Enter for a Chance to Win a Personally Autographed Copy of SYNCHRONICITY

In the month of July, I am running a special promotion on Twitter that offers a chance for a free, personally autographed copy of my latest book:

Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect

Synchronicity Book

Here’s how it works:

  1. Follow @phalpern on Twitter.
  2. Pre-order a copy of Synchronicity. It can be electronic or hardcover, from any bookseller.
  3. Think of a good question about science.
  4. Tweet your question to @phalpern, with the hashtag #SynchronicityBook and a picture that has proof that you pre-ordered a copy of Synchronicity. Make sure there is no confidential or personal information in the photo.
  5. One entry per person, please. Promotion ends July 31 at 11:59 PM, Eastern Standard Time (New York Time).
  6. I will answer your question, and enter you into the drawing, which will take place on August 1.
  7. On August 1, I will randomly select, from among the entries, 5 winners from the United States and 5 winners from other countries around the world.
  8. If you are one of the winners, I will DM you for your mailing address and what personal inscription you would like on the book. Then I will autograph and mail the book to you, after it is published on August 18!
  9. Books subject to availability. If there is a production or mail delay, that might delay fulfillment of the books.
  10. This is an author-sponsored promotion under the auspices of Paul Halpern LLC. It has no affiliation with Basic Books, Hachette, University of the Sciences, or any other organization.

Some of the many places to preorder Synchronicity:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827TTFQ9

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Amazon (Can): https://www.amazon.ca/Synchronicity-Understand-Quantum-Nature-Effect-ebook/dp/B0827TTFQ9

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/synchronicity-paul-halpern/1135269434

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Synchronicity/Paul-Halpern/9781541673632

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Chapters/Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/synchronicity-the-epic-quest-to/9781541673632-item.html

Powells: https://www.powells.com/book/synchronicity-the-epic-quest-to-understand-the-quantum-nature-of-cause-effect-9781541673632

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781541673632

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/synchronicity/id1489925375

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Paul_Halpern_Synchronicity?id=f3rBDwAAQBAJ

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/synchronicity-32

Ebooks.com: https://www.ebooks.com/en-us/book/209901206/synchronicity/paul-halpern/

Mileva Einstein’s Desperate Plea To Carl Jung: Help Me With My Son!

Mileva Maric Einstein, Albert Einstein’s wife, wrote in 1936 to famed Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung for advice about their younger son Eduard Einstein, diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Eduard Einstein, the younger son of Albert and Mileva Maric Einstein

Of the three children of Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric Einstein, only one, Hans Albert, the eldest son (and middle child), ended up with a happy life and a successful career. As a hydraulic engineer, he was honored for his achievements. The Einstein lineage (Albert and Mileva’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren) stems from his marriage to Frieda Knecht.

Mileva and Albert Einstein with baby Hans Albert in Bern, Switzerland

Lieserl, in contrast, Albert and Mileva’s first child and only daughter, who was conceived and born before they got married, did not have such a fulfilled life. Rather, it seems to have been cut short at an early age. While in the late stage of her pregnancy, Mileva left Albert in Switzerland and returned to her native Serbia to give birth. There, little Lieserl remained. It is unclear what happened after that. Scholars believe that she possibly was adopted and likely died very young. Given that Albert remained in Switzerland during her birth and early years, he probably never met her.

Letter from Albert to Mileva, Feb 1902: https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/vol1-trans/213

That leaves Eduard, the youngest child, born on July 28, 1910. Nicknamed “Tete” he was very bright and well-read, with interests in poetry and music. His childhood was disrupted by the separation and divorce of his parents, a process that began in 1914, when Albert accepted three concurrent positions in Berlin, including a professorship at the university. Mileva didn’t like Berlin, and soon moved back to Switzerland with the children.

Mileva with Eduard (left) and Hans Albert (right) in 1914

Mileva soon found out that Albert was having an affair with his cousin Elsa. After a halfhearted attempt (on Albert’s part) to reconcile, they were divorced. Albert soon remarried, living with Elsa and her two daughters, Margot and Ilse, in Berlin.

