Beyond Quantum Physics

My mother stimulated me into the direction of astronomy and physics. I had asked for a book about what did exist, but could not been seen. I could have meant the unconscious. But I received a book about the cosmos. From that moment on I wanted to know the secret of the cosmos. During the years in secondary education I understood that I had to understand the relativity theory of Albert Einstein. In 1970 I started to study physics, astronomy and mathematics. That was the only way to follow the footsteps of Einstein. He had discovered some equation that seemed to rule the cosmos.

After three months I got interested in depth psychology. I read Psychology and Alchemy by Carl Gustav Jung and discovered that dreams could lead to the secret of the cosmos as well. That was quite confusing. Should I choose the outer or the inner way? As a reaction I dreamt that I had to descend into the Earth. In a subterranean grave chamber I witnessed, together with my mother, the resurrection of a mummy. An unknown woman stretched her hand towards the skeleton hand that appeared between the bandages of the mummy. In this way the skeleton hand transformed into a normal, living hand.

After that dream it became dark in my life. My energy went into the direction of the unconscious, no longer to the stars above me. I had entered a new myth. The depth psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz taught me later that the mummy stood for the spirit of matter. When I visited her in February 1991, she told me that the physicists had killed the spirit in matter. That explained the dead mummy lying on a table in the grave chamber. In my dream the mummy came alive unexpectedly. It rolled down on the ground before the skeleton hand appeared that frightened me. The unknown woman or female aspect of the unconscious healed the mummy hand through love. What I had witnessed was the central secret of alchemy: the death and resurrection of the spirit in matter. As a consequence my vision of becoming an astronomer had died. I had to find another way.

Bastet with a symbol of resurrection on her breast.

The Persian

What I did was to forget the secret of the cosmos and turn my attention to the riddle of the unconscious. Two archetypal figures appeared in my dreams, a cat and a man with a hat. Just as in case of the mummy dream I asked von Franz to comment on them. She explained to me that the cat could be Bastet, the cat-goddess from ancient Egypt. Bastet is a daughter of Isis and the sun-god Ra. The man with the hat could either be the Germanic god of nature Wotan or the Roman messenger of the gods Mercurius. It was unusual to dream of such figures when you are young. I had become 38 when von Franz analyzed my dreams. I had survived the previous years and began to understand that I needed a better relationship with both archetypal figures. Normally the anima, the female personification of the unconscious, appears as a woman. To have a cat as anima-figure would imply that she had to be transformed into a human being before I could integrate her energy and wisdom into my own psychology. But I didn’t know how to accomplish that.

The man with the hat stood for the energy behind synchronicity, the principle of meaningful coincidence. I knew that theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli had dreamt a lot about a stranger who personified meaning. In his dreams there was a strong tension between the world of physics and the world of the stranger. That tension even applied to quantum physics, the theory that successfully describes atoms in terms of energy (frequency) and matter (particles). The stranger appeared in a dream of Pauli from December 1947 as a dark-skinned Persian who wanted to be admitted to the Polytechnic in Zürich where Pauli held a chair in theoretical physics. Pauli had an intriguing discussion with the Persian (Erkelens, 2006, 60):

I: “You are not allowed to study?”

He: “No, therefore I study in secret.

I: “”What subject you are studying?

He: “Yourself!”

I: “You speak to me in a very sharp voice!”

He: “I speak as someone to whom everything else is forbidden.”

I: “Are you my shadow?”

He: “I am between you and the light, so you are my shadow, not the reverse.”

I: “Do you study physics?”

He: “There your language is too difficult for me, but in my language you do not understand physics.”

I: “What are you doing here?”

He: “I am here to help you. You must give up a few illusions. For example, you believe that you have several women, but in reality you have only one…”

This dream helped me to reconcile me with the fate of being an outcast. I had left theoretical physics in 1984 to investigate the world of alchemy. In March 1985 I dreamt that I had to raise a temple for modern alchemy. Next the man with the hat led me along a secret way to the discovery of Pauli’s later dreams. I had encountered his earlier dreams in Psychology and Alchemy without knowing that the unknown dreamer in this book was a theoretical physicist. Pauli had been in analysis with Jung and Erna Rosenbaum, a doctor who had joined Jung in 1932 to become a Jungian analyst. After Pauli married Franca Bertram in May 1934, he decided to end the analysis with Jung. But the unconscious kept sending him dreams. In the autumn of 1989 I succeeded to collect 80 of these later dreams from an archive of the Polytechnic in Zürich. It was a true goldmine for understanding physics as an approach to the cosmos that was criticized from within. The stranger knew another language, less complicated. The difficulty for Pauli was to find that other language.

To that end the Persian referred to a split in Pauli’s experience of the anima. Like so many scientists, he was living a split life. This was reflected in the female figures in his dreams. There was a blond woman personifying his inner source of inspiration in the field of theoretical physics. Then there was a dark exotic woman who seemed to be connected with parapsychological phenomena and with sexuality. A third dream figure was his own wife Franca who personified his personal relationship to the outside world. The Persian remarked that Pauli should not think in terms of several women. In reality he had only one. He should look for the one anima, the one woman behind these various female personifications of the unconscious. That would be the entry to a new understanding of the world in which spirit, soul and matter again could be seen as one, as a world in which the Persian would no longer feel himself to be a stranger.

