"This Petty Reasoning Mind": Pauli, Jung, and Psychic Fission in The Physicists

by Ian F. Roberts

September 15, 2007


While set in a sanatorium and figuring a psychologist who corresponds with Jung as a major character, Dürrenmatt's The Physicists has surprisingly never been methodically examined from a Jungian perspective. This paper explores the previously unrecognized significance of Gustav Jung's analysis of physicist Wolfgang Pauli to the play. I show that Pauli's experience as a patient of Jung served as a major inspiration for the play, and that a Jungian interpretation of the work makes the most sense of its symbolism and themes. Not only is the figure of Mobius shown to be modeled after Wolfgang Pauli, but the character's visions of King Solomon represent his repressed shadow. Moreover, musical and historical references are shown to symbolize Mobius' psychic imbalance and his need for integration of the shadow archetype.



It has been widely acknowledged by critics that Robert Jungk's work on the development of the atom bomb, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, was a source of inspiration for The Physicists. Tiusanen, for example, calls Jungk's book an "impulse to activate" Dürrenmatt's mind (267-268). What has not been recognized is that there was another and far more significant inspiration for, and influence on, the ideas and symbolism of the play. I argue that the Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli's relationship with the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung was the real-life source for Dürrenmatt's play. During Pauli's lengthy analysis and extensive correspondence with Jung, both men developed an outlook that stressed the "complementarity" of consciousness and reason with the unconscious and irrational. This philosophy forms the basis of Dürrenmatt's play. Moreover, Pauli was the model for the character of Mobius. Pauli, a scientist who suffered from an overdevelopment of the logical side of his mind and a correspondingly impoverished emotional and spiritual life, suffered a nervous breakdown necessitating treatment by Jung. Pauli, like Mobius, also had visions of a man whom he interpreted as personifying the wisdom and understanding currently lacking from rationalistic science. Examination of this previously overlooked influence of Pauli and Jung on The Physicists helps shed new light on the psychological significance of King Solomon and symbolic references to the unconscious.

     The outlines of Pauli's relationship with Jung can be quickly sketched. Atmanspacher and Primas state that "The rational onesidedness of the young Pauli received a strong blow in his early thirties, a crisis he later described as his 'big neurosis'" (113). Moreover: "Together with stern strokes of fate (1927 suicide of his mother, 1930 divorce from his first wife), it was basically his excessively rational attitude which brought Pauli into serious inner conflicts which he could not master intellectually. Following the advice of his father he asked the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung for help" (113). David Lindorff also describes Pauli as "a one-sided intellectual" ("One Thousand" 555), and explains that after his nervous breakdown while working as a professor in Zurich, Jung placed Pauli in the care of one of his pupils for fear of influencing the initial analysis of Pauli's dreams. Jung followed Pauli's case and took over his treatment after ten months (557). In 1935, Jung wrote a paper on dream symbols which included 74 of the 1,000 dreams Pauli had shared in analysis. This paper grew to become Psychology and Alchemy in 1968 (558).

     Though Jung did not identify the patient whose dreams he analyzed in these works, it nonetheless appears that Pauli's identity quickly became an open secret. Lindorff reports that, in 1936,

    Jung sent Pauli a copy of the completed article based on a selection of his dreams. Jung wished to show that there was no suggestion in the paper that the dreamer was a physicist. Pauli's identity could not be concealed, however. [The physicist Markus] Fierz, who attended the paper's presentation, was certain of the subject's identity, and he had no doubt that others were aware of it as well. (Pauli and Jung 52)

It is worth noting that Dürrenmatt had a longstanding interest in science and once stated: "I know a great many physicists. . . . I talk very much with them" (qtd. in Tiusanen 266). Given this familiarity with physicists and Pauli's many references to Jung, it is therefore not inconceivable that Dürrenmatt was aware of, or at least suspected, the dreamer's identity as well. In any case, Jung's description of the patient in Psychology and Alchemy as "a man of excellent scientific education" would have sufficed to pique Dürrenmatt's interest (42). The original source of Dürrenmatt's interest in Pauli, however, may have been his reading of Jungk, not Jung.