Einstein wrote often to his sons, and sometimes took them on vacations. In 1925, for example, he took them on holiday to Kiel, in northwestern Germany. Albert penned a poem about enjoying “yeast cakes” at a bakery there:


By the time he was in his late teens and early 20s, Eduard had aspirations to become a psychiatrist. Albert Einstein approved his career choice and wrote to him about the works of Freud. Mileva supported both children with some of the money from Albert’s Nobel Prize, as stipulated in the divorce settlement. By all accounts, however, she was very depressed. When Eduard began to display signs of mental illness, she had difficulty handling the situation emotionally. Eduard began to be seen at the Burghölzli, a famous psychiatric hospital in Zurich, where he received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and residential treatment.

Albert Einstein with Hans Albert Einstein, during a time when they were both in the United States

Then, in 1933, after the Nazis took power in Germany, Albert was forced to cut ties with that oppressive regime, which had raided his property, and put a bounty on his head. He and Elsa moved to Princeton, where he began a position. By that time Hans Albert had relocated to Dortmund, Germany. Soon he also emigrated to the United States, leaving Mileva alone in Switzerland to cope with Eduard’s dire situation. Her depression worsened, along with her financial situation.

Mileva Einstein to Carl Jung, 1936. ETH Zurich https://blogs.ethz.ch/digital-collections/en/2019/02/15/das-tiefe

On April 21, 1936, Mileva wrote to renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, with a desperate plea for help with her son. Here is my loose translation:

Dear Prof.,
In the past semesters I have followed your statements in most of your lectures with great interest and admiration. Unfortunately, it was not only a Platonic interest in this science that led me to do so, but the deep need to try to understand a little the misfortune of a serious illness that has struck my son (who is also a son of Prof. A. Einstein, the famous physicist). I’ve wanted to see you to ask for advice and hear you express your opinion about his condition. Now, on top of my other troubles, I have become very impoverished and would hardly be able to offer you anything valuable in return for your effort, which has held me back. But if you’d be willing to chat, I would be very grateful.

There is no record of Jung responding to Mileva, only a note that he may have been on vacation at the time: https://blogs.ethz.ch/digital-collections/en/2019/02/15/das-tiefe. Nor is there any evidence that Jung ever met with Eduard.

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung

After Mileva died in 1948, Eduard was essentially abandoned. He would spend the rest of his life at the Burghölzli. Interestingly, though impaired, he continued to engage in creative expression, such as sketches and poems. One such poem is particularly impressive: Einsames Ende (Lonely End) which expresses his feelings in a moving fashion.

Einsames Ende by Eduard Einstein

Here is my personal translation and interpretation of that poem:


Forebodings, how I’m dying lonely
Silently disappear
And in no bark
My existence notched.
What I’ve sown
The winds have blown away

What I’ve contained
Has already disappeared
The stream has washed away.
Forebodings, how I’m dying lonely
And how the shame,

My grip on myself,
Took everything from me.

Eduard Einstein died of a stroke on October 26, 1965 at the age of 55. It is troubling to think of how much his life would have been different if modern treatments were available, and he wasn’t institutionalized. It is a tragic tale indeed.


“Das tiefe Bedürfnis ein grosses Unglück ein wenig zu verstehen,” by Christian John Huber, ETH Zurich

Paul Halpern is a University of the Sciences physics professor and the author of sixteen popular science books, including Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect.

A Brief History of Time Travel

How the prospect of visiting the past or future captivated the imagination of writers and scientists

The Time Traveller, from the 1960 film adaptation of The Time Machine by HG Wells

The tradition of time travel and time travel paradox stories dates back centuries. In the 19th century, classics such as Rip van Winkle by Washington Irving, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, and so forth, delighted readers. They could be considered examples of novels involving time displacement, via either sleep or some kind of disruption.

