Sunday, October 3, 2010

#80. Two Mavericks


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On Father's Day last June my son, Mike, gave me a book about the relationship between C. G. Jung (the most significant psychologist of the 20th century) and Wolfgang Pauli (along with Einstein, one of the most significant scientists of the 20th century).



The book is Deciphering the Cosmic Number, The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, by Arthur I. Miller (W. W. Norton Co, 2009). It ranks as one of the all-time most fascinating books I've ever read, and it has helped me think through some ideas I've had since I was taking a course on the history of science at Wesleyan University back in the mid-1960s.

The author, Arthur I. Miller, describes himself as a physicist with a special interest in the creative process. He has written several books about the relationship between art and science, including one, Insights of Genius, with the interesting subtitle Imagery and Creativity in Art and Science.

He says that the interaction between the scientist Pauli and the psychologist Jung offers us "a powerful example" of the creative process.

He calls Pauli and Jung "mavericks" because, in their work together, they explored the middle ground between the two fields of psychology and physics. He says that he wants to look into their minds and understand them as persons. I think he has been successful.

It's a fascinating book and I'm grateful to Mike for such a great Father's Day gift.

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I want to share some thoughts about Deciphering the Cosmic Number not only because it's so interesting in itself but also because it contains significant insights for understanding the relationship between cosmic evolution and religious ritual.

In the series of seven posts (#73 to #79) I've written about "Two Important Books" (Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution and Ken Wilber's Marriage of Sense and Soul), the one negative thing I had to say about Dowd's book has to do with his comments about ritual. I said that they're not in any sense wrong or incorrect, but they are inadequate.

I added that "I'm sympathetic" because I've struggled repeatedly to express my own thoughts about the connections between religious ritual and the evolution of the cosmos--and I don't feel that I have been successful.

I've shared my thoughts about ritual in a number of previous posts, including a series starting with #59 (Evolution and Religious Ritual). In the last post of that series, #65 (Ritual's Cosmic Roots), I said that "the cosmic roots of ritual are considerably more difficult to describe than ritual's biological and psychological roots." I added that it may be "impossible to adequately describe ritual's cosmic roots."

I have never felt anywhere near satisfied with what still seems to me an extremely inadequate expression of my understanding of the connection between evolution and ritual. My final thought in post #65 was that "even though I can't put into words what's needed, there's more."

It turns out that Miller's book has helped me to crystallize what I've been trying to say. So in this post and the next I'm going to give it another try-- with thanks to Mike Mackintosh, Arthur I. Miller, C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli.

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First, some information about these two "mavericks."

Pauli was born in Vienna in 1900. By 1936 he had already formulated the famous Pauli Exclusion Principle (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945) and he had predicted the existence of a previously unknown sub-atomic particle, the neutrino (which was not discovered until 1956).

The Exclusion Principle is about the arrangement of electrons in atoms. It has to do with the seemingly trivial but immensely important fact that an atom's electron structure can only be adequately described with four, rather than three, quantum numbers.

Those early years of the 20th century were much like the Renaissance period in Italy. They were a time of great discoveries: Sigmund Freud discovered that mind itself can be studied, Neils Bohr produced the first model of the atom, physicist Max Planck formulated his quantum theory about the smallest parts of the atom, and Albert Einstein published his relativity theory which helps us to understand the very largest aspects of the universe (gravity, stars and galaxies).

Miller notes that also at this time philosophical thought was shifting away from Positivism-- what Ken Wilber calls the "flatland" world view which attributes reality only to the bottom rung of the Great Ladder of Beings. The search for reality beyond the appearances-- for the link between mind and matter-- was of interest to the founders of quantum physics such as Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, Neils Bohr-- and especially Wolfgang Pauli.

Miller also mentions other areas of human activity where "radically new things" were coming to be at this time in our history. Familiar examples are Pablo Picasso in art, Igor Stravinsky in music, and James Joyce in literature.

This early 20th-century Renaissance was followed, however, by the horrors of the first half of the 20th century: a World War, the Nazi takeover in Germany, a second World War and the use of atom bomb by the United States. It took a long time for those "radically new things" that had been fermenting for many decades to eventually catch on. They didn't finally break out until the great cultural shifts of the 1960s.

Pauli came from a mixed Catholic-Protestant family, but he also had Jewish ancestry which made him a potential Nazi-concentration-camp victim. So he spent much of World War II in the United States, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.

From an early age Pauli was indifferent to success and highly unsatisfied with his life. As Miller says, he did research by day and "trawled the bars of Hamburg by night." It was at the age of 31 that he first sought Jung's help. He started as patient and later became a co-worker. Jung at that time-- 1932-- was 57 and already famous.

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In the early years of the 20th century, at the same time that physicists were learning to understand the nature of matter, Freud and Jung were learning how to understand the nature of the mind-- that it, too, can be studied, understood and healed.

Jung initially worked with Freud, but they eventually parted company. Jung wanted to branch out beyond Freud's study of the personal unconscious and extend his study to the collective unconscious as well.

Jung was concerned with understanding how the human mind works in the largest possible context. His research included the mental patterns that are found in individuals in all the Earth's cultures. He called those patterns of the mind "archetypes" and saw them, no less than the structure of atoms, as expressions of the cosmic process. This is an important idea for an understanding of ritual; I'll come back to it.

Miller says Jung wanted to link cold rationality with the "irrational world of intuition and psyche"-- he wanted to link Thinking with Intuition, to link human consciousness with the psyche of the cosmos.

