A few years ago while I was researching material for a book, Synchronicity: The Bridge between Matter and Mind, I had occasion to write to a well-known physicist and student of the great Wolfgang Pauli. “Synchronicity,” came his reply, “is something which physicists do not know about, nor would they wish to.” His implication was clear: synchronicity smelled of pseudo science and loose thinking, so why on earth would anyone choose to get mixed up with ideas like that?
Scientists have not always exhibited such a hostile attitude toward Jung’s notion of an acausal connecting principle. Jung himself, in a letter to Einstein’s biographer Carl Seelig, related how he was introduced to the great physicist by one of Einstein’s assistants, Ludwig Hopf. Einstein and Bleuler dined at Jung’s house on a number of occasions, and the conversation turned to the physicist’s early attempts at formulating the special theory of relativity. It was during these meetings that Jung first began to think about relativity of time and its psychic connections.
Synchronicity, as a firm concept, did not really occur to Jung until around 1929. It is remarkable that the development of this idea a year later coincided with the appearance of a new patient, the brilliant young physicist, Wolfgang Pauli. The relationship that grew between Jung and Pauli is remarkable and well worth the telling, for it illustrates how scientists of that period were willing to entertain Jung’s ideas about synchronicity, archetypes, and the collective unconscious, and even attempt to extend them into their own fields. That one of the creators of modern quantum theory was also deeply interested in Jung’s ideas is not generally known, particularly amongst the scientific community. Indeed, I first learned of Pauli’s interests while chatting with the Dutch physicist, George Uhlenbeck, shortly before a radio interview. We had been talking about Newton and his interest in alchemy as well as in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelations. “You would be surprised,” Uhlenbeck told me, “but Pauli also had unorthodox interests. In fact, he probably thought more and has written more about such things than about physics, but they have never been published.” It was only later, while reading Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy, that I learned that Pauli was the author of a series of the remarkable dreams analyzed in that book.
Wolfgang Pauli Wolfgang Pauli was born into a well-to-do Viennese family in 1900. By his late teens, he had enrolled as a student at the University of Munich under Arnold Sommerfeld. By the age of 20 he had published an account of the theory of relativity that was remarkable for the depth and maturity of its insights. He had also become the mentor of the young Werner Heisenberg. Five years later, quantum theory had been created and Pauli was now at the centre of things. Not only did he make a detailed analysis of the hydrogen atom, which convinced most physicists that the new theory had to be correct; but he was also working behind the scenes, talking with Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, and helping to develop a new philosophy for sub-atomic matter — one which contained the radically new idea of complementarily.
Pauli was also responsible for the important exclusion principle, a profoundly new idea that was based upon notions of symmetry within the quantum domain. In fact, the principles of symmetry were to become the driving force within Pauli’s intellectual life. Symmetry, for Pauli, was the archetype. It was the underlying ground out of which scientific descriptions of nature arise. Rather than seeking the ultimate level of nature in terms of elementary particles, Pauli believed that the material level is the manifestation of something deeper, a Unus Mundus that is also the domain of symmetry (Jung had adopted this Latin phrase, unus mundus or “one world,” from the medieval alchemists).
When he wasn’t engaged in physics, Pauli liked to frequent bars and talk long into the night. In his late twenties this hard-drinking, hard-working physicist was appointed to the Chair of Theoretical Physics at Zurich. While he continued to lecture and work with his students, however, he was also becoming increasingly irritable and in seminars, became known as Die Geissel Gottes (scourge of God) and Der fürchterlich Pauli (The Terrible Pauli). A year later, Pauli’s mother had poisoned herself and he married a small-time night-club singer. The marriage broke up a few weeks later. Soon Pauli was at a crisis point; he had been thrown out of a number of bars and he now called upon Dr. Carl Jung for a consultation.
Over the next year Pauli recorded a series of his dreams which culminated in a vision of the world clock, a dream of the most subtle harmony. For Jung the diagnosis was clear: Pauli was a one-sided individual, someone whose thinking function had overwhelmed his whole being. Through a remarkable series of dreams, Pauli was able to experience what Jung believed lay close to a religious conversion.