Wolfgang Pauli and the light-dark stranger I

After his marriage to Franca Bertram the theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli kept seeing the depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung for dream analysis during the months May until October 1934. Since a few letters by Pauli were misdated in the German edition of the Pauli/Jung letters, it is easier to follow Pauli’s development during these months in the English edition. In April 1934 Pauli has travelled to London for his marriage. On the 28th of April he has returned to Zürich and writes a letter to Jung to resume their Monday meetings. He still struggles with the underdevelopment of his feeling function, but what bothers him really are phenomena of a parapsychological kind which are connected in his dreams to certain abstract figures:

‘In my dreaming and waking fantasies, those abstract figures are appearing in ever greater numbers; you know them already (circles or stylized “little men” like hieroglyphics or acoustic rhythms, or alternating light and dark stripes), and it will become a matter of life and death for me to understand more about the objective (communicable) meaning of these symbols than I do at the moment. I have certain grounds for assuming that only then it will be possible for me to “subjugate” my anima complex (Transform it into a “function” in your psychology). And my phobia about wasps is also very much connected with that.’

The phobia has to do with the stripes occurring on wasps and of course with their venom. In the letter to Jung dated February 28, 1936, Pauli remarks: ‘The wasp’s _venom_ is always meant as inflationary, causing blindness.’ (Meier, 2001, 16) In April 1934 the object of the fear has partly become separated from the insects: ‘I recognized that behind it lurked the fear of a sort of ecstatic state in which the contents of the unconscious (autonomous part systems) might burst forth, contents which, because of their strangeness, would not be capable of being assimilated by the conscious and might thus have a shattering effect on me.’ (Meier, 2001, 26)

In his next letter Pauli writes again about this specific danger of his life projected on the wasps. He concludes: ‘The alternating light and dark stripes must be diametrically opposed psychic attitudes, or dispositions to forms of behavior.’ Though Pauli has become on April 25 of this year only 34, he already speaks about the second half of his life. His youth period ended on April 1, 1928, when he accepted the chair of theoretical physics at the ETH (the Polytechnic) in Zürich. The crisis that drove him towards Jung started when his marriage to Käthe Deppner, which started in December 1929, quickly ended in a divorce. At the age of 32 he had to face the unconscious. In the letter to Jung, dated May 24, 1934, he writes:

‘The specific threat to my life has been the fact that in the second half of my life I swing _from one extreme to the other_ (enantiodromia). In the first half of my life I was a cold and cynical devil to other people and a fanatical atheist and intellectual “enlightener.” The opposite to that was, on the other hand, a tendency toward being a criminal, a thug (which could have degenerated into me becoming a murderer), and, on the other hand, becoming detached from the world-a totally unintellectual hermit with outbursts of ecstasy and visions.

So the purpose of my neurosis was to keep me from this danger of changing abruptly into the opposite… But there is more to it than that: This abrupt swing into the opposite is a danger not just for me but for our whole civilization. This is what the dream with the 3 giant horses is saying; in this moment everything can turn into primitive barbarianism, unless Tao and individuation step in. This is why my personal problem is also a collective one, and, conversely, the danger that I personally was faced with was greatly heightened by a disposition that was forces upon me by the collective unconscious.’ (Meier, 2001, 27)

As can be concluded from many dreams, Pauli has an intimate relationship with a personification of the Self that we may characterize as the archetypal messenger or alchemical spirit in matter. Pauli calls him the light-dark stranger. In a letter to Emma Jung from November 1950 he explains that the stranger has a close connection with the phenomenon of synchronicity. For the stranger synchronistic occurrences are like high energetic beams of radiation emanating from a hidden nuclear center. One is reminded of the so-called Pauli effect. Many anecdotal accounts have documented how Pauli exerted a malicious influence on experimental equipment. When he came into a laboratory room, equipment sometimes spontaneously exploded. Pauli himself always felt an unpleasant inner tension before the actual Pauli effect occurred, afterwards, he felt relieved and freed from tension. (Fierz, 1988, 190)

