Monday, August 10, 2009


Wolfgang Pauli was one of the premier physicists and mathematicians of his time, and was involved in many fundamental discoveries of early quantum physics. But while his professional successes were extraordinary--Einstein considered Pauli an heir--his personal life was an unmitigated catastrophe. He ridiculed colleagues and belittled others in his field, often cruelly. He drank to excess and spent his evenings in bars and brothels, unable to connect with women in any more lasting way.

In desperation, Pauli visited C.G. Jung, asking the eminent psychologist for treatment, thereby beginning a fruitful series of discussions, analytic sessions, and a lasting correspondance.

Both Pauli and Jung inhabited the peculiar no-man's land between scientist and mystic. Each was an advocate of the scientific method, of statistical analysis, of observation and notation, of the controlled experiment. But at the same time both men achieved their greatest insights and discoveries via intuition or other non-rational methods. Both were fascinated by alchemy and Eastern thought, and both read Latin and Greek. Each was curious about the idea of numbers as archetypes, and strove to understand the significance of the number 137. When Jung's research and practice leads him to a belief in spirits, precognition, ESP, and a collective unconscious, Pauli is watching the laws of Newton collapse in the magical and contradictory world of subatomic particles.

Pauli was victim his whole life to mechanical accidents which effected those working around him. These synchronistic occurences were labeled "the Pauli effect," and some die-hard rationalist physicists took it very seriously. These episodes are breezily narrated here, and Arthur I. Miller handles worthily the comlex careers and lives of these two curious souls, with their personal failings and public successes. There is just enough detail about quantum physics and analytical psychology to avoid bogging down the story, and the detailed descriptions of Pauli's dreams, submitted to Jung for analysis, are alone worth the cover price.

1 comment:

Casey said...

If you haven't yet read "Strange Angel," the book about rocket scientist/Thelemic mystic Jack Parsons, I HIGHLY recommend it. A top-shelf yarn about scientific inquiry in the early 20th century, and the bootstrapping Utopianism/hucksterhood of fantastic LA.