However, it was Wells’ The Time Machine, published in 1895, that embodied the first description of a controlled voyage through time using technology. The protagonist in that novella built a device that enabled him to travel into the far future, witnessing the degradation of the human race into two new species, the Eloi and Morlocks.

From the 1960 film, The Time Machine, the two new species, Eloi and Morlocks.

Because it described time travel solely to the future and back, The Time Machine did not involve any paradoxes. The protagonist sets out into the future, stays for a brief interval, then returns to the present. Although his presence certainly alters the events of the world to come, such a change violates no laws of logic or physics since the order of cause and effect is not interfered with in the story.

A time travel paradox, involving an irresolvable disparity between two disparate versions of reality, would need to include backward time travel before the era of the time traveller’s origin. This could lead to twisted time lines and the possibility of changing history through the removal of a cause before its effect. Such a situation would prove paradoxical if it leads to an irreconcilable contradiction.

Starting in the pulp era of science fiction in the 1930s, speculations abound about time travel leading to an alternate reality. A classic story about tampering with history is Ray Bradbury’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’. Through a minor detour during a time traveling expedition, the historical chain of events is tampered with in a disastrous manner. The death of a butterfly, stepped on by a time traveller during a journey to the age of the dinosaurs, triggers a chain of events that grow over time, leading to a difference in current political events (a change in who wins a presidential election), along with an alteration in English language spelling.

Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder

Another pivotal novel in the alternate history genre, Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore, considers how time travel could affect the outcome of the Civil War (Moore 1965). A time traveling scholar arrives back in the year 1865 and ultimately changes the course of the Battle of Gettysburg. This results in an alteration of the outcome of the Civil War and in a subsequent branching of history. The ironic twist to the story is that the scholar is from a world in which the Confederacy has been victorious over the Union. Through his inadvertent tampering, he helps trigger a Southern defeat and brings about the familiar narrative of history. He is stranded in the past because, paradoxically, he has destroyed the timeline for which time travel had been invented.

Time Travel in Physics

Discussions of the paradoxical aspects of backward time travel would remain a purely a literary device if it were not for mathematically rigorous examinations of the question in reputable physics journals beginning in the late 1980s. In 1988, motivated by a request from Carl Sagan to provide scientific justification for the interstellar transportation used in his novel Contact, Caltech physicist Kip Thorne assigned his then-PhD student Michael Morris the task of constructing solutions of Einstein’s field equations of general relativity that offer traversable wormholes linking otherwise disconnected regions of the universe (see Morris and Thorne 1988). In general relativity, mass and energy shape the fabric of the spacetime manifold. The greater the concentration of mass in a region, the more distorted space and time would become. While the technology to assemble enormous quantities of mass into wormholes is far beyond our present capabilities, and requires a hypothetical substance of negative mass, called exotic matter, the physics community took Morris and Thorne’s proposal seriously. There were a number of follow-up proposals, similarly published in scholarly journals.

Imagining space travel through a traversable wormhole

In a subsequent paper, Morris and Thorne, along with Ulvi Yurtsever, demonstrated that by propelling one of the mouths (terminals) of the wormhole at a near-light-speed, a loop could be created that would allow astronauts to journey backward in time (Morris et al 1988). That is because time at the fast-moving mouth would move more sluggishly than at the other end and would thereby be, relatively speaking, back in the past. What would be created is a loop backward in time, called a closed timelike curve (CTC). It is unclear whether the laws of physics (as they stand now) allow the existence of CTC or not; for the purpose of this paper we will assume that if the evidence of CTC is found in a text then CTC can exist, at least, in the context of a literary piece. Friedman et al also argue that the existence of CTC would prevent the ‘free will’ to be exercised when a human being attempts to change the past.

Creating such a device is an extremely hypothetical proposition, given that it would require exotic matter, enormous quantities of ordinary matter, and a civilization advanced enough to fashion these substances into just the right geometry, and hurl one mouth through space at close to the speed of light.