Apparently the unconscious calls the Pauli effect a manifestation of radioactivity. The stranger sets with the same radioactivity colleges and universities on fire: ‘[The stranger] is not an Antichrist, but in a certain sense an “Antiscientist,” science here meaning especially the scientific approach as it taught in universities today. This he sees as a sort of _Zwinguri_ [castle in Switzerland], as the place and symbol of his oppression, which (in my dreams) he occasionally sets fire to. If he feels he is being disregarded, he does everything in his power to draw attention to himself by any means, for example by means of synchronistic phenomena (which he calls “radioactivity”) or through moods of depression or incomprehensible affects.’ (Meier, 2001, 51)

The stranger feels suppressed by the traditional way of scientific thinking which does not acknowledge purpose and meaning in nature. Apparently he has chosen Pauli as his bridge to the world of science. In many dreams Pauli is invited to a chair at a _new_ university or he has to accept a _new_ professorship at the ETH. But he is afraid that a public acknowledgement of the truth embodied by the stranger will make him look ridiculous in the eyes of his colleagues. The stranger, however, insists precisely on a _public_dissemination of Pauli’s new experience of the world.

I am inclined to see a close connection between the radioactivity of the stranger and the dream motif of the alternating light and dark stripes. The stripes refer not only to a tendency in Pauli to alternate between light and dark psychic states. They symbolize also a psychophysical energy which, as a result of Pauli’s inner dissociation, manifests itself as the malicious Pauli effect. But we might infer that the effect of this energy could become beneficial, if Pauli would succeed to bring inner balance to his psychological state. In essence the term radioactivity refers to the tendency of things to multiply. This can be concluded from an essay by Pauli from June 1948 called ‘Modern examples of “background physics”’ Background physics refers to the physical terminology in his dreams: ‘What I understand by “background physics” is the appearance of quantitative terms and concepts from physics in spontaneous fantasies in a qualitative and figurative-i.e., symbolic-sense.’ In the same way the dreams of Pauli exhibit “background mathematics,” mathematical symbols with a deeper meaning than normally understood within the context of academic science.

One of the examples of background physics is the splitting of a spectral line into two components, a so-called doublet. Such a splitting occurs in atomic physics under the influence of a magnetic field. It has to do with a quantum number of which the deeper meaning has been discovered by Pauli. The whole phenomenon is related to spin, a typical quantum phenomenon which has no analogue in classical physics. It is to some extent even mysterious in physics. That is why the dream is using the imagery. In a dream at the end of the essay the splitting into two applies to eggs, symbols of creativity. Two times an egg divides into two. According to Marie-Louise von Franz double motifs usually refer to synchronicity. Normally an egg does not divide into two. It is even impossible. Such dreams thus point ‘to the possibility of something apparently impossible-things which are absolutely impossible according to our conscious view of nature, but which from the standpoint of the unconscious actually exist.’ (Franz, 1980, 105/106) If people have a too-rational outlook on reality the unconscious can come up with such dreams. In general double motifs refer to the fact that something is just coming up to the threshold of consciousness: ‘We always use a double marker at the threshold; it is a symbolic urge suggesting that the threshold of consciousness is a doubling phenomenon, so to speak, all of which would point to the fact that what we call time is an archetypal idea, not yet properly conscious to us. We do not yet know what time really is, and the moment has apparently come when the archetype of the concept of time is approaching the threshold of consciousness.’ (Franz, 1980, 107)




Von Franz takes here into account that people like Pauli dream about double mandalas which seem to point to two orders of reality, the world of linear time and the world of acausal orderedness outside time. Double mandala models assume that one wheel is rotating and the other standing still, but if one wheel rotated it would cut the other wheel apart and vice versa. Within three dimensions of space there is no way to visualize the interaction between the two different worlds. Von Franz concludes: ‘The only place where the two systems link is at the hole in the center, which means that they link in a nowhere, or in a hole.’ This mysterious hole between the two worlds is where man steps in linking the two worlds through his experience of eternity within linear time. The hole would be a window into eternity. Von Franz recalls that Virgin Mary in official ecclesiastical hymns is called ‘the window of eternity.’ According to depth psychology the anima figure in a man is the bridge between the personal and the collective unconscious: ‘In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung at the end quotes extensively from the work of an alchemist, Gerhard Dorn, in whose philosophy the window of eternity or the _spiraculum aeternitatis_ also plays a great role. _Spiraculum_ is an air hole, through which eternity breathes into the temporal world… Jung interprets this spiraculum aeternitatis, this air-hole, or breathing hole into eternity, as the experience of the Self. He says that through the experience of the Self we can escape and be freed from the grip of a one-sided image of the world.’ (Franz, 1980, 109110)

