What Wolfgang Pauli Believed

Pauli was – with Bohr, Planck, Heinsenberg, Dirac et al – a pioneer of quantum mechanics and Nobel Prize winner for Physics for discovery of the exclusion principle. He could equally have won the prize for his discovery of the Neutrino or of PCT Symmetry.

He is less known for his work on the philosophy of knowledge and for his work with Carl Jung on the links between physics and the psyche. They wrote papers together (in some of which Einstein participated) , which were only discovered and published in the 1970’s and also co-authored the book “The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche”.

In 1955 he gave a lecture at the University of Hamburg, “Science and Western Thought”, which he later described in analysis to Jung and to Niels Bohr. His interest throughout his life was to reconcile the “rational-critical” (Western Science) with the “mystical-irrational” (Eastern thought), to try to create a single framework of the physical and psychical.

“it is precisely by these means, that the scientist can more or less consciously tread a path of inner salvation. Slowly then develop inner images, fantasies or ideas, compensatory to the external situation”.

His belief in complementarity was fundamental; not just in physics but in general. For him and Jung the conscious and unconscious are mirrors of each other, and an understanding built solely out of one or the other is necessarily incomplete. (What Pauli sometimes referred to – witheringly – as “not even wrong”). This extended to his views on wider existence. He had an abiding interest in the views of Kepler and Newton – scientists working out of the alchemy tradition – “as above, so below” whose physical discoveries were incidental (to them) in their pursuit of the truth of God.

Pauli, with many great creative scientists, was a polymath. His scientific credentials are impeccable. His god-father was Ernst Mach and he was mentored by Arnold Sommerfeld. Albert Einstein proposed him for his Nobel Prize. He was a lifelong friend and collaborator of Bohr, Heisenberg and Dirac. All of his inquiring brought him to a concrete sense of the motive force and nature that lies beyond the physical or material world. He had a strong sense of humanity and humour, dealing gently with those of other or non-belief. For instance in response to Paul Dirac (who famously could not tolerate the religions and their politics) he quipped – “Well, I’d say that also our friend Dirac has got a religion and the first commandment of this religion is ‘God does not exist and Paul Dirac is his prophet'”.

Here he is on the nature of knowledge itself:

“the natural laws are of such a kind that every bit of knowledge gained from a measurement must be paid for by the loss of other, complementary items of knowledge.. the process of knowing is connected with the religious experience of transmutation undergone by him who acquires knowledge. This connection can only be comprehended through symbols which both imaginatively express the emotional aspect of the experience and stand in vital relationship to the sum total of contemporary knowledge and the actual process of cognition. Just because in our times the possibility of such symbolism has become an alien idea, it may be considered especially interesting to examine another age to which the concepts of what is now called classical scientific mechanics were foreign but which permits us to prove the existence of a symbol that had, simultaneously, a religious and a scientific function.”

Walter Heisenberg wrote of Pauli’s beliefs (in his book – “Across the Frontiers”)

“Pauli.. points out that even Kepler’s conversion to the Copernican theory, which marks the beginning of modern natural science, was decisively affected by certain primeval images or archetypes. He cites this passage from Kepler’s Mysterium Cosmographicum: “The image of the triune God is in the sphere, namely of the Father in the centre, of the Son in the outer surface and of the Holy Ghost in the uniformity of connection between point and intervening space or surroundings”.

Continuing to:

“Pauli considers, moreover, that Kepler’s symbol illustrates quite generally the attitude from which contemporary science has arisen. “From an inner centre, the mind seems to move outward in a sort of extraversion into the physical world, in which all happenings are assumed to be automatic, so that the spirit serenely encompasses this physical world , as it were, with its Ideas.” Thus the natural science of the modern era involves a Christian elaboration of the “lucid mysticism” of Plato, in which the unitary ground of spirit and matter is sought in the primeval images, and in which understanding has found its place in its various degrees and kinds, even to knowledge of the word of God.”

Max Planck, the Constant Believer


“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

Max Planck was the originator of Quantum Mechanics, and gives his name to the Planck Constant, relating energy to frequency and to the Planck Length – the smallest measure of length, below which nothing is knowable. He was a committed Lutheran; like many great scientists, one who questioned the nature of God’s knowability – but not God’s existence. “I am a deeply religious man, but that does not necessarily mean that I believe in a Christian God or even a personal God”.

He took issue with Pauli, Heisenberg and Bohr on their “Copenhagen Interpretation” of the results of quantum mechanical experiments – holding that eventually all matter would be found simply to be wave form. Odd, of course – given that it was his work that showed that photons behave as packets or quanta (it had much earlier been shown that light behaves as a wave). He eventually was proved wrong and the duality of existence at the fundamental level – both material and immaterial has now been proved.

He held that science was capable of answering only so much:

“Religion belongs to that realm that is inviolable before the law of causation and, therefore closed to science”.

And again:

“We might naturally assume that one of the achievements of science would have been to restrict belief in miracle. But it does not seem to do so.”

He most certainly would not have tolerated the current lazy assumption that in some way science and religion are incompatible or opposed to each other:

“There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls”.


