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”.

And:

“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’”.

Australia and Contemporary Religion

Wonder Full. The Australian reaction to the terrible attack by a self-styled Islamic extremist was just that – wonderful. At the moment of grief – they deliberately reached out to all in their society, particularly in fact to peaceful Muslims. Peace is surely the anti-dote to terror. We knew that “an eye for an eye” failed over two thousand years ago.

The bearded men (men, funny that..) who machine gun children in Pakistan, hack soldiers in London and behead and sell women in Iraq – aren’t religious – Islamic or any other type; any more than were the IRA Christian Catholics when they bombed civilians indiscriminately.

Vladimir Soloviev put it like this (contemporary for him was the 1870’s):

“ I shall not dispute those who maintain a negative attitude toward the religious principle. I shall not argue with the contemporary opponents of religion, because they are right. I say that those who reject religion are right because the contemporary state of religion calls for rejection.. Speaking generally and abstractly, religion is the connection of humanity and the world with the absolute principle and focus of all that exists. Contemporary religion is a pitiful thing. Strictly speaking, religion does not exist as the dominant principle, as the centre of spiritual attraction. Instead, our so-called religiosity is a personal mood, a personal taste. Some people have this taste, others do no, just as some people like music and others do not…” Vladimir Soloviev. Lectures on Divine Humanity. St Petersburg 1878.

His point of course, is that true connection to the Divine is quite different from a self-styling religiosity. It’s easy to tell one from the other. Peace or war. Tolerance or dictatorship. Social justice or division. Joy or hatred.

As Christ said: “by their fruits shall you know them”. As Teilhard de Chardin said “Joy is the unmistakable sign of the presence of God”.

So – glory to Australia – for their wonderful reaction. Peace, compassion and social cohesion in the face of terror. Thank you. We’re not even on seven – never mind seventy times seven.

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

 

In a nutshell

From biologos.org. So much more succinct than my ramblings..

“Many arguments claiming to prove the existence of God have been proposed throughout the centuries. The response to many of these arguments, however, is: “If God created the world, what created God?” It suggests that certain arguments for God’s existence only push the question of beginnings one step farther back. The Bible and Christian doctrine address this question by defining God as eternal and uncreated, but such answers rarely satisfy nonbelievers. A philosophical response is that God is the ultimate first cause; the atheist is left with a dilemma of what or who that first cause might have been. In the end, an uncaused creator may simply be a more plausible explanation for the universe we live in. Our universe appears to have had a beginning, to be finely tuned for life, and to have a place for love and purpose. These appearances affirm as plausible a prior belief in God.”

Social movements – sorting the sheep from the goats

It occurs to me that there is a key way in which social, political and religious movements can be separated. Sheep from goats, as it were. It is this – is there a monologue or a conversation? It’s the difference between being preached at or engaged. Whether or ordinary, personal and humble views matter. Put another way – is the first contact – on the one hand inspiration and question – or rather dictation and dogma?

I have some particular views on which are which. They’re mine. If I shared them – it would be dogma. What do you think?

 

Do atheists own rationality?

I was told yesterday that someone follows my blog (thank you, we all have some narcissism!). I was told that he was amazed that anyone with intelligence could believe in God. He apparently describes himself as an atheist.

I’ve been pondering this.

It seems to me that at the heart of this view is the sense of superiority that atheists can have, that they “own” intelligence. Allied to that is their view that somehow intelligence “disproves God”. I assume here that they mean rationality, as opposed to emotional intelligence.

This argument is close to me because as an evolutionary biologist at Cambridge I had this argument flow past me in waves. Indeed I spent a large part of life summoning up the courage to confront the possibility of there being nothing, no purpose, no God. I concluded after several years of living in this space that in fact it is atheism that is illogical. Having got that out of the way – but not until my 40’s – I have finally been able to relax into the rich world of the living purposeful connection that is meaningful life.

Here’s why I don’t believe in no-God.

First, let us remove rationality from the frame. Nothing can be proved. There is no external premise or starting point from which a logic chain can reach any kind of “proof”. It seems rather (read “Godel Escher Bach” or “The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake) that the universe and time comprise an infinity of nested loops. Don’t believe me, rather refer to Heisenberg (Uncertainty Principle) and Godel (Incompleteness Theorum).

Ok. So in any case logic and rationality takes you nowhere certain. You can’t either prove or disprove God or no-God. If you find a Richard Dawkins or anyone else try to convince you otherwise – simply refer to Heisenberg and Godel – and tell them they are acting as evangelists not scientists, so they should preface all their statements with “I believe”.

So, then my personal beliefs. Well, firstly I get as far, logically, as saying there is “being”, or rather there is “something”. I wouldn’t go as far as “my” being – ie cogito ergo sum, because I think that presumes what “I” am. It does seem axiomatic to me that existence exists though. I used to run the argument that time is also axiomatic and that therefore you could define God as that which began being – one of those beautiful iterative proofs you get in mathematics (inductive reasoning). On that basis I used to “prove” God. This then turned the argument about God – into one of semantics. On that basis I would say that atheism is less logical that theism – because a theist “believes” in his/her version of God, whereas for atheism to work they would have to disprove every version of God.

Anyway, I’m not so convinced about time anymore – except as an illusion that frames what we perceive as reality. I do think, though, that God and existence tie together logically. Believe in existence and God is there. Our disagreements should be fought on definitions – “God sitting on a cloud”, “God as personalised”, “God as the numbers like speed of light that define existence”, “God as relatedness, connection”.

For me then, personally, which is the richer way to live? Surely enriched and joyful reality lies in our connectedness, in the shared smile, in the sharing of sorrow. That’s certainly becoming my deepening experience.

In any event – I can state definitely that I do NOT believe that atheism has rationality or intelligence on it’s side…