The multiplicatio

Pauli is of the opinion that the motif of alternating light and dark stripes arises from the doublet, the double motif of slightly differing frequencies, by means of a multiplicatio, a term from alchemy, but also from medieval science. Robert Grossteste, Bishop of Lincoln, used the term _multiplicatio specierum_ in the 13th century with the meaning of ‘an effect that flows out to all sides lineally from a center, and thus spreads out in the form of a sphere-i.e. “multiples,” having an effect on everything around it. _Light _is one such species, and on the basis of the concept.’ (Meier, 2001, 177) Pauli defines the concept in his essay on background physics as follows:

‘What is meant by _multiplicatio_ is the tendency of a psychic situation to be repeated or become more widespread, which _can_ _occur at a moment_ when the opposites of a pair are equally balanced. Today I know that this phenomenon is mentioned frequently in western alchemy. I first came across it in the text of the _goldenen Blüte_ [Golden Flower] translated by Wilhelm: “The Book of Successful Contemplation (Yin Kuan Ching) says: The sun sinks in the Great Water and magical pictures of trees in rows arise. The setting of the sun means that in Chaos … a foundation is laid: That is the condition free of polar opposites (wu chi).” There is also a reference here to the _I Ching_  hexagram [#51] of upheaval (or Thunder = Chên). The commentaries to this hexagram are of great significance for the frequency symbolism under discussion here. The _multiplicatio_ is circumscribed in the Commentary: _“The upheaval alarms everyone for one hundred miles around.”_’ (Meier, 2001, 187, footnote 3)

It is quite interesting that Pauli introduces here the term multiplicatio, since there is a supernatural or spiritual force known in West-African and Afro-American cultures which has the tendency to multiply. This force, called _àshe, _literally meaning “So be it”, is intimately connected with the analogy of the light-dark stranger in the pantheon of gods with a Yoruba origin. The Yoruba live in Southwestern Nigeria. Their god of chance or trickster god is known as Eshu or Elegba/Elegbara. He is the god of the crossroads known to the Greeks as Hermes. He is the messenger and also the god of the marketplaces. Robert Farris Thompson remarks in Flash of the Spirit: ‘According to legend, at a crossroads in the history of the Yoruba gods, when each wished to find out who, under God, was supreme, all the deities made their way to heaven, each bearing a rich sacrificial offering on his or her head. All save one, Eshu-Elegbara, wisely honoring beforehand the deity of divination with a sacrifice, had been told by him what to bring to heaven-a single crimson parrot feather (ekodide), positioned upright upon his forehead, to signify that he was not to carry burdens on his head. Responding to the fiery flashing of the parrot feather, the very zeal of supernatural force and àshe, God granted Eshu the force to make all things happen and multiply (àshe).’ (Thompson, 1984, 18)

The West-African and Afro-American experience with both Eshu and _àshe_ is very helpful to identify the force that appears in Pauli’s dreams as the alternating light and dark stripes. Pauli knew that the effect named after him arose from the stranger who rebelled against the worldview of modern science. One can more easily understand such a counter position if one recognizes in the stranger a truly universal experience known to various cultures under different names. Eshu came to be regarded as the very embodiment of the crossroads where persons have to make decisions that may forever after affect their lives. Thompson writes: ‘Eshu-Elegbara is also the messenger of the gods, not only carrying sacrifices, deposited at crucial points of intersection, to the goddesses and to the gods, but sometimes bearing the crossroads to us in verbal form, in messages that test our wisdom and compassion (“Is this true; shall I help him; what larger purpose opens up beyond this message?”). He sometimes even “wears” the crossroads as a cap, colored black on one side, red on the other, provoking in his wake foolish arguments about whether his cap is black or red, wittily insisting by implication that we view a person or a thing from all sides before we form a general judgment… Some call him Eshu, “the childless wanderer, alone, moving only as a spirit.” Others call him Elegbara (or Elegba), “owner-of-the-power” (the ever-multiplying power communicated by the crimson feather that he bore to heaven), a royal child, a prince, a monarch, he is, of course, all these beings and more-the ultimate master of potentiality. Eshu becomes the imperative companion-messenger of each deity, the imperative messenger-companion of the devotee. The cult of Eshu-Elegbara thus transcends the limits of ordinary affiliation and turns up wherever traditionally minded Yoruba may be.’ (Thompson, 1984, 19)