“the movement of atheists, which declares religion to be just a deliberate illusion, … eagerly makes use of progressive scientific knowledge. It is the steady, ongoing, never-slackening fight against scepticism and dogmatism, which religion and science wage together . The directing watchword in this struggle runs from the remotest past to the distant future: ‘On to God’”.

Ceilidh in the Clouds


We danced as we gathered

Fresh sublimation of triple-point stars

To the covalent ceildh of clouds

Skylark ascending acceleration of joy

Heel-toe the tapping

magnetic the tempo

Crescendo the cresting


Swooping tangiential

Pregnant with knowing

Out flowing in ozone of love


Raining, tip-tripping we’re falling, soft folding away

Each in our droplet, clear-crystalline skin

Singly we sing, conjoint in orchestral skein

And tip-tap-tip slip-slopping

Hoh o hoh tippie-toe flowing

Torrents a-gurgling, giggle-atumbling

Drenching dry frictional sand

Glisten to demara-gold strand

Irresistably streaming

Mixing dust into lusting

Slaking memory with fire

Returning we quaff

As we laugh.


Phlebas the Phoenician, reconstituted

Crying was pulled from the deep sea swell

Wrenched through world enough, and time

(Prophecy lost)

To act again on the stage of her youth

Through this whirlpool ent’ring the clouds

(trailing glory)

Through tongues of fire she arose

(To be won)


The journey of water starts as molecule – HoH – evaporated from that sea, arising to form clouds, alive with brownian motion. On the one hand water represents eternal bonding – with the hydrogen and the oxygen atoms held-together through their covalent cloud of electrons through endless cycles of rebirth. A trinity. On the other – they associate variously – in droplets falling, through the rivers to the ocean. Together water retains a memory. (Mixing memory and desire). Water has a triple-point – at 0.1 degrees celcius at atmospheric pressure – where it’s different forms – solid, liquid and gas – are in equilibrium. The phase-change between ice and gas without passing through the liquid state – is called sublimation. An image of resurrection.

Social media imprisons us on the island of I-It

“No man is an island” John Donne. But social media is trying to keep us there. The communion between each of us, real warm messy and vital – has always been the anodyne to our loneliness and insecurity. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. They give the illusion of connection, but not the substance; and they are in it for their profit. Money puts up these barriers, and we follow.

“The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being” Martin Buber. The difference between the isolation of the material existence and the vibrant human living in community is beautifully expressed by the jewish existentialist Martin Buber. He describes the two modes of man’s existence as I-It and I-Thou. If we interact with the world and people as material (It), then our I – our self – is material too. We imprison ourself on an island. If we acknowledge the other as Thou, then we are connected in a true sense. We each are transformed in our communion.

Consider. In the United States children talk to their friends in their break via their mobile phone – with so-called “social” media. Even though their friend may be sitting next to them. In Japan almost half of younger men and women prefer on-line sex and will not contemplate the “horrid” actuality of love-making. Face to face. Human.

Direct interaction is certainly messy and can be frightening. But it’s where joy flies leaping. When communion is real and vital, then we are each present to the other. It is the human condition to be insecure and lonely – inside and apart. We each live on our island with our inadequacy. Life and meaning is in the flow and community between us.

“The development of the function of experiencing and using comes about mostly through decrease of man’s power to enter into relation. How does this same man, who made spirit into a means of enjoyment for himself, behave towards the beings that live round about him?

Taking his stand in the shelter of the primary word of separation, which holds off the I and the It from one another, he has divided his life with his fellow-men into two tidily circled-off provinces, one of institutions and the other of feelings – the province of IT and the province of I.

Institutions are “outside”, where all sorts of aims are pursued, where a man works, negotiates, bears influence, undertakes, concurs, organises, conducts business, officiates, preaches. They are the tolerably well-ordered and to some extent harmonious structure, in which, with the manifold help of men’s brains and hands the process of affairs is fulfilled.

Feelings are “within”, where life is lived and man recovers from institutions. Here the spectrum of the emotions dances before the interested glance. Here a man’s liking and hate and pleasure are indulged, and his pain if it is not too severe…But the separated It of institutions is an animated clod without soul, and the separated I of feelings an uneasily fluttering soul-bird. Neither of them knows man; institutions know only the specimen, feelings only the “object”; neither knows the person or mutual life. Neither of them knows the present: even the most up-to-date institutions know only the lifeless past that is over and done with, and even the most lasting feelings know only the flitting moment that has not yet come properly into being. Neither of them has access to real life.”

“There is no I taken in itself, but only the I of the primary word I-Thou and the I of the primary word I-It. When a man says I, he refers to one or other of these. .. The primary word I-thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.” Martin Buber, Ich und Du

Society and Leadership

Wilfred Bion believed that societies operate according to one of three basic assumptions. These are – dependent – broadly where society looks to a leader to depend upon; flight- flight – where there is a perceived external threat where the leader galvanises and curdles (my word) society; and the pairing group – where there are two leaders (archetypal parents). In this latter group system there is a hopeful expectation because the true leader, the future leader, is yet to be born. Bion termed this the messianic idea.

Bion observed that we are each as humans essentially social animals. We have these group structural tendencies within us, even before we are operating within a group.

