreement that the study of synchronicity is the royal road to the unus mundus, the identity of mind and matter in the deeper reality. Pauli made a tremendous contribution to the theory of synchronicity for which Jung became famous. Ironically, he disliked that word "synchronicity", coined by Jung.  He preferred older terms like "correspondence" or the term "isomorphy", used in mathematics to describe the identity or near identity of forms.
    In an excellent summation, Suzanne Gieser observed that “Pauli had from the start a very well-defined opinion of synchronicity: it represents a coinciding of an internal condition – for example a particular state of consciousness – and an external process which is related to the condition. The relationship between the internal and the external appears meaningful, in other words a kind of ‘sense in chance’. Pauli therefore felt that the emphasis ought to be on the experience of meaning and significance, not on the relative simultaneity as is implied in the concept of synchronicity. It would be more appropriate to speak of a meaningful connection or correspondence of meaning. The phenomena…often arise with a transition from an unstable state of consciousness into a new stable state” [2]
    Pauli lived this stuff. He became the poster boy for a dramatic mode of synchronistic phenomena that is now known, in his honor, as the Pauli Effect and can be found in almost any dictionary.
    “Pauli Effect” is a term invented to describe the way the mere presence of the pioneer of quantum mechanics, tended to cause things to blow up, especially physics experiments and equipment. At least one experimental physicist (Otto Stern) banned Pauli from coming anywhere near his laboratory.

    Pauli was brilliant, but he was also a roiling mass of conflicted emotions. His mother’s suicide, his father’s subsequent marriage to a woman half his age, his discovery as a young adult that his parents had concealed the fact that three of his grandparents were Jewish, his heavy drinking and a disastrous early union with a cabaret dancer who ran off with another man, all contributed his violent mood swings. The way the material world seemed to react to him is a case study in how mind and matter interact, so egregious that we can hardly miss drawing the lesson that thoughts and feelings are actions that change the world we inhabit.
   Pauli's friend and colleague Rudolf Peierls (a German-born physicist who moved to England and later worked on the Manhattan Project) described the Paul Effect as follows: “This was a kind of spell he was supposed to cast on people or objects in his neighborhood, particularly in physics laboratories, causing accidents of all sorts. Machines would stop running when he arrived in a laboratory, a glass apparatus would suddenly break, a leak would appear in a vacuum system, but none of these accidents would ever hurt or inconvenience Pauli himself.” [3]
   When important experimental equipment in Professor James Frank’s laboratory at the Physics Institute at the University of Gottingen blew up for no apparent reason, someone remarked that this could be the Pauli effect. However, Pauli was nowhere in the area; he was on a train, traveling to Denmark. It was later discovered that at the time of the lab explosion, the train carrying Pauli from Zurich to Copenhagen was making a stop at Gottingen station.
  When he arrived at Princeton in 1950, an expensive new cyclotron that had recently be installed burned for no obvious reason, and there was again speculation about the Pauli Effect.
   Such phenomena happened outside the laboratory.
   When the Jung Institute was inaugurated in Zurich in 1948, Pauli attended the opening ceremony, since Jung had asked him to become a “scientific patron” and so represent the convergence of physics and psychology. At the time, Pauli's mind was turning on the tension between two earlier approaches to knowledge represented by the alchemist Robert Fludd and the scientist Johannes Kepler. When Pauli entered the reception room for the Jung party, a large Chinese vase inexplicably slid off a table, creating a flood that drenched some of the distinguished guests. Pauli saw huge symbolic significance because of the echo of “Fludd” in the phenomenon of the spontaneous “flood”. This incident inspired him to write his paper “Background Physics”.
    On another occasion, Pauli was sitting at a table in the window of the CafĂ© Odeon, thinking intently about the color red and its feeling tones. While thinking “red”, he was unable to take his eyes off a large, unoccupied car parked in front of the restaurant. As he watched, the car burst into flames and his field of vision was filled with fiery red.
    In yet another, quite hilarious, incident in New York, Pauli was lunching with Erwin Panofsky, the famous art historian and two other scholars. When they rose from the table after dessert, three of the men found that they had been sitting - inexplicably - on whipped cream, now smeared over their trousered rumps. The only one unscathed, of course, was Pauli.
    According to his close colleague Marcus Fierz, “Pauli believed thoroughly in his effect.”  He experienced an unpleasant inner tension before things blew up. After the event, he felt relief and release from tension, even moments of euphoria. No doubt he enjoyed his ever-growing reputation for producing wickedly strange phenomena. This was, after all, the man who dressed up as Mephistopheles for a skit in front of Niels Bohr’s circle in Copenhagen. [4]
The best story on the Pauli Effect is from Rudolf Peierls. Some of Pauli’s fellow-scientists plotted to spoof the effect attributed to him at a reception. They carefully suspended a chandelier by a rope that they intended to release when Pauli entered the room, causing the chandelier to crash down. “But when Pauli came, the rope became wedged on a pulley and nothing happened – a typical example of the Pauli effect.” [5]
It has been suggested that the reason Pauli was not invited to join the Manhattan Project – which recruited many physicists from his circle – was that the directors knew Pauli’s reputation and were worried that he would blow up something vital.


1. C.A, Meier (ed) Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932-1958 (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001) 176, 180
2. Suzanne Gieser, The Innermost Kernel: Depth Psychology and Quantum Physics  (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 2005) 284.
3.R.E.Peierls. “Wolfgang Ernest Pauli 1900-1958” in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society vol 5 (February, 1960) 185.
4. Charles Enz, No Time to Be Brief: A Scientific Biography of Wolfgang Pauli (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 150.
5. Peierls, ibid.

Text adapted from chapter 11 of The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.   

No the upside-down photo is not an example of the spontaneous working of the Pauli Effect. However, the fact it nearly failed to load could be.

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