     In his book, which was reviewed by Dürrenmatt, Jungk writes: "For three hundred years the natural scientist believed that he could isolate himself from the world, but now he is beginning to regard himself as a part of it. He feels himself to be conditioned and limited. This realization has shown him the way to a new modesty" (340). On the final page of his study, Jungk concludes:

    Wolfgang Pauli, formerly known to the family of atomic scientists as a skeptic, has indicated a possible road for humanity to take. . . . But by 1955 his keen mind had so extended its field of vision that he became the eloquent exponent of a long neglected inner way to salvation. At the close of a lecture on "Science and Western Thought" he said: "Since the seventeenth century the activities of the human spirit have been strictly classified in separate compartments. But in my view rational understanding and the mystical experience of unity obeys the explicit or implicit imperative of our own contemporary age." (341)

Jungk leaves readers with a question: "Can the 'new modesty,' along with a fresh recognition of an inner way to salvation, exert as strong an influence on the coming centuries as the spirit of overweening pride, now revealed to have been disastrous?" (341). By condemning scientists' belief that they can isolate themselves from the world, and by urging modesty borne of an enlarged vision, Jungk clearly foreshadows elements of Dürrenmatt's play. Most significantly, however, by holding up Pauli as a kind of prophet and allowing him the last word on the unity of rational understanding and mystical experience, Jungk ends his study in a way likely to encourage Dürrenmatt's further study of Pauli's life and ideas.

     In "Science and Western Thought," the essay quoted by Robert Jungk and which therefore would have been of immediate interest to Dürrenmatt, Pauli explains his beliefs about the tension between rational and mystical attitudes, as well as his recommendations for their integration, in terms uncannily reminiscent of The Physicists. He writes of "the fundamental problem of the relation between knowledge of salvation and scientific knowledge" (Pauli's emphasis 139), explaining that "Periods of dispassionate research on critical lines are often succeeded by others in which the aim is to try to include science in a more comprehensive spiritualism involving mystical elements" (139). In a passage worth quoting at length, Pauli then states:

    I believe that it is the destiny of the occident continually to keep bringing into connection with each other these two fundamental attitudes, on the one hand the rational-critical, which seeks to understand, and on the other the mystic-irrational, which looks for the redeeming experience of oneness. Both attitudes will always reside in the human soul, and each will always carry the other already within itself as the germ of its contrary. . . . While allowing the tension of opposites to remain, we must also recognize that on any path to knowledge or to salvation we are dependent on factors beyond our control, which religious language has always designated as Grace. (139-140)

At the end of his essay, just before the passage quoted by Jungk, Pauli argues that

    . . . we can say that at the present time a point has again been reached at which the rationalist outlook has passed its zenith, and is found to be too narrow. Externally all contrasts appear to be extraordinarily accentuated. . . . Yet I believe that there is no other course . . . than to expose himself in one way or another to these accentuated contrasts and their conflicts. It is precisely by this means that the scientist can more or less consciously tread a path of inner salvation. (147)

The similarity of Pauli's thoughts to the theme of Dürrenmatt's drama should be obvious, and his religious language also sounds familiar (see also Westman).

     In the same essay quoted above, Pauli also briefly discusses the importance of Jung's work for understanding the relationship between rational and mystical outlooks through his study of pairs of opposites in alchemical symbolism (146). In 1952, Pauli even published a book in conjunction with Jung titled The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche, where he dealt with this subject at some length. Jung's contribution to the work was "Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle," while Pauli's was "The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler." In this lengthy essay, Pauli argues that Johannes Kepler and his contemporary Robert Fludd respectively represent examples of opposing but complementary inclinations toward the rational and the mystical. These two thinkers, Pauli writes, also exemplify "a more general differentiation between two types of mind, a differentiation that can be traced throughout history, the one type considering the quantitative relations of the parts to be essential, the other the qualitative indivisibility of the whole" (257). Pauli further argues that "an analogous contrast" can be seen between Goethe and Newton, stating: "We should like to advocate the point of view that these controversial attitudes are really illustrations of the psychological contrast between feeling type or intuitive type and thinking type. Goethe and Fludd represent the feeling type and the intuitive approach, Newton and Kepler the thinking type" (258). This very contrast between thinking and feeling is the foremost concern of Dürrenmatt's play (see also Heisenberg and Zabriskie).

