Wolfgang Pauli dreamt. Carl Gustav Jung analysed. And together, they set out on a journey to find an answer for ‘the answer to life, the Universe and everything’.
But is possible that what they found out had already been hinted at in the philosophical traditions of India?
Arthur I. Miller. 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession. W. W. Norton & Company. 2010.
It started with a video clipping I received recently. A clipping from that notorious serial, Ancient Aliens. It was on Srinivasa Ramanujan. The serial implied alien contact and influence on Ramanujan. It was Western sensationalism at its pseudoscientific worst.
What about our own perception of great Indian minds as Ramanujan's? Beyond the small circle of mathematicians, either we fall into a self-defeating admiration for the West or into a self-delusion of imagined grandeur -- both born out of our deep-seated inferiority complex.
Apart from mathematics, I consider the intuitions of Ramanujan wonderful opportunity for psychologists to look deep into the way creative aspects of human psyche works.
Indic spirituality and culture have always used Gods and Goddesses as more a way of turning inwards, and in a unique way, tied them to the understanding of the universe. Here is, perhaps, a doorway to such a study. Are there similar such studies done elsewhere? Such a quest got me into a wonderful book. 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession. It is by the physicist, author and historian of science, Arthur I. Miller.
What did Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Gustav Jung share in common? The physicist and the psychiatrist were in the eye of the storm when their respective disciplines were undergoing a profound revolution. Interestingly, they exchanged notes, through the sessions Pauli had with Jung.
Carl Jung had already questioned Freud and Freud had labelled Jung an occultist. Freud never shared the scientific interest Jung had in the mystical. Pauli was, sort of, luckier. He had demolished one of the still-enduring image of the atom -- the solar system model put forth by Niels Bohr. He was working on the Anomalous Zeeman Effect -- the phenomenon of splitting of atomic spectral lines in weak magnetic fields. Arthur Miller, in his deep and fascinating study into the meeting of these two great and complex minds, explores the strange world of quantum physics, Jungian psychology, alchemical images and Kabbalistic significance of numbers, etc.
The work Arthur Miller has taken is not exactly an enviable one. It is a territory filled with landmines. Talk about quantum mechanics and Jung in the same breath, and there is every possibility your book may end up along with those of Deepak Chopra, and that would be the greatest tragedy to befall on any good popular science book. This book combines not just science and biographies of two very complex personalities who operated in two wizardly realms, but also history and philosophy of two radically different approaches to reality -- one, through the intricate labyrinth of psyche, and the other, through the equally intricate equations exploring the matter.
Pauli’s family -- Jewish, had converted to Catholicism. It was a decision taken by his father. However, this seemingly unimportant forced conversion would later play a key role in the inner life of Pauli:
This was not unusual for a Jewish-born academic; in the anti-Semitic environment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire it increased his chances of academic advancement considerably. ... When Pauli went home for a visit he asked his mother and father about their backgrounds and in this way found out about his Jewish ancestry. Of course any discussion of this issue was almost certainly taboo in the Pauli family. ... For some years Pauli was not altogether happy to have discovered his Jewish ancestry. ... One year after his mother’s death, in 1928, he decided to leave the Catholic Church. Despite the fact that Judaism passes down the mother’s line and his sister Hertha always insisted she was half-Catholic, not half-Jewish, Wolfgang decided he was Jewish. ... In any case, a little over a decade later to assert his Jewishness in Germany or Austria would have been suicide. He was only able to fully come to terms with his Jewishness after lengthy analysis with Jung.
This becomes important in the work of physicist Pauli because he and Jung would discover later, that there was, what could be construed as a mystical link between one of Pauli’s most important contributions to quantum mechanics, and Kabbalah -- the most elaborate Jewish mystic system.
There are further Jungian explorations into the dream imagery of Pauli and its connection to not only his physics, but also to the mandalas and alchemical traditions of the West as well as East. Particularly interesting is a ‘three dimensional mandala’ image Pauli dreams, which shows two wheels perpendicular to each other with an eagle-like bird carrying it. The wheels are connected to number 32.
But Jung is, at first, at a loss, as to what it means. What does Pauli mean when he describes his vision as “the most sublime harmony”? It seems to signify wholeness in Pauli’s psyche, but why does he state so firmly that he is now at peace with himself? Jung wonders if he is missing some essential clue. Perhaps by “harmony,” Pauli means musical harmony, the harmony of the spheres in the sense in which Kepler used the term. Yet, the circles are not particularly harmonic. They differ in character and movement. Another problem is that a mandala always has a sacred object or image at its center. Pauli’s has none. The center is nothing but a mathematical point formed by the intersection of the diameters of two circles. It is effectively empty.
For an Indian mind, the figure does denote a sacred object. Sudarshana -- literally, the good vision or harmonious vision. And the eagle-like figure is, of course, Garuda. According to Pancharatra texts, Sudarshana is described as having four, six, eight, sixteen and thirty-two hands. One cannot but wonder if Jung missed, perhaps, a very intriguing proof for his collective unconscious.