Nevertheless, even the mere possibility that backward time travel might be possible someday raises important questions about causality. What would prevent someone from trying to tamper with history and create unsettling conundrums, such as in the famous grandfather paradox of an ancestor-destroying time traveller trapped between existence and non-existence? Could there be, as novelist Connie Willis suggests in her Oxford time travel series, an aspect of time that avoids paradoxes?

The idea that history might be self-corrective was addressed by Fritz Leiber in his ‘Change War’ chronicles, including his novella The Big Time. In his stories, two rival, time-traveling factions, the ‘Snakes’ and ‘Spiders,’ constantly attempt to change history to the other group’s disadvantage. However, the fabric of actuality resists such changes through ‘The Law of Conservation of Reality,’ that minimizes the future impact of all shifts in timeline. For example, as one character mentions in The Big Time, when through historical tampering, the Roman Empire was prematurely defeated, a Germanic Empire took its place.

Leiber’s notion of time correcting itself was echoed by Willis in her Oxford series, albeit through a different mechanism. In Blackout and All Clear, whether or not a drop opens, allowing time travellers to return to the present-day, serves as a means used by time to sort itself out, eliminate contradictions, and restore reality to the way things ought to be. The main characters find themselves trapped for different intervals in the past, unable to get back, because time has found a way of preserving itself in that fashion.

The Principle of Self-Consistency

One way of ensuring that time travel never changes history is to posit that the past and present must always tell a self-consistent story. Such was the approach taken by Russian physicist Igor Novikov, along with a group of Caltech and Wisconsin researchers that included Kip Thorne, John Friedman, Michael Morris, and Ulvi Yurtsever, in postulating the principle of self-consistency. This is a way of permitting closed timelike curves but excluding the possibility of discrepancies between the realities before and after time travel. Even causality violations are allowed, as long as it leads to a logically consistent loop. The local framework can be time-reversed, assuming it provides a self-consistent global framework. As Novikov and the Caltech researchers wrote: ‘We shall embody this viewpoint in a principle of self consistency, which states that the only solutions to the laws of physics that can occur locally in the real universe are that which are globally self-consistent’

In a self-consistent CTC, a time traveller’s actions in the past can precipitate a chain of events in history as long as that leads to the world from which the voyager originated. In other words, the only changes to the past that are allowed are those that were meant to be.

Envisioning a Closed Timelike Curve (CTC)

As physicist Ian Redmount of St. Louis University, a former student of Thorne, noted: ‘The evolution of a physical system should be self consistent, even when you include influences from the future acting back in time. This means that if you travel back in time and attempt to shoot your parents before your birth, your gun misfires or you miss; the sequence of events already includes the effects of your attempt.’

Novikov and the Caltech/Wisconsin group offered as an example of a self-consistent CTC a game of pool in which a ball enters a pocket, say the right centre, travels back in time, and emerges from another pocket, say the left centre. The pockets would represent a wormhole used as a CTC. Suppose the re-emergent ball then hits the previous version of itself back into the right centre pocket. The entire process would obey all physical laws of momentum and energy conservation. Although the law of cause and effect would be reversed, because the ball from the future would affect its past, the global picture would be self-consistency.

Well before Novikov and his colleagues’ proposal, the essence of the principle of self-consistency has provided a means of avoiding paradox in a number of time travel stories. For example, in Robert Heinlein’s convoluted tale ‘All You Zombies,’ the protagonist, through several twists of fate and episodes of time travel, turns out to be his own mother and father. While in the story there are several different intersecting CTCs, each part of its narrative is entirely compatible with every other part.

Self-consistency does not eliminate the strange possibility that something could be created out of thin air. In another story, ‘Find the Sculptor,’ by Sam Mines, a scientist creates a time machine, travels five hundred years into the future, and finds a statue there of himself, erected in honor of the first time traveller. He then uproots the monument and takes it back to his own time as proof of his successful journey. Consequently, the statue is set up to commemorate his voyage. The question Mines asks at the end of the tale is, ‘When was the statue made?’ Clearly, though this story is self-consistent, it is troubling.