     Through his study of the archetypal influence on scientific ideas, Pauli attained what he felt was a more comprehensive philosophical outlook. As Westman explains, "Pauli must have believed . . . that by studying Fludd he was gaining access to the Fluddean part of himself" (218). Eventually, Pauli would declare in a letter to Fierz, "As for myself, I am not only Kepler, but also Fludd" (quoted in Lindorff, Pauli and Jung 90). In light of Pauli's comments, Dürrenmatt's use of the name Newton as the pseudonym of Beutler even more forcefully suggests the character's over-reliance on reason. Similarly, Ernesti's association with Einstein calls to mind, more than would the name of Kepler, not only an association with the development of nuclear weapons, but also his well-known and stubborn resistance to the statistical or acausal, and therefore seemingly irrational, Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Both Beutler/Newton and Ernesti/Einstein, then, symbolically share with Mobius an excessively rationalistic one-sidedness.

     Jung's writings would have reinforced to Dürrenmatt ideas expressed by Pauli. The work of Jung's which perhaps most directly relates to The Physicists is his 1957 essay "The Undiscovered Self (Present and Future)." Here, Jung directly considers the social implications of the contemporary dichotomy between the conscious and unconscious mind. Jung also echoes Pauli by arguing that it is necessary to achieve a viewpoint which is inclusive of the contrary obligations to scientific knowledge and psychological understanding: "This conflict cannot be solved by an either/or but only by a kind of two-way thinking: doing one thing while not losing sight of another" (353). And, speaking elsewhere of the West's extraverted identification with consciousness and the East's introverted identification with the unconscious, Jung writes: "Both are one-sided in that they fail to see and take account of those factors which do not fit in with their typical attitude. . . . The result is that, in their extremism, both lose one half of the universe . . . " ("Difference" 501).

     Such extremism can also lead to illness. Jung explains: "When any natural human function gets lost, i.e., is denied conscious and intentional expression, a general disturbance results. Hence, it is quite natural that with the triumph of the Goddess of Reason a general neuroticizing of modern man should set in . . . " ("Undiscovered" 380). Moreover: "Separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilized man into the conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith, a split that becomes pathological the moment his consciousness is no longer able to neglect or suppress his instinctual side" (388). For this reason, "Western man is in danger of losing his shadow altogether, of identifying himself with his fictive personality and the world with the abstract picture painted by scientific rationalism" (389). Consequently, it is necessary to attain a perspective from which the shadow is no longer denied or rejected. "What our age thinks of as the 'shadow' and inferior part of the psyche contains more than something merely negative" (400). Rather, "the powers slumbering in the psyche . . . . are potentialities of the greatest dynamism, and it depends entirely on the preparedness and attitude of the conscious mind whether the irruption of these forces, and the images and ideas associated with them, will lead towards destruction or catastrophe" (400-401).

     When viewed in the context of Jung's comments, Mobius' visions of King Solomon can be understood as projections of his shadow in response to the over-development of his conscious, rational side. Because of the shadow’s evolutionarily basic and animal nature, it possesses great strength, making it the most potentially powerful of Jungian archetypes. It is therefore not surprising that Dürrenmatt's police doctor should observe: “These madmen often have gigantic reserves of strength” (14). An example of what Jung would call an extraverted thinking type, Mobius represses the instinctual and feeling side of his nature, severing himself from the wisdom and insights that derive from the shadow and that can be more profound than any more rationally obtained knowledge. Mobius himself admits: “I’ve forgotten how to express my feelings” (48). This repression creates a conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith. The split becomes pathological when the shadow reasserts itself in the form of "imagined" hallucinations of King Solomon. Mobius' denial of the genuineness of his visions to Nurse Monika, Doctor von Zahnd, and even to himself, reflects his neurotic inability to acknowledge the reality of the shadow. Having identified completely with his partial and therefore fictive persona, along with a wholly scientific conception of reality, Mobius' conscious mind is utterly unprepared for the powerful force of the unconscious, which leads to catastrophe.

