Thursday, 5 November 2015

Physics and metaphysics: the Pauli/Jung letters

The young Wolfgang Pauli
I recently finished reading Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters 1932-1958, English edition, edited by C. A. Meier with a preface by Beverley Zabriskie, Princeton University Press, 2001.

As with nearly all books, I read the preface (and/or introduction) last. I find that doing so avoids any expectations that I might look for in reading the entire work which might alter my perceptions accordingly. It also reveals what I might have missed, giving me reason to question why I did so. An exception to this practice is another book I have started reading for the second time: T. E. Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, where his own introduction sets the stage to understanding the Arab cultures and political background of his time, and is seven chapters long (people thinking about current problems in the middle-east should read this, too!).

I shared, with Beverley Zabriskie, a wonder at whose words I was reading at many points in their communications: sometimes, Pauli was talking psychology; sometimes Jung was talking physics. Jung's letters were often more complex than his published writing as his audience, in the letters, was a man often very familiar with his works as well as knowing Jung, personally, for many years. It surprised me, too, to read about dinners with Albert Einstein where the host was neither Einstein nor Pauli, but Jung.

Pauli's relationship with Albert Einstein was rather different: more professional and respectful than friendly. It was Pauli who successfully interpreted some of Einstein's research to a public and scientific community unprepared for it; It was Einstein who nominated Pauli for his Nobel Prize and once said of him: "He is the best of us".

But there is more in this book than letters and introductory essays: Appendix 3 is an unpublished essay by Wolfgang Pauli of which Markus Fierze says in Comments on Appendix 3 (op.cit. Appendix 2):
"A typewritten copy of the following essay by Pauli—"Modern Examples of 'Background Physics'"—was found among the correspondence with Jung; apparently, Pauli wanted to send it to Jung. The essay was never published and is undated."

Fortunately, you can read this essay, online, for yourself. So that you can share my experience of reading a work prior to any introductory explanation, I will let you to do just that and conclude, tomorrow, not just with more from Fierze, but from Jung and Pauli's letters and I will also add something from P. D. Ouspensky (Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский), Tertium Organum with its quotes from Immanuel Kant .

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hi John:
    If you contact Dick Stout he'll give you my email address. I live not far from where TE Lawrence - an interesting character whose choice of two-wheeled transport was impeccable - had his fatal accident and have many pics of the site and of his grave.


    John Howland

  2. That would be terrific, John, as I will be doing a post on Lawrence, eventually and would love to include such (with your permission and giving photo credits).

    I don't have Dick's email but here is mine:

    john [at} It might be useful to you, anyway!