Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932–1958 Edited by

C. A.
Princeton U. Press
Princeton, N.J.
, 2001 [1992, reissued]. $29.95 (250 pp.). ISBN 0-691-01207-5

Wolfgang Pauli’s name as father of the neutrino and discoverer of the exclusion principle is familiar to every physicist. However, Pauli’s role in shaping modern physics is not as widely known; nor is the fact that many American physicists learned quantum mechanics, indirectly, from him.

Pauli wrote his book-sized General Principles of Quantum Mechanics (Springer-Verlag, 1980) in 1932 as a contribution to the Handbuch der Physik. Robert Serber writes in his memoirs Peace & War (Columbia U. Press, 1998), “The basic logic of Oppenheimer’s course in quantum mechanics derived from Pauli’s article in the Handbuch der Physik. Its graduates, Leonard Schiff in particular, carried it, each in his own version, to many campuses.” Pauli’s magisterial review of the new field of fundamental physics, which he had helped to create, was praised by cognoscenti as “the new testament.” But it had a troubled author.

Pauli’s wife had left him right after their wedding in 1930 and returned to her former boyfriend; Pauli’s colleague Hermann Weyl saw Pauli as “sometimes violently tormented by jealousy.” In early 1932 Pauli turned to Carl Jung, the already famous psychoanalyst, for help. Jung was thrilled by the opportunity to look into the subconscious of one of the worlds most brilliant minds. The Swiss psychiatrist described Pauli’s predicament, without naming him, during a lecture in 1935:

“I had a case, a university man, a very one-sided intellectual. His unconscious had become troubled and activated; so it projected itself into other men who appeared to be his enemies, and he felt terribly lonely because everybody seemed to be against him. Then he began to drink in order to forget his troubles, but he got exceedingly irritable and in these moods he began to quarrel with other men … and once he was thrown out of a restaurant and got beaten up.”

Jung did not obtain Pauli’s dreams first-hand. Rather, he said, “Now I am going to make an interesting experiment to get the material absolutely pure, without any influence from myself, and therefore I won’t touch it.” He referred Pauli to Dr. Erna Rosenbaum, “who was then just a beginner … I was absolutely sure she would not tamper.”

On 3 February 1932, Pauli wrote to Jung’s disciple: “A week ago I had consulted Herr Jung about certain neurotic phenomena which among others make it easier for me to succeed in academia than with women. Since it is the other way round with Herr Jung he seemed to be the suitable man to treat me professionally.”

In the following months, while finishing his analysis of quantum mechanics, Pauli produced for interpretation about a thousand of his own dreams. A delighted Jung turned some 400 dreams from the Pauli “factory” into a 120-page paper on “Dream Symbols,” without revealing the dreamer’s identity. The psychoanalytic transference via the Rosenbaum channel worked: Pauli became happily married (to another woman) and Jung was appointed professor at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich.

So began the association—and correspondence—between the 32-year-old “conscience of physics” and his 57-year-old father figure, in an attempt to explore the structure of Pauli’s unconscious. The association lasted until Pauli’s death in 1958. Atom and Archetype, the collection of letters, is a careful translation by David Roscoe of a German edition published in 1992 with the assistance of the physicists Markus Fierz and Charles Enz, leading Pauli experts. Jungian analyst Beverley Zabriskie contributed the introductory essay, “Jung and Pauli, A Meeting of Rare Minds,” to the English-language edition.

Among the 80 letters in Atom and Archetype are 39 by Pauli, and appendices containing several lectures by him—and an unpublished essay “Modern Examples of Background Physics” (“Hintergrundsphysik”).

This essay was found with the correspondence between Pauli and Jung and addresses itself to the principal theme of their exchanges. What Pauli had in mind was a description of nature integrating both physics and psyche. He wrote in the introduction: “In order to achieve this integrated description of nature, it seems to be necessary to have recourse to the archaic background of the scientific concepts. In the following brief commentary, I shall attempt to outline and explain, how the physicist, in having recourse to these facts, is of necessity bound to move from this background and end up in the world of psychology.”