Odd, often difficult but mostly engrossing account of Carl Jung’s treatment of physicist Wolfgang Pauli and their search for symbols that reveal universal secrets.
A founder of quantum physics, Pauli (1900–58) sought help in 1932 while at the height of his powers but tormented by personal failures. Jung (1875–1961) was a brilliant Swiss physician who sought to understand the workings of the mind. Initially impressed by Freud’s theories, in which sex played a central role, Jung later rejected them, concluding that all humans share a collective unconscious revealed through dreams, art, mythology and religion. Dreams play a central role in Jungian analysis, so readers will encounter dozens as Miller (Empire of the Stars: Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, 2005, etc.) recounts two years of Pauli’s therapy followed by 25 years of correspondence. Jung confidently explained that each dream revealed how Pauli’s inner desires and frustrations emerged through images shared by everyone in our collective unconscious. Pauli accepted this, and readers will have to accept Jung’s assertion that his interpretation of dreams was scientifically correct. Jung felt the therapy succeeded; Pauli’s colleagues noted a modest improvement in his caustic personality and moderation of his heavy drinking. There’s no doubt the experience left Pauli fascinated with metaphysics, dreams and mystical exotica, including astrology, psychic phenomena and numerology. Readers will get an obviously learned yet somewhat heavy dose of both quantum physics and Jungian philosophy. Miller draws no line between Pauli’s physics (proven by experiments) and Jung’s theories (proven by assertions), and he repeats uncritically the pair’s delight at various anecdotes, coincidences and juxtapositions of numbers that enthusiasts claim unveil cosmic truths.
Readers who persevere may find this intense mixture of science and psychoanalysis to their liking.