Jung employs the vision of 14th century Norman poet, Guillaume de Digulleville, in which the paradise is shown to have forty-nine rotating spheres. The vision was informed through an angel. It also shows the mystic poet, the King and Queen of heaven, on their thrones. Jung, comparing elaborately both the imageries, concludes, that ultimately, it is about the mystery of Trinity becoming four. Miller writes: The problem for Guillaume and all the philosophers of the Middle Ages was to find the fourth. Perhaps, Pauli’s vision provided “a symbolic answer to this age-old question." After all, Pauli was looking into the problem of making the three quantum numbers to define an electron into four. For Jung, this does not prove God, but the presence of the God-archetype, points out Miller.
Interestingly, even this problem that the esoteric Christian theology of medieval times wrestled with and which, according to Jung, found an extension in Pauli’s own problem, can be found resolved in Hindu sacred texts – particularly, in Vaishnavism. The three Vyuhas of Vishnu — Sankarshana, Aniruddha and Pradyumna, which are being grounded in the fourth Vyuha, Vasudeva.
Already, in 1915, theoretical physicist Arnold Sommerfeld had discovered the number 137 – which becomes the key to the quest in the book. Pauli was working on quantum numbers that would relate to ‘defining’ an electron in the atomic structure. He had demonstrated that along with the three numbers used, one needed a fourth quantum number. Pauli, who had demolished one of the strongest imagery of atoms, now struggled to visualise this fourth quantum number. And, in this, he was convinced, that the number 137 plays a fundamental role. Deeply disturbed, Pauli, at last, sought the help of Jung, and that resulted in a symbiotic working relation between these two great minds.
This quest took over his waking and sleeping life. Driven beyond endurance, he sought the help of Jung. Jung’s theory of psychology offered Pauli a way to understand the deeper meaning of the fourth quantum number and its connection with 137, one that went beyond science into the realm of mysticism, alchemy, and archetypes. Jung, for his part, saw in Pauli a treasure trove of archaic memories, as well as a great scientist who could help him put his theories on a firm footing.
137 also turns out to be a number that has mystic significance in Kabbalah. In fact, it is the sum of the Hebrew letters of the word “Kabbalah." Here, one should point out that the book does not dabble in pseudo-scientific numerological fantasies. The book provides an effort-worthy glimpse into the way the human mind struggled to understand reality and how it impacted individual lives. We get a glimpse of such wonderful minds as those of Niels Bohr and Heisenberg. There are authentic anecdotes from the period of the birth of quantum mechanics. For example, when Bohr commented on a theory as ‘interesting’, he almost thought it was wrong. When he commented on some theory as crazy, he thought that it was right.
A very subtle strand of mysticism definitely runs through the emergence of quantum physics. No wonder, Pauli himself would later say:
“I do not believe in the possible future of mysticism in the old form. However, I do believe that the natural sciences will, out of themselves, bring forth a counter pole in their adherents, which connects with the old mystic elements.”
It is really hard to take this delicate strand and show it to the readers without falling into the pitfalls of pseudo-sciences and new age yarns. Alternating between the worlds of Jung and Pauli, in one chapter after the other, the gripping way in which Arthur Miller leads the reader through this enchanting maze of human understanding of the realms inner and outer, should be experienced to feel the thrill. At the same time, it is not a cheap thrill one finds with Dan Brown’s pseudo-history, but a deeper and profound one.
The book is a must read for every student of physics, philosophy and psychology. But wait, what about our own Ramanujan?
In his book Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension, physicist Michio Kaku writes:
The string vibrates in ten dimensions because it requires these generalised Ramanujan functions in order to remain self-consistent. In other words, physicists have not the slightest understanding of why ten and 26 dimensions are singled out as the dimension of the string. It is, as though, a deep numerology is being manifested in these functions that no one understands.
There is a curious coincidence here.
The Goddess Namagiri Thayar, through whose imagery Ramanujan intuited his mathematical theorems was the form of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s consort. The relationship between Vishnu and Lakshmi is rooted in one of the most ancient of the six schools of Darshanas, the Sankhya. Vishnu and Lakshmi are, thus, the Purusha and Prakrithi. Lakshmi, and hence Namagiri Thayar, is the Prakrithi of Sankhya. According to Lakshmi Tantra, the very building blocks of the experience of the physical world arise from the matrix of the Divine Feminine. And according to Sankhya, the universe is a sum total of 24 principles that bring matter into manifest existence. Later, interestingly, two more principles were added, bringing the sum total of principles to 26. A coincidence?
One cannot but feel longingly that our own Ramanujan phenomenon will also be studied one day so thoroughly in the background of our rich Indic traditions of the inner realms. May that day dawn very soon.