     Speaking specifically of nuclear scientists, Jung argues:

    No one will maintain that the atomic physicists are a pack of criminals because it is to their efforts that we owe that peculiar flower of human ingenuity, the hydrogen bomb. . . . But even though the first step along the road to a momentous invention may be the outcome of a conscious decision, here, as everywhere, the spontaneous idea—the hunch or intuition—plays an important part. In other words, the unconscious collaborates too and often makes decisive contributions. . . . If it puts a weapon in your hand, it is aiming at some kind of violence. ("Undiscovered" 397)

Of modern man, Jung continues: "As his consciousness has broadened and differentiated, so his moral nature has lagged behind. That is the great problem before us today. Reason no longer suffices" (emphasis Jung's 397). Indeed, unless we acknowledge the irrational within ourselves, we are doomed to nuclear destruction. Argues Jung: "In theory, it lies within the power of reason to desist from experiments of such hellish scope as nuclear fission if only because of their dangerousness. But fear of the evil which one does not see in one's own bosom . . . checks reason every time . . . " (397). While "The fear of universal destruction may spare us the worst, yet the possibility of it will hang over us like a dark cloud so long as no bridge is found across the world-wide psychic and political split . . . " (397-98). Lack of self-knowledge, then, is for Jung the crux of the nuclear issue. Most importantly, Mobius precisely personifies this very lack.

     Jung also distinctly calls to mind the character of Mobius in his discussion of the relationship between idealism, modesty, and love. Suspicious of appeals to idealism, Jung insists that it is essential to ask:

    Who is making the idealistic demand? Is it, perchance, someone who jumps over his own shadow in order to hurl himself avidly on some idealistic programme that offers him a welcome alibi? How much respectability and apparent morality is there, cloaking in deceptive colours a very different inner world of darkness? ("Undiscovered" 399)

Mobius' idealistic notion of secluding himself in an asylum for the protection of humankind is likewise unhealthy insofar as it is not balanced by a knowledge and acceptance of his shadow.

    Recognition of the shadow, on the other hand, leads to the modesty we need in order to acknowledge imperfection. And it is just this conscious recognition and consideration that are needed whenever a human relationship is to be established. . . . The perfect have no need of others, but weakness has, for it seeks support . . . . The question of human relationship and of the inner cohesion of our society is an urgent one . . . . To counter this danger, the free society needs a bond of an affective nature, a principle of a kind like caritas, the Christian love of your neighbor. But it is just this love for one's fellow man that suffers most of all from the lack of understanding . . . . (399-400)

Jung concludes that "[w]here love stops, power begins, and violence, and terror" (400). Prideful, rationalistically one-sided, and suspicious, Mobius fails to acknowledge his own imperfection. He therefore lacks the modesty necessary to admit his need of others. He lacks affectionate human relationships and instead cruelly spurns or kills those who love him. Predictably, the consequences of Mobius' actions are insane power, violence, and terror.

     The insistence by both Pauli and Jung on the "one-sidedness" of the modern, scientific worldview suggests the reason for Dürrenmatt's use of the name Mobius for his central character. Descriptions of excessively rational people as one-sided immediately call to mind the famously "one-sided" surface known as the Möbius strip. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine anything more symbolic of psychological one-sidedness than naming a character after the eponymous mathematician forever linked to the strip's discovery. And, as Lindorff has observed, the Möbius strip "may also be seen as making two sides into one, or of unifying opposites" ("Psyche" 576). Hence, Mobius' name is by association symbolic of both one-sidedness and the underlying unity of conscious and unconscious, physics and psyche. Mobius, though rationalistically one-sided, nonetheless cannot escape contact with his instinctual self or shadow. The Möbius strip is also strongly suggested by the many images in Jung's Psychology and Alchemy of the Uroboros, a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail, which is a central symbol of alchemy (46, 53, 64, 103, 217, 293, 452).