Pauli also had dreams in which he had to accept a new professorship. In his view science did cut off ‘the head’ of matter in order to study only its ‘tail.’ In these terms the astronomer Johannes Kepler had criticized in the 17th century the imaginative world of the alchemist Robert Fludd: ‘I reflect on the visible movements determinable by the senses themselves, you may consider the inner impulses and endeavor to distinguish them according to grades. I hold the tail but I hold it in my hand, you may grasp the head mentally, though only, I fear, in your dreams.’ (Pauli, 1994, 253) In this connection Pauli wrote to Jung in February 1953: ‘I am still constantly surprised at this insistence of the unconscious on the new professorship with its lectures in auditoriums and on my appointment, and I wonder what such a professor might say who does not just “hold the tail but grasps it is in his hand” (namely, theoretical physics) but who also “grasps the head mentally” and “not ”just in dreams.”’ (Meier, 2001, 91)

Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958)

A Mysterious Ring

The key figure seemed to be the anima. She appeared finally as a Chinese woman standing above the opposites of the male yang and the female yin. In October 1953 Pauli decided to go into a dialogue with the unconscious using the technique of active imagination. The Chinese lady then appeared to him as a piano player willing to give him a lesson. The result was the Piano Lesson, a piece of 22 pages, dedicated to Miss von Franz. Instead of the dark Persian a new dream figure represented the dimension of meaning. He had a dark face surrounded by light. Pauli had called him the light-dark stranger, but now refers to him as ‘the master.’

The Chinese lady could have led Pauli to the language needed to please the master. To that end she took a ring from her finger and let it float in the air. (Pauli, 2002, 133/34) Pauli knew this ring quite well from the world of higher mathematics. She called it the ring i where i denotes the imaginary unit. Per definition the imaginary unit is a number of which the square equals -1. Though the number looks an impossibility, we can define it as the operation of rotating the point 1 over an angle of 90 degrees. You need, in other words, a second dimension.

The ring i, in mathematics known as the complex unit circle.

If we draw a cross within this ring, the result would be as we see above. For Jungian psychology the ring would mean the quaternity, a symbol of the Self or inner God-image. Thanks to the four numbers +1, + i, -1 and –i the same symbol constitutes the heart of quantum physics. Without the imaginary unit it is impossible to formulate the quantum theory. You need some symbol through which a circular frequency can be defined. That frequency is closely related to energy. But due to the phase of a circular frequency an elementary particle like an electron has become a wave as well. As a consequence elementary particles can no longer be visualized. They have ceased to be particles in the classical sense, moving through space and time along well-defined trajectories. They have become quanta. A quantum is neither a particle nor a wave, but it can behave as both depending on the experimental setup.

That is why Pauli remarked to the Chinese lady: ‘The ring with the i is the unity beyond particle and wave, and at the same time the operation that generates either of these.’ For her the ring is the timeless or the fourth besides the three attributes of linear time: past, present and future. It is also the atom, that which cannot be divided. Moreover she said: ‘It is the marriage and it is at the same time the realm of the middle, which you can never reach alone but only in pairs.’

Next there was a pause. Pauli and the Chinese lady waited for something. Then the voice of the master spoke, transformed from the center of the ring to the woman: ‘Remain merciful.’

These words are derived from Goethe’s Faust. At the end of this tragedy doctor Marianus, the “mother’s son”, speaks to the mater gloriosa: ‘Maid, Mother, Queen, Goddess. Remain merciful!’ The Piano Lesson thus stands in a tradition of elevating the feminine and rejuvenation of the masculine. At the end of the Piano Lesson the Chinese woman turns out to be the supreme mother goddess, while the stranger presumably has been transformed into her youthful companion.

Pauli could have accepted the ring with all its consequences, but he preferred to return to the life of a university professor. He returned without the ring to ordinary time and ordinary space and left the Chinese lady alone. Von Franz found this quite disappointing, as she put forward in an interview for the Dutch television: ‘I felt very sad, because the solution of the Piano Lesson is, in contrast to what Mr. van Erkelens has said, not a solution. Pauli returns to pure worldliness, the anima sadly plays a melody on the piano, left alone instead of in a relationship. The ring he is offering me there, so to speak, is suspended [in the air] and the master, whom we would call the Self, disappears. So the Piano Lesson ends very disappointingly. It makes me sad, like the whole thing makes me sad. If you want me to sum up the relationship: I tried to pull him out and didn’t succeed.’ (Erkelens, 2002, 143)

Apparently von Franz had tried to help Pauli finding the inner way. But he was afraid for the reactions of his colleagues if he would stand for dreams, synchronicity and Jungian psychology. So he kept his inner life secret and doing so he still hindered the Persian entering the Polytechnic where he worked. He had promised the master in the Piano Lesson to reconcile him with the world of theoretical physics, but he didn’t do anything else than writing down his dreams and discussing them with von Franz without ever drawing conclusions that would make him visible as a bridge between quantum physics and depth psychology. As a consequence she grew impatient and lost any hope of a fruitful cooperation with Pauli:

‘At that time I took a lot of trouble. He was a very tiring discussion partner, because he was quick and profound and intense. We generally walked about two or three hours in the woods. And then I was exhausted. I made a real effort. When it doesn’t work you get annoyed. You think: he may go to hell.’

