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The Interplay of Science and The Mystical: Review of “Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung”

December 14, 2017

This is an important and fascinating book. I just discovered it recently though published in 2009. Something sucked me into it. Perhaps my decades-long interest in the relation between science and spirit; between our intuitive, unconscious being and our rational, conscious being.

Here, as for Pauli and Jung, it’s not “science and religion” but what author, Arthur I. Miller, might prefer to see stated as “science and mysticism” or maybe “science and spirit”.

Once into the book, the hook was also the deep peer into two extraordinary minds and lives… of Wolfgang Pauli, physicist, and Carl Jung, psychologist.  And how Jung first helped Pauli out of despondency and self-destruction and then became an active collaborator as the two plumbed the depths of physical and psychic reality. Pauli seeking out the deepest, smallest structures, forces and “symbols” (mathematical equations) of the atom and Jung the structures and symbols of the mind and its “shadow side”.

There’s something here for a wide berth of readers: enough fascinating life-story for biography buffs; enough detailed atomic structure and history, personalities of early-to-mid 20th century physics for science buffs; enough political intrigue, conflict and drama for European history buffs; and enough of Pauli’s and Jung’s persistent probing into the relation of matter/energy and consciousness/life for anyone intrigued by the nature of reality and “what it’s all about”.

I want to keep this brief. So rather than summarize much of the wide-ranging, fascinating detective and historical work of the author (such as correspondence not made public before) or of the protagonists (both were historians as well as innovators in their own and related fields), here are some “take-aways” for me:

  • Innovation is fostered both by cooperative synergy and by competition (sometimes with a nasty edge)

  • While physics has advanced tremendously since Pauli’s death in 1958, some of the questions puzzling him and his colleagues remain unanswered, particularly the reason for the centrality of “137”, while even more have been raised

  • Similarly, Jung’s breakthrough insights about the collective unconscious and archetypes has been advanced in areas such as “resonant sensing” (or “remote viewing”), and “near death” studies, much remains shrouded in mystery

  • “The academy” and control centers of both physics and psychology remain basically as closed and averse to serious research and examination of “parapsychology” as they were 50+ years ago, though these two men, with others since, have demonstrated the viability and promise of such research and consideration

  • (In other words, as to the above, institutional resistance yet needs to be broken down… resistance stemming from the doubly irrational positions of pure materialism in the physical sciences and much of psychology and the “magical” supernaturalism of its major opponents operating out of the orthodox theism of the monotheistic religions)

My own reflection, a step beyond or aside from where Arthur Miller leaves us, is that the complementarity of opposite poles considered crucial in both physics and psychology by Pauli and Jung is most often not in play, on a human level.  That is, few people allow for a valid “opposite” or counter-balance to their own perspective. We need a breakthrough toward mutual respect and greater introspection.  Rather than this holding sway, vast energy is being wasted by certain science representatives opposing religion (and/or spirituality) too broadly.  In reaction, many religious leaders and lay people take up an offense, counter-attacking science, being anti-evolution and such.

Fear of being ostracized or ridiculed by their colleagues, and of institutional “penalties” held back Pauli and Jung from some of what they wished to contribute to stimulate further thinking and research.  Sadly, it is not much different yet today.  But the legacy of both men, and of their “strange” and productive friendship leaves us a lot to work from and an inspiration to forge ahead.     

2 Comments leave one →
  1. hoju1959 permalink
    December 15, 2017 10:59 am

    Howard, I think this book has too many big words for me! Do you know of a primer for laypeople?

  2. December 27, 2017 10:56 am

    Sorry, I missed seeing your comment/question. As to a “primer” on these two men, they both have biographies out, I believe. I know Jung does at least. As to a primer on the same subjects, such as the relation of physics and “mind” or consciousness/the unconscious (individual or collective), there are probably many. I don’t actually read much in this area lately, to have good and recent recommendations.

    However, I’m about to review one of the classics among physics/consciousness primers, very well researched and written for a lay audience, with very little math or advanced physics or “technical” philosophy: “The Field”, by Lynne McTaggart. I highly recommend this book as very readable, fascinating, and important as well.

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