     Other alchemical symbols may have influenced Dürrenmatt's decision to identify the figure of Mobius' visons as King Solomon. Images reproduced in Pauli's essay from the works of both Kepler and Fludd clearly suggest the Seal of Solomon, a common and important alchemical symbol consisting of two interpenetrating triangles and representing the integration and harmony of opposites ("Influence" 240, 245, 254). Interpenetrating pyramids which create hexagons not only recur throughout Fludd's works but are a fundamental part of his philosophy. Solomon's Seal is sometimes represented as a pentagram, often within a circle. Finally, this image is also depicted in Jung's Psychology and Alchemy (316). Certainly, the choice of Solomon as the manifestation of Mobius' shadow was a brilliant one, given the story of his divinely acquired wisdom and eventual loss of the fear of God.1

     Even Mobius' visions of Solomon, however, are uncannily prefigured in Pauli's psychic struggles. Over a period of many years there recurred in Pauli's dreams a character he interpreted as personifying the wisdom and understanding currently lacking from rationalistic science. Pauli came to refer to the man in his dreams as "the stranger," and he most explicitly interprets this stranger in a letter to Jung:

    I am in no doubt that the aim of the "stranger" is to convey a holistic concept of nature (not expressed in the conventional scientific point of view). It is true that I regard the interpretation of modern physics in the narrowest sense as correct within the confines of its field of application but as basically incomplete. My resistance to the archetype and its tendencies is correspondingly weakening. (Meier 46)

Hence, like the Solomon of Mobius' purported visions, Pauli's stranger represents a knowledge that is more profound and comprehensive than that of science alone. In a letter to Jung's wife, Pauli further describes the stranger as "in a certain sense an 'Antiscientist,' 'science' here meaning especially the scientific approach, particularly as it is taught in universities today. . . . And yet, when all comes to all, the relationship of the 'stranger' to science is not a destructive one . . . " (Meier 51). He is, rather, a projection of Pauli's repressed shadow, embodying a unified vision that incorporates the unconscious and irrational.

     Later, Pauli even interacts with this stranger when awake. As Pauli explains to Jung:

    I have been playing this type of game for about 15 years now; it is played according to strictly defined rules and is so methodical that it cannot simply be dismissed as madness. My initial attempts to throw the stranger out were soon abandoned, for although he is friendly by nature, the visitor can soon turn very unpleasant. (Meier 39)

The "game" Pauli refers to is the use of "active imagination," which appropriately enough seems to lie somewhere between a sleeping dream and a theoretical physicist's gedankenexperiment. Jung himself describes "active imagination" as

    a method (devised by myself) of introspection for observing interior images. One concentrates one's attention on some impressive but unintelligible dream-image . . . and observes the changes taking place in it. Meanwhile, of course, all criticism must be suspended and the happenings observed and noted with absolute objectivity. Obviously, too, the objection that the whole thing is "arbitrary" or "thought up" must be set aside, since it springs from the anxiety of an ego-consciousness which brooks no master besides itself in its own house. (Archetypes 190)

Jung then states that

    Under these conditions, long and often very dramatic series of fantasies ensue. The advantage of this method is that it brings a mass of unconscious material to light. . . Once a visual series has become dramatic, it can easily pass over into the auditive or linguistic sphere and give rise to dialogues and the like. With slightly pathological individuals, and particularly in the not infrequent cases of latent schizophrenia, the method may, in certain circumstances, prove to be rather dangerous and therefore requires medical control. (Archetypes 190)

Indeed, Jung writes elsewhere that "[w]e can observe the manifestation of unconscious fragments of the personality, detached from the patient's consciousness, in insanity" ("Difference" 491).

     Thus, while originating in Pauli's dreams, the stranger eventually acquired a presence in Pauli's waking thoughts. Through the exercise of imagination, Pauli is enabled to envision the stranger and to access something of the unconscious while simultaneously in a conscious state. Like the Solomon of Dürrenmatt's play, Pauli's stranger serves as a Jungian "psychopomp," or mediator between the conscious and unconscious mind, often personified as a wise old man. Pauli, in fact, recognizes this as the stranger's role (Meier 43) and states that "the only reason I do not call him the 'wise old man' is that my figure is not old but is actually younger than myself" (50). Interestingly, by his very denial of madness, Pauli unavoidably involves the stranger in questions of sanity. Is the stranger a sign of neuroticism or enhanced awareness? Perhaps Pauli, in the words of Durrenmatt's physicists, is "mad, but wise" (84).