 Eshu with red parrot feather

If we now return to the dreams of Wolfgang Pauli, we will be less surprised by the fact that they refer to the phenomenon of synchronicity. As can be concluded from the correspondence between Pauli and Jung both men had a conversation on synchronicity on November 6, 1948. Before this conversation synchronicity is not mentioned in the letters. And if we consider the dreams of Pauli before this date, we see to our surprise that the stranger is not yet present. There is a dark skinned Persian who wants to be admitted to the Polytechnic and besides him a man with blond hair and a light skin. The fair man has a lot of understanding of the archetypal background of physical and mathematic concepts. Both dream figures merge in a dream from November 24, 1948. Out of the fusion the light-dark stranger arises. (Erkelens, 2002, 56)  

Pauli notes that the stranger corresponds with the spirit Mercurius from alchemy. Jung starts as a result of the conversation to write down his thoughts on synchronicity. On June 22, 1949 he sends a copy to Pauli. Six days later Pauli writes a very long letter with many remarks on and questions about synchronicity. The manuscript of Jung contains the famous example of the scarabeid beetle. A young woman, in fact a patient of Jung, had had a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. When she told the dream to Jung, he heard a gentle tapping on the window. Jung opened it and caught an insect as it flew in. It happened to be the nearest analogy of a golden scarab that one could find in Switzerland. He handed the beetle to his patient with the words: ‘Here is your scarab.’ In the lecture on synchronicity given at the 1952 Eranos conference, Jung concludes: ‘This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results.’ (Jung, CW 8, par. 982)

Pauli tries to explain to Jung how the stranger might have reacted on this meaningful coincidence: ‘Please imagine that on the evening after the incident with the scarab that you have described, a stranger visits you and says something on the lines of: “Congratulations, doctor, on having finally succeeded in producing a radioactive substance. It will be most beneficial to the health of your patient.” Your assertion that there are no radioactive substances in your house and that the atmosphere is also free of radioactivity falls on deaf ears. In fact, the stranger proceeds to explain in detail the half-life of the substance and the residual activity.’ (Meier, 2001, 39) According to Pauli a far-reaching parallel exists with what the alchemists referred to as the “production of the red tincture.” Jung as a true alchemist has succeeded to produce a substance so to speak with a remarkably healing influence. But for Pauli some transformation is still badly needed. The stranger himself is striving for its own transformation and to that end the ego consciousness of Pauli needs to be broadened. As Pauli explains to Jung in the letter of February 27, 1952, the ultimate aim of the transformation is related to a symbol of the Self, published by Jung in his book Aion.

Jung’s symbol of the Self showing the four squares.

This symbol with its four squares reminds Pauli of a mathematical operation from group theory known as automorphism. An automorphism is an isomorphic representation of a mathematical entity unto itself. It is a kind of mathematical self-reflection. Pauli writes to Jung in February 1952: ‘In the spring of 1951, I had a dream in which the word _“automorphism”_ cropped up (it is a word taken from mathematics). It is the word for the ascribing to others one’s own characteristics, an isomorphism of an algebraic system with itself, in other words, for a process in which the inner symmetry, the wealth of associations (relations) of a system reveals itself (…) My interpretation of the dream at the time (it was a proper examination, with the “stranger” as examiner, in which the word “automorphism” had the effect of a “mantra”) was that a _generic term _was being sought that was to cover both your concept of the archetypes as well as the physical laws of nature. That is why I read with great interest your formula on p. 370 of Aion [CW 9ii, par. 410] when the book came out. For a mathematician, it would be an obvious thing to do to apply the term _“automorphism”_ to the relationship of the small square to the large one.’ (Meier, 2001, 79)

