Brooke got me a book for my birthday that I requested after discovering it via Undead Molly‘s weekly Peculiar Planet Picayune. This particular entry referenced “the ‘bizarre friendship‘ between Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli” — a description which certainly piqued my curiosity.
Molly linked to an interview in NewScientist with nerd historian Arthur I Miller, whose recently-published “buddy biography,” Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, seemed right up my alley. Bookslut puts it thusly:
Deciphering the Cosmic Number tells the story of two of the twentieth century’s most important scientists who, far from being mad, turned their shared desire to look beyond the visible and measurable world into a long and highly successful collaboration. These men, the famous psychoanalyst and father of the archetype Carl Jung, and the atomic physicist Wolfgang Pauli, believed that the invisible worlds they studied were real, and therefore had to exist in relationship to one and other. The only question was how. One clue was the number 137, which holds great significance in physics as well as in spiritual works, including the Kabbalah. As such, it became a sort of symbolic beacon of their quest for this link, a northwest passage into the spiritual realm, which would open as soon as they could pin down its meaning.
Although of course Pauli and Jung never did discover a mystical spiritual realm, or a comprehensive, unifying theory of existence, Miller demonstrates persuasively how their search led each man to broaden his thinking and solve some of the toughest problems of their age in highly creative, innovative ways. He does not explicitly argue that the western world’s mystical tradition has born fruit over the years by empowering people to question assumptions about cause and effect, thus encouraging intuitive, “outside the box” thinking. But he doesn’t really have to; Jung and Pauli prove it.
I finished the Collected Works of Carl Jung a little over a decade ago, and, although Jung probably had the biggest impact on my overall intellectual orientation, I haven’t directly examined his writings since then. Of course, I haven’t really had to — aspects of Uncle Carl’s mind science turn up in just about every piece of writing that interests me. So in that regard, we’ve never really been apart.
Wolfgang Pauli is new to me, as is a more serious study of quantum mechanics. Alas, I find myself at the doorstep of theoretical physics, wailing like an abandoned newborn. Thankfully, I grasp this stuff fairly quickly/intuitively, though I lack the training in the language of mathematics to properly express the concepts (or test my own theories). Better luck next life?
I’ve only just begun this book, but I’m loving it so far. Miller has a crisp, readable style that neither dumbs things down nor assumes a background in archetypal psychology, mythological symbolism, comparative religion or quantum physics. Which is good, ’cause I only know about the first three, and I don’t enjoy feeling like a big fat idiot.
I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about this later, but for now I just wanted to say thanks to Molly for tipping me off, and to Brooke for delivering the goods.
Note to self: ask the Doctor if he ever had the occasion to meet Pauli. I think they’re about the same age. . .