     Regardless, the resemblance of Pauli's stranger to Mobius' Solomon is too eerie to ignore. One is forced to wonder how Durrenmatt might possibly have known about this character in Pauli’s dreams, since the physicist’s letters were only published after the play was written. Could these surprising similarities really be nothing more than a bizarre example of synchronicity? A recent biography of Pauli by his former assistant Charles P. Enz provides an answer. Enz reports that Konrad Bleuler, a professor of physics and neighbor of Dürrenmatt’s, invited physicists to seminars at the University of Bonn. Enz explains: “Dürrenmatt then was interested in meeting physicists . . . . [and] Bleuler was happy to introduce to Dürrenmatt the colleagues he invited for the seminars. One of them was Pauli whom, however, Bleuler invited privately. Out of these acquaintances grew Dürrenmatt’s well-known play The Physicists . . .” (520-521). Hence, it seems clear that Pauli’s beliefs and personal life exerted a direct influence on the play. And, that Durrenmatt had personally met with Pauli can explain the unmistakable parallels between Durrenmatt's work and the details of Pauli's dreams which were not already discernable in his published writings.

     Symbolism in the The Physicists further underscores the theme of conflicting rational or conscious and non-rational or unconscious elements which so interested Pauli and Jung. That the son who tells Mobius he wishes to study philosophy has read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is here significant, given those thinkers' ideas about the Dionysian and the irrational. For, in contrast to Mobius, both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer acknowledged the dark parts of the human mind. Speaking of Nietzsche's neurosis, Jung noted that even Nietzsche himself "more than once acknowledged how much he owed to his malady" ("On the Psychology" 153). And, like Jung, Pauli referred to Schopenhauer in The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche and elsewhere. Pauli wrote to Jung: "As you well know, in regard to religion and philosophy I come from Lao-Tse and Arthur Schopenhauer" (quoted in Lindorff, Pauli and Jung 114). Jung also expressed his debt, stating that one of Schopenhauer's essays "originally stood godfather to the views I am now developing" about synchronicity (Interpretation 16). Schopenhauer's emphasis on the unconscious and irrational motivation of human actions, as well as his beliefs about the archetypal knowledge to found in art, clearly foreshadow the ideas of Jung while reflecting the main tension in The Physicists.

     As an art form, music has a particularly powerful connection to emotions and the unconscious, both in Schopenhauer's thought and in Dürrenmatt's play (Gardiner 652-654). The numerous references to music in The Physicists thus serve as reminders of the persistent presence of unconscious forces. Mobius’ violent encounter with his “remarkably musical” children, along with Frau Rose’s prompting that they play their recorders with “More feeling” and “more expression,” causes his urgent pleading that they stop, for “King Solomon’s sake” (42). This scene and its connection to Mobius’ “Song of Solomon to be sung to the Cosmonauts” indicate the disturbing emotional effect of music on his repressed and unbalanced psyche. Like the “stone embankment along the edge of the lake” next to the asylum, which by its separation of the dry earth from the liquid depths suggests a barrier between the conscious and unconscious mind, Mobius’ damning of his wife and children to “sink and rot in the blackest hole of the sea” also reflects his attempt to suppress the threatening unconscious forces their musicality, spirituality, and spontaneous love represent.

     It is further worth noting that Einstein plays Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. The Kreutzer Sonata is not only a work of considerable emotional range and impact in its own right, but it suggests Tolstoy's infamous novel of the same name. There, the narrator-protagonist argues that music is of immense influence on the human psyche and proceeds to demonstrate the truth of his claim by stabbing his wife to death in a jealous rage after she accompanies another man in the performance of the sonata. In addition to moving Tolstoy to write a novel, the "Kreutzer" also inspired a very popular turn of the century painting by Lionello Balestrieri in which the spiritually profound effect of listening to the composition is dramatically portrayed (Comini 397-398). Linked as it is with strong emotion, and therefore with the non-rational and unconscious, the repeated playing of music behind closed doors serves as a symbol of the suppressed shadow at work throughout the play. Solomon's association with music also reinforces this theme, and that the play ends with the sound of Einstein's fiddle demonstrates the shadow will not be silenced.

     Dürrenmatt's concern with paradox, explicit in six of the "21 Points to The Physicists," may also have had a source in Jung. Jung argues that: "only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fulness [sic] of life. Non-ambiguity and non-contradiction are one-sided and thus unsuited to express the incomprehensible" (Psychology 16). In a passage reminiscent of Pauli's article on Kepler, Jung concludes:

    Things have gone rapidly down hill since the Age of Enlightenment, for, once this petty reasoning mind, which cannot endure any paradoxes, is awakened, no sermon on earth can keep it down. A new task then arises: to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step to a higher level and to increase the number of persons who have at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth. (16)

And again in "The Undiscovered Self," Jung argues: "In view of the fact that, in principle, the positive advantages of knowledge work specifically to the disadvantage of understanding, the judgment resulting therefrom is likely to be something of a paradox" (353). At the very least, Dürrenmatt's assertions that "Within the paradoxical appears reality" and that "He who confronts the paradoxical exposes himself to reality," strongly coincide with Jung's outlook. To lift undeveloped minds to a higher level in order to increase appreciation of the paradoxical nature of reality was unquestionably the shared goal of Pauli, Jung, and Dürrenmatt.

     There is still another concept of Jung's which is relevant to The Physicists. Previous critics have interpreted Doctor von Zahnd as representing chance (see Tiusanen 281 and Peppard 66). However, it may be more accurate to say that Zahnd represents what Jung called synchronicity. Encouraged by Pauli to publish his essay on the subject, Jung defined synchronicity as "an acausal connecting principle" and associated it repeatedly with radioactivity. Jung states that "[t]he modern discovery of discontinuity (e.g., the orderedness of energy quanta, of radium decay, etc.) has put an end to the sovereign rule of causality . . . " ("Synchronicity" 140). Moreover, Jung argues: "Synchronicity is no more baffling or mysterious than the discontinuities of physics. It is only the ingrained belief in the sovereign power of causality that creates intellectual difficulties and makes it appear unthinkable that causeless events exist or could ever occur" (141). Jung even states that radioactive decay, "or rather the phenomenon of 'half-life,' appears as an instance of acausal orderedness—a conception which also includes synchronicity . . . " ("Synchronicity" 133). Pauli, too, compares synchronicity to radioactivity, and interprets references to radioactivity as symbolic of synchronicity in his dreams (Lindorff, Pauli and Jung 102-3, 208).

     Given this association, it is interesting to note Zahnd's references to radioactivity. Commenting on the murders in her asylum, Zahnd states that "medically speaking there is no explanation for what has happened," but she draws the inspector's attention to the fact that Newton and Einstein "were both doing research on radioactive materials" (28). When the inspector asks if she supposes a connection, Zahd replies: "I suppose nothing. I merely state the facts. Both of them go mad, the conditions of both deteriorate, both become a danger to the public and both of them strangle their nurses" (29). The inspector then asks if Zahnd believes the patients' brains were affected by radioactivity, to which she responds: "I regret to say that is a possibility I must face up to" (29). Zahnd's denial of a medical and therefore a scientifically rational reason for events, her peculiar suggestion of radioactivity as an explanation, and her refusal to assert a straightforward causal relationship between the patients' research and the murders, all recall Jung's notion of synchronicity. For, rather than reflecting random chance, Zahn's actions coincide meaningfully with those of Mobius. Zahnd, then, represents the synchronistic counterpart to Mobius' strict causality, which as a physicist he should have already learned to question. Just as he rejects his shadow, so the narrowly scientific Mobius is unable to accept what cannot be logically predicted. By contrast, Zahnd rightly asserts of the events she herself brings about: "These incidents could not have been foreseen" (28).

     Finally, critics have commented on the unmistakable repetition of the number three in The Physicists (see Whitton 135 and Tiusanen 284). Significantly, the numbers three and four were key to Pauli's thought. As Westman states, "[t]he resolution of the deep opposition between Trinitarian/quantitative and quaternarian/qualitative thinking is the true theme of the two essays that make up The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche" (212). For Pauli, the number three was associated with Kepler's partial and quantitative philosophy. The number four, however, was associated with Fludd's more holistic vision. While Pauli believed that it was important to simultaneously recognize both the quantitative and qualitative perspectives, the quaternity not only evokes the four functions of the Jungian psyche (intuiting, thinking, feeling, and sensing), but it represents a wholeness that includes both physics and the psyche, matter and mind, as complementary opposites (see Meier 192). In this context, then, the prominence of the number three throughout the play arguably symbolizes the dominance of a limited, unbalanced, and one-sided philosophical perspective. Mobius' inability to incorporate Solomon's Fludd-like holism is the shortcoming which foreshadows his downfall.

