Pauli, Jung, Matter and Symbol

In the first half of the twentieth century, physicists and mathematicians began to raise questions about what they could say about what they were actually doing.  The ‘truth’ of things was beginning to elude the seekers of that truth. Both the validity of mathematical ideas and the objectivity of physics came under scrutiny.  Questions about how mind and matter were related resurfaced.   They led to statements like this one from Hermann Weyl’s lecture on Mind and Nature (1934):

…the structure of our scientific cognition of the world is decisively determined by the fact that this world does not exist in itself, but is merely encountered by us as an object in the correlative variance of subject and object.

In the book of selected writings where this lecture appears, there is a photo of Weyl with Hermann Hesse from 1953.  Hesse’s book The Glass Bead Game, a game that employs all of the cultural and scientific knowledge of the ages, is a favorite of mine.  The game is built on intellectual rigor and monastic discipline.  I tried to find what I could about the relationship between Weyl and Hesse.  But in my search I went astray and found instead a few accounts of another relationship, another unlikely pair, physicist Wolfgang Pauli and Carl G. Jung.   In a piece by Arthur I. Miller, which highlights a dream Pauli brought to Jung,  Miller looks at the dream’s relationship to Pauli’s Exclusion Principle for which he won a Nobel Prize.  (Pauli and Jung are the subject of Miller’s book 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession)

Another take on the Pauli-Jung relationship is in an e-publication article for the Metanexus Institute which promotes transdisciplinary research into “profound questions of human meaning.”  Their historical account of the meeting of Pauli and Jung is much the same.  But they also let us see Pauli’s reservations about Jung.

The two met first in 1932, and Jung would be Pauli’s therapist until 1934 when Pauli ended their sessions. But two years later Pauli renewed contact with Jung. This correspondence lasted until 1957.  The article quotes one of Pauli’s letters to Jung in 1937 in which he says,

even the most modern physics also lends itself to the symbolic representation of psychic processes, even down to the last detail.

Jung was convinced that number was an archetype, part of the collective unconscious, an idea he introduced that ‘psychologically’ connected the individual to the collective history of humanity.  Archetypes are like hardwired organizing principles that cannot be known directly, but images of them are found in symbol.   Number was the bridge, for Jung, between the human world and the higher world, believing their reality to be valid in both.  Jung found, however, that he could not do mathematics and Pauli has been quoted as having said of Jung that he was “quite without scientific training.”

It was personal circumstances brought Pauli to Jung.  But something about Jung’s perspective took hold in Pauli.  In 1952 they published together.  The English translation appeared in 1955 called The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. In it Pauli argues that “pure logic” is not capable of establishing a “bridge between the sense perceptions and the concepts.”  (This sounds like an argument against the formalist’s hopes for finding logic to be the foundations of mathematics).

I don’t think we will find that Jung got it all right.  But we will likely find that Jung got something with which philosophers of science and cognitive scientists still grapple.  It has to do with the underlying significance of the body and its inexhaustible capacity to discern or characterize realities not known through the senses.

4 comments to Pauli, Jung, Matter and Symbol

  • RE: The neuroscience of our consciousness: A new perspective and its mechanics in our brain!?

    In the above, Joselle answers Todd Laurencce that “I expect that new language will be brought to bear on how we understand the complexities of human consciousness and culture which, while consistent with the way he gave shape to his insights, will also recast them, and broaden them (if that’s possible!).”

    I thought that is a very perceptive of understanding Jung’s psychological insights into Pauli’s scientific insights of the early 20th-century quantum physics and mathematics via symbolism and creativity of our human mind!

    In fact, briefly I’ve had done just that, neurologically, which I coined the new term or language as “memophorescenicity” — the more dynamic neuronal mechanisms of our learning and memory systems in our brain — one that has been extensively and empirically characterized, localized, and defined in my 2006 pop-science-philosophy book “Gods, Genes, Conscience” (linked below; please see Chapter 15: The Universal Theory of Mind, in general; and Chapter 15.4: Memory Modulation and Recall: A New Hypothesis of Psychic Imagery, Perceptivity, Creativity, and Reflectivity, in particular).

    Best wishes, Mong 7/14/11usct1:58p; practical science-philosophy critic; author “Decoding Scientism” and “Consciousness & the Subconscious” (works in progress since July 2007), Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse; 2006) and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now (blogging avidly since 2006).

  • Not sure if I fully agree, but I love the article 🙂

  • Joselle

    I agree that Jung was exactly on target. I’ve read a good deal from his collected works and share his perspective on the nature of our internal worlds. But, while broadly interdisciplinary, his insights are drawn from a psychological perspective, and often defined by the needs of a clinician. This, I believe, has limited their influence. I expect that new language will be brought to bear on how we understand the complexities of human consciousness and culture which, while consistent with the way he gave shape to his insights, will also recast them, and broaden them (if that’s possible!).

    Thanks for taking the time to write so much. I really like the Pauli quote. Where is it from?

  • Todd Laurencce

    “I don’t think we will find that Jung got it all right.”

    To my mind, he was exactly on
    target, and I’ve had years of
    experiences with number archetypes.
    This example is one of them.
    Bx.Times Reporter

    Another example is the NY lottery
    game of 12/28/1983., when this
    “message” appeared:

    Jung’s comments:

    Since the remotest times men have used number to establish meaningful coincidences, that is, coincidences that can be interpreted.
    There is something peculiar, one might even say mysterious about numbers. They have never been entirely robbed of their numinous aura.
    It is generally believed that numbers were invented, or thought out by man, and are therefore nothing but concepts of quantities containing nothing that was not previously put into them by the human intellect. But it is equally possible that numbers were found or discovered.. In that case they are not only concepts but something more-autonomous entities which somehow contain more than just quantities.
    Unlike concepts, they are based not on any conditions – but on the quality of being themselves, on a “so-ness” that cannot be expressed by an intellectual concept.
    Under these conditions they might easily be endowed with qualities that have still to be discovered. I must confess that I incline to the view that numbers were as much found as invented, and that in consequence they possess a relative autonomy analogous to that of the archetypes.
    They would then have in common with the latter, the quality of being pre-existent to consciousness, and hence, on occasion, of conditioning it, rather than being conditioned by it.

    Pauli: “our primary mathematical
    intuitions can be arranged before
    we become conscious of them.”

    “such is the nature of reality,
    that anyone can experience that
    which is least understood.” TDL

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