Tuesday, 1 October 2013

An example of transdisciplinarity: expert systems and evolutionary cladistics 1. Wolfgang Pauli and Paul Kammerer

Wolfgang Pauli, 1900 - 1958
photo: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv
Sometimes, coming up with a new but trivial topic is more difficult than tackling something complex that has already been given some thought. So with no further ado, let's start with a comparison between the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the biologist Paul Kammerer.

The two share some common features: they were both Austrian scientists, they both had some interest in coincidences -- with Kammerer, a direct interest in meaningful coincidences; with Pauli, an interchange of ideas with C. G. Jung about the latter's theory of synchronicity. There are many definitions of synchronicity on the web, but the link I give above is more accurate than most others. Synchronicity is not just any meaningful coincidence -- you are thinking about a friend and at that moment that friend phones you. That is not synchronicity: your thoughts about the friend were conscious, and the phone ringing was an event in the material world. With synchronicity, the source is not the conscious, but the unconscious. We cannot see it but it sets up a constellation of psychic effects in the consciousness -- whether through dreams or by creative work, by which, the unconscious event can be understood to have happened even though it cannot exactly be seen. In both cases, though, there is a meaningful event that occurs in the material world. The significance that an event in the unconscious can be mirrored by an event in the real world around the same time is best described in one of my favorite books by Jung: On the Nature of the Psyche in which he says (p.125):
"Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them. Our present knowledge does not allow us to do much more than compare the relation of the psychic to the material world wtih two cones, whose apices, meeting in a point without extension -- a real zero-point -- touch and do not touch."
Later (op. cit. p.139 and note 130) Jung discusses the unconscious' "organizing influence on the contents of consciousness." and quotes Pauli's communication with him about the matter:
"As a matter of fact the physicist would expect a psychological correspondence at this point, because the epistemological situation with regard to the concepts 'conscious' and 'unconscious' seems to offer a pretty close analogy to the undermentioned 'complimentarity' situation on physics. ... It is undeniable that the development of 'microphysics' has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic 'complementarity' situation. is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality."
These matters are especially relevant to transdisciplinarity as described in: Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Jung, and the Acausal Connecting Principle: A Case Study in Transdisciplinarity by Charlene P. E. Burns.

While these matters will become important later in this series, for now, let us focus on another shared interest between Pauli and Kammerer: the distrust of Darwin's ideas of random mutations in his evolutionary theory. Kammerer defended Lamarckism, and in his infamous experiments with the midwife toad, sought to prove that learned characteristics could, indeed, be inherited. We still have no idea whether the accusations of his faking were true, or whether he had been framed, but the scandal resulted in his suicide.

Interestingly, Creationists use the example of Kammerer to dismiss evolution completely and conveniently bring up neither the details of the uncertainty about Kammerer's midwife toad experiments, nor the later theories of epigenetics. The important part is that both the Creationists and Kammerer were trying to defend previous ideas, but Pauli's skepticism of Darwin's  random mutations was based on his calculations that the numbers did not work. Pauli knew rather a lot about numbers, as we will see in the next episode. Incidentally, Pauli is also (mis)used by creationists to deny evolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment