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Wolfgang Pauli: Physical symbolic language of my dream

Carl Jung Depth Psychology Facebook Group


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Dear Professor Jung, 31 March 1953

I should like to thank you very much for your lengthy and instructive letter in which you put forward your views in such detail.

Much of what was in the letter-for example the interpretation of the Assumptio Mariae–needs no further comment since this question has now been cleared up for me in a perfectly satisfactory manner.

However, I would like to make a few remarks with regard to questions of an epistemological nature, and especially to make it clear that I have no use at all for the “Being” definitions that you assign to metaphysical judgments and can much better express what I mean with your terms “ascertainable” and “nonascertainable.”

That is why I should like to start off by explaining what the epistemological state of affairs looks like from this viewpoint.

This also gives me a good opportunity to say where I am coming from mentally, whereas in the second section of
this letter I shall talk more about where I should like to go.

There, working on the basis of your letter, I shall once again take up the discussion of the question that is so important to me-namely, the relationship between spirit, psyche, and matter.

This will also implicitly make clear how I as a physicist actually came to respond “to such a specifically theological problem” as the one on which your book lob is based: Between the theologians and myself as a physicist there is the (“archetypal”) relationship of enemy brothers.

As you hinted on p. 6 of your letter [Letter 59, par. 18], that is why there is the well-known secret (unconscious) identity” between them.

And in fact, the unconscious has shown me images and words in a purely physical language, the interpretation of which, even from an anti-metaphysical viewpoint, will not be unlike many a theological statement.

This goblet is a baptism goblet, and on the card it says in an old-fashioned ornate script:


The labeling of ideas’ as either of spiritual origin or physical (or physiological) origin and your corresponding definition of physics as a science of ideas of the second kind has revived memories of my youth.

I shall demonstrate this in the second part of this letter by means of an example, and at the same time compare my own attitude with yours as regards the relationship spirit-psyche-matter.

Among my books, there is a somewhat dusty case containing a Jugendstil silver goblet, and in this goblet there is a card.

A gentle, benevolent, and cheerful spirit from days of yore seems to be issuing forth from this goblet.

I can see him shaking your hand in a friendly way, welcoming your definition of physics as a pleasing, albeit somewhat belated, indication of your insight and understanding; he goes on to add how suitable the labels are for his laboratory, and expresses his satisfaction at the fact that metaphysical judgments in general (as he was wont to say) “have been relegated into the realm of the shadows of a primitive of animism.”

“Dr. E. Mach, Prolenot’ at the University of Vienna.”

It so happened that my father was very friendly with his family, and at the time totally under his influence mentally, and he (Mach) kindly agreed to take on the role of my godfather.

He must have had a much stronger personality than the Catholic priest with the apparent result that I was thus baptized in an antimetaphysical manner rather than in a Catholic one.

Be that as it may, the card remains in the goblet, and despite all the great mental changes I went through later on, it remains a label that I myself bear-namely: “of antimetaphysical origin.”

And in fact, to put it in a somewhat simplistic way, Mach regarded metaphysics as the root of all evil in this world-in other words, in psychological terms, as the Devil himself – and that goblet with the card remained
as a symbol of the aqua permanens that keeps evil metaphysical spirits at bay.

I do not need to describe Ernst Mach more closely, for if you look at your own description of the extraverted sensation type, then you will see E. Mach.

He was a master at experimentation, and his apartment was crammed full of prisms, spectroscopes, stroboscopes, electrostatic machines, and the like.

Whenever I visited him, he always showed me some neat experiment, already completed, partly so as to eliminate unreliable thinking, with the ensuing illusions and errors, and partly to support it and correct it.

Working on the assumption that his psychology was a universal one, he recommended everyone to use that inferior auxiliary function as “economically” as possible (thought economy).

His own thought processes closely followed the impressions of his senses, tools, and apparatus.

This letter is not meant to be a history of physics, nor the classical case of type opposites: E. Mach and L. Boltzmann, the thinking type.

I last saw Mach just before the First World War, and he died in 1916 in a country house near Munich.

What is interesting in connection with your letter is Mach’s attempt fall back on psychic facts and circumstances (sensory data, ideas) within the realm of physics as well and especially to eliminate as far as possible the
concept of “matter.”

He regarded this “auxiliary concept” as grossly overrated by philosophers and physicists and viewed it as a source of “pseudo problems.”

His definition of physics basically coincided with the one proposed by you and he never failed to stress that physics, physiology, and psychology were “only different in the lines of investigation they took, not in the actual object, the object in all cases being the constant psychic “elements” (he exaggerated their simplicity somewhat, for in reality they are always very complex).”

I was surprised that despite your sweeping criticism of what later came to be called “Positivism” (Mach used this term a great deal) there are nevertheless also fundamental similarities between you and this line of thought: In both cases there is the deliberate elimination of thought process.

And of course there is nothing at all wrong with these labels for ideas and the corresponding definition of physics, especially as it accords perfectly with the idealistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, who consciously uses “Idea” and “Object” synonymously.

But it all depends on how one proceeds.

What Mach wanted, although it could not be carried out, was the total elimination of everything from the interpretation of nature that is “not ascertainable hic et nunc.”

But then one soon sees that one does not understand anything-neither the fact that one has to assign a psyche to others (only one’s own being ascertainable) nor the fact that different people are all talking about the same (physical) object (the “windowless monads” in Leibniz).

Thus, in order to meet the requirements of both instinct and reason, one has to introduce some structural elements of cosmic order, which “in themselves are not ascertainable.”

It seems to me that with you this role is mainly taken over by the archetypes.

It is right that what one does or does not call “metaphysics” is, to a certain extent, a matter of taste.

And yet I agree with you totally that in practical terms, great value is to be attached to the demand that metaphysical judgements be avoided.

What is meant by that is the “not in themselves ascertainable” factors (concepts) that have been introduced do not completely escape the controlling, checking mechanism of experience, and that no more of them may be introduced than is absolutely necessary: They serve the purpose of making statements about the possibility of ascertainments hic et nunc.

This was the sense in which the concept of “possibility” was meant, and it was in this sense that I called such concepts “symbolic things in themselves” and the “rational aspect of reality.”

As you rightly point out, there is absolutely no need to make statements of Being in the metaphysical sense about these “things in themselves.”

In the natural sciences, one makes the pragmatic statement of usefulness about them (in order to understand the ordering system of the ascertainable); in mathematics there is just the formal logical statement of consistency.

In psychology, those “not in themselves ascertainable” concepts include, the unconscious and the archetypes, and in atomic physics, they include the totality of the characteristics of an atomic system that are not all simultaneously “ascertainable hic et nunc.”

In my last letter, I referred to that which is actually “ascertained hic et nunc” as “concrete phenomenon” and the “irrational aspect of reality.”

It is always present in the psyche of an observer whatever the “label of origin” might be.

At this point, however, the question arises of whether the description “psychic” or the term “psyche” can go further than the “ascertainable hie et nunc.”

I am inclined to reply to this question in the negative and to take the “not in themselves ascertainable” structures, which are introduced as conceptual indications of possibilities of the ascertainable, and give them the definition “neutral” and not the definition “psychic.”

To me, this view also seems to be supported by Plato’s expressions maon (middle) and tritoneidos (third form), which both meet my requirements for “neutrality” (=middle position), nay, actually seem to emphasize it.

Plato certainly had the word “psyche” at his disposal, and if he opts to use a different word instead, then it must be one with a deeper meaning, one that calls for careful consideration.

For me, this deeper meaning lies in the need to make a clear distinction between the experience of the individual,
which exists in his psyche as something ascertainable hic et nunc, and the general concepts, which, “non being ascertainable in themselves: are suitable for taking up a middle position.

Your identification of psyche = tritoneidos thus seems to me a retrograde step, a loss in terms of conceptual

With my call for “neutral” general concepts, I find myself in agreement with your article “Der Geist der Psychologie” [The Spirit of Psychology), which struck me as fundamental, especially when you say: “The archetypes have .. . a nature which one cannot definitely describe as psychic.

Although by the application of purely psychological considerations I have come to question the solely psychic nature of the archetypes, etc.”

I feel that you should certainly take these doubts seriously and not once again make too much of the psychic factor.

When you say that “the psyche is partly of a material nature,” then for me as a physicist this takes on the form of a metaphysical statement.

I prefer to say that psyche and matter are governed by common, neutral, “not in themselves ascertainable” ordering principles.

(Unlike the psychologist, the physicist has no problem, for example, with saying “the U field” instead of “the unconscious,” which would thus establish the “neutrality” of the concept.)

But I wish to make it quite clear that my hope that you might agree with this general point of view is based on the impression that some of the pressure needs to be removed from your analytical psychology.

The impression I have is of a vehicle whose engine is running with overloaded valves (expansion tendency of the concept ·psyche”); that is why I should like to relieve some of the pressure and let off steam. (I shall come back to this later on p. 10 below [par. 24]).

I would also hope that a clarification of the scope of the concept of the psyche might include your de iure recognition of the fact that the heart is not just a psychological symbol but also a conception labeled “of physical

Economy with the inferior function on the lines of E. Mach often serves to fulfill a function, even if it is not actually that of thinking!


I believe in fact-not as a dogma but as a working hypothesis-in the essential identity (home-usia) of the mundus archetypus and physis as you formulate it on p. 6 of your letter [Letter 59, par. 18].

If this hypothesis is valid-and the possibility of physical and psychological parallel statements supports this-then it must be expressed conceptually.

In my view, this can happen only by means of concepts that are neutral in relation to the opposition psyche-physis.

Now in fact such concepts do exist-namely. mathematical ones: The existence of mathematical ideas that can also be applied in physics seems to me possible only as a consequence of that homo-usia of the mundus archetypus.

At this point, the archetype of number always comes into operation, and this is how I account for the extremely Neopythagorean mentality of my unconscious (especially the figure of the “stranger”).

No one is likely to say that the object of mathematic is psychic, for a distinction has to be made between the mathematical concepts and the experiences of the mathematicians (which certainly occur in their psyches.)

On the other hand, it seems to me important that the archetypal background of the number concept should not be neglected.

(Among mathematicians themselves there was for quite a while an odd tendency to degrade mathematical statements into mere tautologies.

This endeavor seems to have failed, since it was not possible to understand the consistency of mathematics in this way.)

It is this number archetype that ultimately makes possible the application of mathematics in physics.

On the other hand, the same archetype has a connection to the psyche (cf. trinity, quaternity, mantic, etc.), so that here I feel lies a crucial key for a conceptual expression of the home-usia of physis, psyche, and also of the spirit (ideas, etc.)

This is how I explain to myself the emphasis on number and mathematics in general in my dreams.

The correct conceptual language for expressing this is, I think, not yet known.

Taking a dream from the year 1948 as an example, I would nevertheless like to compare different, albeit not equally complete, ways of expressing similar or closely related facts and circumstances.

a) Physical symbolic language of my dream

My first physics teacher (A. Sommerfeld) appears to me and change in the splitting of the ground state of the H atom is fundamental.

Bronze tones are engraved on a metal plate.”

Then I go off to Gottingen.

(The splitting, as the following dream showed, consisted of a sort of mirror image.

In other dreams it was called “isotope separation” instead of “splitting,” and “absence” of “the heavier isotope” instead of “mirror image.”)

b) Theological metaphysical language.

In the beginning was a God who is a complexio oppositorum (Heraclitus, Nicholas of Cusa).

This God shines down once again in the dark world, which is a likeness of the God (Hennes Trismegistus), even a second God (Plato).

This likeness of God can be “perceived in a minor in a mirror image of man” (Fludd).

The fundamental change is God becoming man, the consequence of which is that the complexio oppositorum is found again in man, as form (idea)-mattter, and always produces the infans solaris in the middle sphere.

c) Language of the psyche, or analytical psychology

What is going on in the dream is a psychic reality-the individuation process-that can happen to everyone.

The process is very similar to the one in Plato’s Timaeus.

The initial stage is a dyadic archetype whose proton corresponds to the “same one” and whose electron corresponds to the other one.”

Through “reflection” of the unconscious,” a quaternity is produced.

The metal plate, as a symbol of the feminine-indestructible and the physis, corresponds to the physically “divisible”‘ of the Timaeus, the tones, as fleeting-spiritual, correspond to the male principle and the “indivisible.”

The “Self” that appears here in the form of the physics teacher states that the physis carries permanently with it the image (eidolon) of the tones (eides), so that there is a consubstantial unity (homo-usia) of both.

The journey to Gottingen- the city of mathematics-at the end of the dream, signifies that the tones are immediately followed in Pythagorean manner by numbers and mathematical formulas (symbols), which is confirmed in the next dream.

The reflection or development of consciousness doubles the original archetype in a (timeless) aspect, which is not assimilable to consciousness, and a further aspect, which, as a reflection of the new consciousness content,
is located in close proximity to the ego (and time).

This is why the splitting, as well as the “isotope separation” (with its absence of the heavier element), is a symbol of the incarnation of the archetype, which also accounts for the numinous character of this symbol.

