Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Jung, and the Acausal Connecting Principle: A Case Study in TransdisciplinarityRead the whole article.
The same organizing forces that have shaped nature in all her forms are also responsible for the structure of our minds.
While many universities and colleges have only recently begun moving toward multi-and interdisciplinary programs and offerings, transdisciplinarity, a concept that first appeared on the academic scene in the early 1970s, has become an important trend in some circles. NYU, for example, has established a Transdisciplinary program in Trauma and Violence; several universities now have Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Centers. The case for trans-rather than inter-disciplinarity in graduate education has been made by educational researchers on the basis of expectations that “graduate students need to be educated for a diverse, technical, problem-oriented world that does not yet exist, which makes it imperative that they become self-directed, lifelong learners who can thrive and participate in collaborative environments with ever-changing disciplinary boundaries.” However, there appears to be little idea yet of how this kind of education should be structured: “Only as scholars develop, study and share multiple case studies will we begin to see consistencies across cases as evidence for connections between learning and design decisions, developing generalizable principles for achieving best practices in transdisciplinary graduate education and scholarship.”2
The Weavers, 24x24" Oil. © 2009 Jeanie Tomanek. www.jeanietomanek.com
I agree with the transdisciplinary agenda in principle. I fear, though, that there has not been sufficient public discussion of the potential problems inherent in this kind of work. Scholars are prone to enthusiastic and wholesale commitment to new approaches, and in this case such a response glosses over very real pitfalls in the offing. In order to illuminate some of these problems, I explore here the collaboration between Nobel Prize winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli, a founder of quantum theory, and Carl Jung, founder of archetypal psychology, with focus on their development of the concept of synchronicity. The history of Jung’s reception by the scientific and scholarly communities serves as a caution to all who venture into the realm of what Basarab Nicolescu has called the “Included Middle”. Exploration of the Pauli-Jung collaboration is particularly apropos here, given that Nicolescu is himself a specialist in quantum physics and attributes his vision of transdisciplinarity to his scientific work.3
Nicolescu’s quest for “a space of knowledge beyond the disciplines”4 is exemplified by the Pauli-Jung collaboration aimed at explication of a unifying or connecting principle bridging the gap between mind and matter. Jung’s theory of synchronicity posited that certain events-often called coincidences-actually reveal the operation of an acausal connection between mental and physical events through meaning. Jung’s paradigmatic example of a synchronicity occurred during a therapy session. In this session, his patient was in the midst of relating an intense dream she had had in which someone gave her a piece of gold jewelry in the shape of a scarab beetle. As she related the dream, Jung heard a tapping sound on the office window, which was caused by a very large insect flying repeatedly against the glass. He opened the window, and in flew a small goldish-green colored scarabeid beetle. The connection between the woman telling the dream and the appearance of the actual beetle is non-causal – the inner dream experience did not cause the beetle to appear, and yet there is a connection through meaning for the woman. The connecting meaning in a synchronistic event is experiencer-specific, related to the individual’s process of psychological maturation, or individuation. Events like this occur often enough to be more than meaningless coincidence, Jung and Pauli believed.
Jung and Pauli were convinced that synchronistic events reveal an underlying unity of mind and matter, subjective and objective realities. Synchronicity was (and continues to be) a prime target for criticism of Jung that for decades bordered on outright dismissal by many in the scientific and academic communities. For example, historian of science Suzanne Gieser writes that she finds Pauli’s interest in Jung “unusual” because “most of those with an academic or scientific background dismiss Jung totally.”5
Following Pauli’s death in 1958, Pauli’s wife actively opposed including any of his correspondence with Jung in the collections of his papers.6 The chairman of CERN’s Pauli Committee recently wrote that, “inclusion of letters dealing mainly with psychology … was much debated by the committee.”7 In the end, they did decide to publish the correspondence, explaining that, “it is of no importance what we think of Jung and his psychology. The important thing is that Pauli was a convinced adherent of Jung’s teachings.”8 A brief look at the evolution and content of the decades-long correspondence between these two men will reveal the possibilities and problems inherent in efforts of even the most brilliant of specialists to transcend disciplinary limitations.
Jung’s fascination with physics actually began early in his career as a result of a series of dinners with Albert Einstein between 1909 and 1912. He later wrote that “It was Einstein who first started me thinking about a relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality…years later this stimulus led to my relation with the physicist Professor W. Pauli and to my thesis of psychic synchronicity.” His first public mention of the concept occurred 1928 during a seminar on the interpretation of dreams. Jung noted then that, in addition to the frequent appearance of common mythic motifs, dreams are often connected to coincidences in people’s lives. Taking a phenomenological stance, he said that while it would be “absurd” to consider the conjunction of dream material and life events to be causal, “it is wise to consider the fact that [these coincidences] do happen…The East…considers coincidences as the reliable basis of the world rather than causality. Synchronism is the prejudice of the East; causality is the modern prejudice of the West.”9 In 1930, Jung mentioned the concept again in his speech honoring Richard Wilhelm, a scholar of Chinese philosophy who had died earlier that year. In this address (later published as part of his commentary on Wilhelm’s translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower), Jung said “the science of the I Ching is based not on the causality principle but on one which-hitherto unnamed because unfamiliar to us-I have tentatively called the synchronistic principle.” He concluded that “the causality principle” cannot explain “psychic parallelisms” that must somehow be connected but are not causally related.10
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Jung, and the Acausal Connecting Principle: A Case Study in Transdisciplinarity By Charlene P. E. Burns
Cool article, especially since I am a fan of Jung and synchronicity. This comes from the current issue of The Global Spiral.