The square dance

At the beginning of November 1953 Pauli has a dream and subsequent vision in which he has to dance with three inner figures around a square. The dream is a reaction on the formula of the Self in Aion. One of the dancing figures is the stranger, now called the master. The master is accompanied by a Chinese woman, a personification of the anima mundi, the soul in matter. The third figure in the dance is a shadow-figure, a contemporary physicist. Pauli has completed at that time an active imagination called _Die Klavierstunde_ (the Piano Lesson). It is dedicated ‘in friendship to Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz’ and contains a long conversation with the Chinese woman about all the problems that has troubled him. The Chinese woman has earlier appeared to him as an exotic, slit-eyed woman. In the Piano Lesson Pauli takes a piano lesson from her in order to develop his feeling side. Her piano playing symbolizes the play of archetypes unifying matter and spirit. According to the Piano Lesson physicists want to understand the world without the piano music. But the Chinese woman finds that absurd. (Pauli, 2002, 126) How can one understand nature, if one does not want to listen to its musical element? Synchronicity is seen as a wider principle manifesting itself in the music of creation.

Pauli has to play in the dream ‘chess in every conceivable combination’ with the other figures. When he is awake, he sees in his mind a square with two diagonals and a voice tells him that there is no figure (in two dimensions) with four points and six equal lines. The diagonals of a square are longer than the four sides. They are “irrationally related” to the sides. The voice explains: ‘For this reason symmetry cannot be statically produced, and a dance results. The _coniunctio_ refers to the exchange of places during this dance. One can also speak of a game or rhythms and rotations. Therefore the three, already contained in a latent form in the square, must be dynamically expressed.’ (Erkelens, 2002, 185)

Apparently the coniunctio, the final unification of the opposites, is a dynamic happening. The number 3 stands for the factor time, whereas the fourth points in Pauli’s dreams to the timeless. The 3 is contained in the six lines of the square with its two diagonals. According to the voice these lines are identical to the 6 unbroken yang-lines which constitute the hexagram ‘The Creative” in the I Ching. The 6 lines thus stand for the creative side of the unconscious which cannot be grasped by the intellect. One can come to terms with the Creative only by dancing.


Marie-Louise von Franz was much impressed by the motif of the square dance. She published the central part of the dream and the subsequent vision in her book Number and Time. She comments as follows: ‘It is important to note the emphasis on the number three, or, six, as the figure of a dynamic process enabling the totality symbol to manifest itself, in all its latent possibilities, in a temporal succession so that it does not congeal into a static symmetry or harmony.’ (Franz, 1974, 109) In chapter seven of _Number and Time_ von Franz discusses the interplay between the numbers three and four as manifested in the dance. But she does not go into the psychological background of the dream. She mentions neither the name of the dreamer nor the two dream-figures of the master and the contemporary physicist. But the message is clear. Pauli must learn to dance, he must become part of a whole and sacrifice his strong will to understand everything rationally. He must learn to dance with the master, the Chinese woman and a contemporary physicist. In this dance Pauli’s former identity as a physicist appears as a dangerous shadow-figure in himself. This seems to me particularly significant.

For Pauli progress in the process of individuation is blocked, as long as he does not see the shadow-side in himself in all clarity. Without this recog­nition the drive for rational understanding acts in a hidden way and does not leave room for the deeper experience of the world involving love in addition to understanding. Love was certainly constellated in Pauli’s relationship with Marie-Louise von Franz. She had inspired him to enter into his dialogue with the Chinese woman and he had warm feelings for her. Letting the relationship develop might have been an important opportunity for him to become more conscious of himself. And that would have paved the way for a transformation of the stranger.


Herbert van Erkelens © 2013

Wolfgang Pauli and the light-dark stranger II



Erkelens, Herbert van. Wolfgang Pauli und der Geist der Materie. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2002.

Fierz, Markus. Naturwissenschaft und Geschichte. Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1988.

Franz, Marie-Louise von. Number and Time. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974.

Franz, Marie-Louise von. On Divination and Synchronicity. The Psychology of Meaningful Chance. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1980.

Jung. C.G. The Collected Works. 20 vols. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Ed. H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, Wm. Mc Quire. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul/Routledge,  1953-2001.

Meier, C.A. (ed.). Atom and Archetype, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Pauli, Wolfgang. ‘The Piano Lesson’, Harvest 48, No. 2,_ _2002.

Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit. Vintage Books,  Random House, 1984.