This is a brief outline of the three languages: the metaphysical one, the psychological one, and the physical dream language.

I do not doubt that in the psychological language there is significant truthfulness to be found; nor do I doubt that you yourself could handle this language much better than I could.

Yet I am of the opinion that this is not the ultimate truth, either.

It does not express everything that dream symbols express-for example, not the fact that the atoms of individual element isotopes have masses (atomic weights) characterized by numbers.

Now in dreams, gravity often signifies the energetic gradient of the unconscious content toward consciousness (e.g., gentle oscillations = end of the gradient and corresponding feeling of being released of consciousness.

Thus the unconscious has the tendency to characterize this energetic gradient of the archetype quantitatively by means of a number, so that the (momentary) mass value would measure the attraction or affinity between archetype and consciousness (i.e., also to space and time!) according to their degree.

But numbers in dreams are not scalars (i.e. as opposed to vectors), as in physics, but are also individual entities, consisting of individual figures which in tum form a sum total.

In short, such numbers are loaded with further unconscious contents.

This is where Neopythagorean elements of the unconscious are involved, which might be a subject for further research.

But the decisive factor for me is the fact that the dreams carry on using physically symbolic language and not psychological language.

I must confess that that this contradicts my rational expectations.

Being a physicist by day I would have expected that nocturnal dreams would behave in a compensatory manner and speak to me in psychological terms.

If they did so, I would accept it without hesitation, but they do not.

They have rather the tendency to extend physics into the indefinite and to leave psychology aside.

So ultimately there is the tendency for my unconscious to take something away from psychology, to relieve its

Since this is what my dreams have looked like for several years, as if there was a reflux or flowing back of physics from analytical psychology (direction of the gradient: divergence from psychology), I would venture to make the following diagnostic and prognostic conjecture: The “steam” mentioned on p. 6 [above, par 11] turns out to be unconscious physics, which has accumulated over a period of time in your analytical psychology without you having intended it.

Under the influence of the flow of unconscious contents directed away from psychology, future development must entail such an extension of physics, possibly together with biology, so that the psychology of the unconscious can become part of this development.

But it is not capable of development on its own and when left to its own devices.

(I would suspect that your work always brings on your heart condition whenever you unwittingly swim against this current).

In line with this approach, and urged on by the unconscious, I have already begun to take the two languages-the physical dream language of the unconscious and the psychological one of consciousness–and relate them
to each other in the opposite direction as well.

If one has a lexicon for communicating between two languages, then one can translate in both directions.

In order to communicate with you, I shall (as far as my abilities allow) attempt to translate the language of my dreams into that of your psychology.

On my own, I actually often do it the other way round.

I can then see better where there seems to be a gap in the concepts of your psychology (never used in my dreams).

These seem to me to be long-term problems for the future.

The situation with the three languages reminds me vividly of the famous story of the three identical rings – a story that has been handed down in folklore and used and extended by Boccaccio (and later by [Gotthold] Lessing [1729 -1781]); the genuine ring, however, “the one as the fourth” used to be there but has got lost and has not yet been found.

It was originally invented to symbolize the relationship between 3 denominations, and I have the impression that we are experiencing it again with spirit-psyche-matter (physis) and their languages, but on a higher plane.

There is an interesting possibility as to the whereabouts of this genuine fourth ring-namely, in human relationships (and not at all on the intellectual conceptual level), an argument that you presented so cogently in your letter (bottom of p. 3, top of p. 4 [Letter 59]).

Where the feminine is active, it always involves Eros and relationships; the “incarnation” of an archetype
(isotope separation) is thus always a relationship problem.

Such problems are certainly present with me in various ways and play a part in the utterances of my unconscious.

As I hinted in my last letter, there is, for example, a relationship problem with my wife, who, since our trip to India, has had various physical ailments, from which she is making only a slow recovery.

But there is also a problem of relating to your psychology that which cannot be separated from you as a person.

I shall conclude with the assurance that in this respect, too, I shall continue to allow myself to be guided
by the unconscious (be it “psychic” or “neutral”).

It seemed to me right and proper to be frank in all I had to say on the subject of your last letter.

Bearing in mind your state of health, I would, however, request you not to reply immediately to this letter, for it is intended as part of a long-term exchange of ideas.

Perhaps there will be an opportunity to continue this discussion at a later date.

With thanks for all the trouble you have taken, and with all best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

W. Pauli ~Wolfgang Pauli, Atom and Archetype, Pages 102-111