Miller also mentions that Jung and Pauli were discussing "notions of consciousness" at a time when such notions were "considered by most scientists of the time as sheer nonsense." Science was still in its self-imposed prison at the bottom rung of the Great Ladder!

This is important to see. If many of the great minds of that day had trouble accepting the very notion of mind, we can better understand why even today the idea that mind and matter are linked is not well known or understood.

The fact that the patterns of our mind-- both conscious and unconscious patterns-- are expressions of the cosmic process is still difficult for people to understand and accept. We can see that Jung and Pauli were indeed "mavericks."

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This is what the relationship between Jung and Pauli is all about, and why it is of such great interest to me: for the first time in the intellectual history of the modern Western world it is the coming together of mind and matter. We can describe these seeming opposites in many ways: body and soul, cosmos and psyche, physics and psychology, the physical and the psychological. But we don't yet have really good words which can be understood easily by everyone for that link.

As I see it, understanding these connections between our minds and the physical universe is of tremendous importance with regard to the convergence of science and religion. We need to keep in mind that for many centuries the Western Judeo-Christian tradition was characterized by the perspectives of religious dualism, where it was taken for granted that matter and mind or body and soul were two separate and alienated realms of reality.

And in that context, spirituality-- religious practice-- was essentially the effort to escape from matter, from the body, from the world. The effects of that centuries-old religious dualism are still with us. It is, for example, the direct cause of the difficulty so many still have in understanding that we humans are responsible for our present ecological problems.

I'm especially interested in being able to express well the connections between mind and matter because it's the basis for our understanding of the connections between religious ritual and the evolution of the cosmos.

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Jung and Pauli eventually published a book together: The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. It originally appeared in German in 1952 and was published in English by Pantheon Books, as part of the Bollingen Series, in 1955.

The book contains two separate essays, one by each genius. To greatly oversimplify: Jung's essay deals with mind in the material world; Pauli's deals with our need to move beyond the rational-only view of the mind in order to understand better the structure of matter.

Jung's essay is entitled "Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle." Pauli's title is "The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler."

Not easy reading, to be sure.

But it marks a turning point in human history. It is the first attempt-- by these 20th-century "mavericks"-- to understand how mind and matter, cosmos and psyche, body and soul, are linked.

To oversimplify again: the key to this understanding is that the human mind isn't only rational-- as science had claimed (and most of Western culture accepted) for several centuries. In Pauli's essay he notes that we can't even figure out the arrangement of electrons in atoms using only the Thinking function's reasoning power. We need to make use of our mind's Intuitive ability as well if we are to understand the nature of matter.

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I said this was a turning point in Western history-- in human self-understanding as well as in our understanding of the material world.

It's almost too big a thought to get a hold of easily, but I think we can describe it in two ways. One is to say that reality isn't limited to the bottom rung of the Great Ladder of Beings. The other is to emphasize that up towards the top of that Ladder are those functions of the conscious mind that Jung names Sensation, Thinking, Feeling and Intuition.

Back in the Middle Ages they were referred to as body, mind, soul and spirit. And in the much earlier animal imagery of the Native American Medicine Wheel these same aspects of the human psyche were given animal names: White Buffalo, Gold Eagle, Green Mouse, and Black Bear.

Long-time readers know that I have referred to these functions of the conscious mind in many previous posts. If these ideas are new to you, you might like to check out earlier posts such as #29 (The Four-fold Mind) and #31 (Integrating the Four Functions). And for a delightfully playful version, based on the quadrune brain, see Michael Dowd's expression of them which I described in the previous post, #79 (A Dowd Sampler).

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"But," you may be asking, "what does all this have to do with ritual?"

That will have to wait, alas, until my next post. I want to use what space I have left here to say a few words about just what the "cosmic number" means.

For convenience, it's referred to as "137," but in fact it's really the fraction 1/137. And that's just a close approximation. As a decimal, 1/137 is 0.00729927 (that's an approximation, too). You're thinking, "This is not too impressive so far." Right!

But it turns out that 0.00729927 is something like "pi": the value of the relationship between the diameter and circumference of a circle. You probably remember "pi" from grade school in its approximate fraction form: 22/7. Its decimal form (again, approximately) is 3.14159.

The important point about "pi" is that no matter what units you use to measure the diameter of a circle (inches, miles, kilometers, even light-years), the circumference will always be 3.14159 times as large as that diameter, and in the same units. This is true for any circle anywhere in the universe.

The cosmic number works the same way. It's called the "fine structure constant" and is the result of calculations in theoretical physics involving the speed of light, the force of gravity and the charge on the electron. 

And just like "pi," it has no units (since they all cancel out in the calculations), so that the cosmic number "137" (really 0.00728827) is valid for any measurements involving light, gravity and electrical charge-- anywhere in the universe.

This means that intelligent beings on another planet would recognize 0.00728827 just as readily as they would recognize 3.14159.

But that's not the main reason the cosmic number is so significant.

The main reason is that the measured values for gravitational force, the speed of light and the charge on the electron are naturally occurring physical constants. They never change.

And scientists have calculated that if the speed of light was even slightly different from what it is (3.0 x 1010 cm/sec), or if the charge on the electron was even slightly different from what it is (1.6021765 × 10−19 coulomb), there simply would be no life on Earth. There would in fact be no planets, no stars, no galaxies.

The world we know just would not exist without that cosmic number "137" being what it is.

That's a lot to think about, so I hope you will agree that it makes good sense for me to hold off on "What does all this have to do with ritual?" until next time.


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1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.