     In conclusion, works by Pauli and Jung would have been readily available to Dürrenmatt. That Dürrenmatt would have been familiar with them can be confidently expected, given his interest in science and the prominence of Pauli and Jung as fellow Swiss citizens. In addition, there is the laudatory reference to Pauli in Jungk's book and, in turn, Pauli's joint publication with Jung. All of this ensures that Dürrenmatt was aware of their thought. That he was aware of Jung's treatment of Pauli as a patient is also quite possible, even before Dürrenmatt met Pauli personally. Surely, a more direct indication of Jung's relevance to the play than the specific mention of him in the opening stage directions is difficult to imagine. For, it is hardly an accident that the playwright tells us von Zahnd's "correspondence with C. G. Jung has just been published" (10). Since Durrenmatt met Pauli at least once, it is even possible that they discussed details of the latter's dreams about the "stranger." Indeed, the parallels between Pauli's dream figure and the Solomon of Mobius' visions make this seem likely. Hence, from Pauli's initial one-sided rationalism, to his later beliefs about the necessity of unifying quantitative and qualitative perspectives, to his exchanges with a world-famous psychologist, to his concern with the politics of physics and the use of the bomb, to his visions of a character symbolizing great wisdom, Pauli was a highly suggestive source of ideas for Dürrenmatt's play in general, and as a model for Mobius in particular.

     At first interpreting the inexplicable failure of experimental equipment in his presence (which became known as the "Pauli effect") as "synchronistic manifestations of a deep conflict between his rational and non-rational side" (Atmanspacher 119), Pauli gradually attained a more inclusive unity of vision until, upon his death, he was described as "the conscience of theoretical physics" (Fierz 425). Of course Pauli's gradual appreciation of the significance of archetypal influences and the limitations of conscious rationality contrasts with Mobius' rejection of his shadow. However, in the words of Junk, "Unlike the characters in plays and novels, who vanish when the curtain falls or the last pages are turned, the heroes of history often survive the end of their tragedy" (336). Hence, Pauli represents the potential for a modesty borne of accepting the dark side of one's self, a potential Mobius realizes only too late. Asks Jung: "So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man. Is he capable of resisting the temptation to use his power for the purpose of staging a world conflagration?" ("Undiscovered" 403). This, too, is the question asked by Dürrenmatt, and imaginatively staging the psychological causes of such a conflagration is the means by which he posed it anew.


1 Pauli's letters to Jung and others contain two more arresting similarities to Dürrenmatt's work. These involve the Möbius strip and the Seal of Solomon. First, in a 1948 letter to Jung, Pauli sketches what appears to be a Möbius strip as an aid to thinking about synchronistic phenomenon (Meier 35). Then, in a letter to colleague Markus Fierz of 1957, Pauli explicitly uses the analogy of a Möbius strip in a discussion of synchronicity and causal phenomena in the evolution of life (Laurikainen 85-86, 205). As Donati explains, Pauli believed of synchronicity and causality, that: "Only the unity of both these principles, like the two sides of a Moebius [sic] strip, can build up a complete philosophical worldview" (722). Second, in a letter to friend and psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz dated November 6, 1953, Pauli himself drew two Seals of Solomon (also known as Stars of David), one each for the early and later periods of his life. Pauli then used these figures as a way of attempting to diagram the changing relationships between various archetypes in his dreams (Lindorff, Pauli and Jung 177-181).

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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Ian F. Roberts ""This Petty Reasoning Mind": Pauli, Jung, and Psychic Fission in The Physicists". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available http://psyartjournal.com/article/show/f_roberts-this_petty_reasoning_mind_pauli_jung_and. July 19, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: June 13, 2007, Published: September 15, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Ian F. Roberts