“Our individual psychic make-up is intimately related to others, both the tendency to form constructively working groups and the potential for forming any of the basic assumption mental states when in a physical group setting with others”.

Societies do seem to me, practically to group as Bion suggests. It also seems to me that there is a tendency for dependent societies to flip to fight-flight and back, and that pairing groups emerge only after a period of stability. A quick personal review:

Russia (now) – under Putin. Dependent, but he introduces external enemies because he is failing to provide (the basic function of a dependent leader) – therefore moving toward fight-flight. This is also reflected across many middle-eastern countries, the difference being the “religious” archetype that their leaders draw upon, introducing a twisted and unreconstructed medieval view of Islam to create an enemy (all of the rest of the world). In Britain I would suggest we had a dependent/fight-fight society right through to Margaret Thatcher, but that this moved with Blair-Brown and now Cameron-Clegg toward a pairing group society. (Who will the future Messiah be for British politics, we sure are looking for one!). The USA was perhaps set up in the first place as a pairing group society (checks and balances!). It’s why it doesn’t (it seems to me) work so well when either the Democrats or Republicans have ALL the levers of power – Senate, President, Supreme Court, Congress – and why this happens so seldom. The leaders in Scotland, most recently of course attempted to carve out a new fiefdom by drawing on the dependent and fight-flight models. We are now moving back to a pairing group structure between Salmond-Sturgeon – which reflects the reality of the fundamental pairing group of Scotland-England. (Salmond as a UK MP, Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland).

Foundational to Bion’s view is that humans are interdependent, part of one-whole.

The chapter on Bion’s study of groups in Symington’s review of Bion’s work has a quote from Vladimir Soloviev (Russian 19th century Christian mystic and philosopher), which sums up this basic tenet.

“The self-deception in virtue of which a human individual regards himself as real in his separateness from all things, and presupposes this fictitious isolation to be the true ground and only starting-point for all his relations – this self-deception of abstract subjectivisim plays terrible havoc not only in the domain of metaphysics – which, indeed, it abolishes altogether – but also in the domain of the moral and political life”.

Soloviev, though, goes much further, and prefigures Teilhard de Chardin with his observation that all is connected and interdependent, all part of one.

The abyss of the spiritual heart..is the real person

So much wisdom within the Russian Orthodox  and mystical tradition..

“The serpent of evil creeps along beside one so long as one confines oneself to the world of phenomena alone. However as soon as one lifts oneself and enters the spiritual world, one lifts the serpent along as well, thus changing its nature, and the serpent then becomes one’s divinely-sent helper”. Grigori Skovoroda

“Beside the sea a green oak stands/A golden chain upon it – /By day and night a learned cat/Walks round the tree, bound by the golden chain./When he goes to the right, he begins a song/When goes to the left, he tells a fairy tale”. Alexander Pushkin

“Although to distant shores beyond/By chains unseen we all are bound/ Even in fetters we must fulfil/ The round the gods have drawn/ Within themselves, as by a higher Will/ All things create yet other wills/ Beneath the mask of matter calm/ The fire divine burns on and on”. Vladimir Soloviev

“The most important organ of a person is the heart, note the physical but the spiritual heart. The abyss of the spiritual heart encompasses and includes everything. It is the ruler of everything in the human being, it is the real person”. Grigori Skovoroda


“Success comes in cans; failure in can’ts”

.. great quote from Wilfred Bion. Our whole purpose is to make reality out of infinite potential.  I’m struck by similarity underlying Bion’s model of reality-creation and that of Alfred North Whitehead’s view of a “prehensile” crystallisation of reality in the present moment out of infinite potential.

“The art of being yourself at your best is the art of unfolding your personality into the person you want to be.” Wilfred Bion

“We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are immersed in action and can only guide it by taking thought.” Alfred North Whitehead


Bion has this concept of our thinking as a candle actively penetrating the dark in a quest to mate with and discover the ideas or truths already there waiting.  If I understand aright Bion’s model of how this arises:

– there is a welter of “unthought” images, emotions and other stuff floating around – his Beta elements.

– if we are able to tolerate the pain of the unknown – then we begin to assemble these into the building blocks of thoughts – his Alpha elements. (Mostly we are able to do that because we’ve had a “good enough” mother and a holding environment as a baby).

– these alpha element thoughts then abstract into – pre-concepts which are “looking for” concepts to “mate with” to allow understanding of ideas. Importantly the ideas already exist and our mind and brain is a machinery that has evolved to allow us to think them.

Compare this with Whitehead’s view of the implications for reality of  quantum mechanics (see Process and Reality). The present moment – is like a zipper – moving from a past event into a future that the observer crystallises by selecting from the infinite potential. This then, the process by which reality is created. He calls the present moment prehensile, because there is an active searching or selecting of the future.

This concept (If my understanding is correct – the book is almost impenetrable) surely has resonance with Bion’s view. There is at the heart of both schemas a vital present force which is actively seeking a “mating” with a future that it is involved in helping create or crystallise.

Can we call this free will? Are we witnesses here and eternally now of all of creation?

“The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.” Alfred North Whitehead