Philip Engelen

Pauli died in December 1958 of cancer. His letters or copies of them disappeared in secret archives to prevent his widow Franca burning the content. Serious research of his spiritual estate could only begin after 1987 when she had died. I started my research into the relationship of modern physics and religion in 1988 and found myself in a privileged position to continue the work accomplished by Pauli. I quickly found out through his correspondence with Jung that Pauli already knew in 1935 that there is a hidden dimension of reality beyond quantum physics. Einstein had tried to point to that dimension. But he had been a classical physicist by conviction. He believed in a physical reality that could be observed by a detached observer without any interference. Since any measurement in the field of quantum physics can in principle change the state of the observed system, it is difficult to combine quantum theory with a worldview like that.

That is why Einstein came in 1935 with a thought experiment to prove that quantum physics was incomplete. Since he, as a Jew, had just left Berlin because of Hitler, his English was not yet good enough to express his thoughts with much clarity. Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen helped him to clarify them. But not with the result he had hoped for. Nevertheless, the article on the incompleteness of quantum physics was published. His Danish opponent Niels Bohr tried to find the weak spot in the argumentation. Pauli dreamt immediately that Einstein to some extent had been right. A man looking like Einstein showed him that quantum mechanics was only a one-dimensional line embedded in a deeper reality of two dimensions.

In May 1953 Pauli wrote to Jung: ‘It was soon after I married in 1934 and my analytical treatment was over that this physical dream symbolism began. Among others I had the following dream at the time, and it occupied me for years: A man resembling Einstein is drawing [a figure] on a board. This was apparently connected with the controversy [between Einstein and Bohr] and seemed to contain a sort of response to it from the unconscious. [The figure] showed me quantum mechanics and so-called official physics in general as a one-dimensional section of a two-dimensional, more meaningful world, the second dimension of which could be only the unconscious and the archetypes.’ (Meier, 2001, 121/22)

For the first time in my life I understood quantum physics as an incomplete approach to the atomic world and I wanted to share that message from the dreams of Pauli with my colleagues. But I didn’t succeed. They were quite hostile towards dreams. I even lost my job and all financial support before I had reached the age of 43. I couldn’t understand why people were not interested to hear the truth. I had worked together with Philip Engelen, a Dutch film director, who had made a documentary on the inner world of Pauli. And even he seemed to be afraid. He had refused to mention the dark Persian or the master in his documentary. I felt a bit betrayed when the documentary film appeared in 1991 without pointing to the message that quantum physics was incomplete.

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Four years later my academic career was over and after June 1995 I sat at home without knowing how I could help my family financially. I went through a deep depression and then in January 1996 I received two dreams from Philip Engelen. He had been really worried about me. In the first dream the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking plays a central role:

‘I stand in an immensely large room filled with a gratifying atmosphere. The walls remind me of a mildly shining, but dull metal. I walk around and do not feel comfortable. But nothing threatens me. I wait for what may come in a way that my mind stays calm. I turn around a corner and stands suddenly face to face with Stephen Hawking. I look down on him. He smiles friendly and has his hand on the electronic equipment needed to communicate with others. Before he can ask me something, I ask him: ‘Do you know Herbert van Erkelens?’ He looks up with a cherry face and starts to handle the buttons of his speech computer. After a while I hear a metal voice say: “Yes I know him. His work is not yet understood. But time will come that people start to understand him.”’

In the second dream scientists all turned their back on him when he wanted to interest them for my work. Apparently the time was not yet ripe for opening the eyes of scientists for the inner world and the need to bring our experience of the outer world into balance with what we know through the inner world. I continued my work but without any connection to the academic world.

Herbert van Erkelens © 2017


Erkelens, Herbert van (ed.). ‘Wolfgang Pauli, the Feminine and the Perils of the World’, in: Harvest. Journal for Jungian Studies, Vol. 48, No. 2,  2002.

Erkelens, Herbert van. Modern Alchemy. Number Archetypes, the Feminine and the Mayan Calendar. Todtmoos-Rütte: Johanna Nordländer Verlag, 2007.

Meier, Carl Alfred (ed.) Atom and Archetype. The Pauli/Jung Letters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Pauli, Wolfgang. Writings on Physics and Philosophy. Edited by Charles P. Enz and Karl von Meyenn. Translated by Robert Schlapp. Berlin/Heidelberg/New York: Springer-Verlag, 1994.

Pauli, Wolfgang. ‘The Piano Lesson’, in: Harvest. Journal for Jungian Studies, Vol. 48, No. 2,  2002.


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