Time travel is a longstanding dream. While Einsteinian special relativity permits the possibility of travel into the future, travel into the past might engender disturbing paradoxes involving backward causality and other dilemmas. Consequently, it remains to be seen whether or not, even in the abstract, it could be scientifically viable. Nevertheless, in fiction, which lacks such constraints, it is fun to imagine such possibilities. After all, it would be the only way to revisit history and experience it personally. Who could turn down such a chance, even if just in one’s imagination?

Adopted from Out of the Darkness into the Darkness: Time Travel in Ernesto Sábato’s El túnel and Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear, by Victoria Carpenter and Paul Halpern

The Pauli Effect: How Disaster Accompanied a Quantum Physicist Wherever He Went

To the world, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli was an esteemed theoretical physicist, a Nobel laureate. To the depth psychology community associated with Carl G. Jung, his name was little known, at first, but his extraordinary, vivid dreams, packed with symbolism (according to Jung), and anonymously conveyed to preserve patient privacy, were widely discussed. (Once Pauli and Jung published a book together, the thin cloak of anonymity dropped away.). Finally, to the circle of physicists surrounding Pauli, he was admired for his brilliance, feared for his scathing criticisms, and mocked for the “Pauli effect:” a propensity for disaster striking whenever he was in the vicinity of a laboratory, or other structure.

Physicist Wolfgang Pauli

If Wolfgang Pauli set foot in an experimental physics laboratory, the legend went, sheer mayhem would result. Beakers would crack, bunsen burners fail to ignite, oscilloscopes would cease to function, and expensive equipment would catch on fire. Collecting data would be useless, except perhaps calculating the total damage for an insurance report. Thus the Pauli effect, succinctly stated, is that Pauli and labs were an explosive mix. No wonder researcher Otto Stern decided to bar Pauli from passing through the doors of his laboratory.

Physicist Otto Stern, of the Stern-Gerlach experiment, reportedly batted Pauli from his lab

Theorist George Gamow, on the other hand, insisted that the Pauli effect was proof of his high standing in the field of theoretical physics–like an opera singer breaking glass with her voice, brilliant theoreticians seemed to have a propensity for shattering delicate lab apparatus.

But even if Pauli didn’t step foot inside a lab, as long as he was in its vicinity its researchers could not rest easy. The Pauli effect appeared to work through walls and across considerable distances. For instance, one time the train Pauli was riding in was briefly passing through the main railway station of Göttingen. Simultaneously, the legend goes, equipment at the University of Göttingen suddenly exploded for no reason.

Gamow’s humorous sketch of Pauli

Another time, Pauli was visiting the town of Princeton, to do research at the Institute for Advanced Study. At nearby Princeton University, the physics department, located in Palmer Physical Laboratory housed a powerful particle accelerator in its basement: the Princeton cyclotron with a 50-ton magnet. During Pauli’s sojourn, the cyclotron spontaneously combusted in a fire that burned for more than six hours and blackened the walls of the building.

The 50-ton Palmer Cyclotron Magnet being moved, more than 40 years after the 1950 fire

More examples are recorded. In Copenhagen, Pauli almost destroyed theorist Stanley Deser’s sports car. The list goes on and on.

With enough such catastrophes, Pauli began to believe deeply in his own effect. He addressed the topic in his therapy with Jung. Without scientific evidence, but based on his own analysis, Jung linked it to his own concept of “synchronicity:” an acausal connecting principle.

The C.G. Jung Institute in Küsnacht, Switzerland

On April 24, 1948, Jung proudly opened the C.G. Jung Institute, a center for teaching depth psychology, housed in a beautiful building along a lake in the Swiss village of Küsnacht , near Zürich. He invited Pauli to attend the opening ceremony. Pauli, who had started delving into symbolism behind the astronomical writings of Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd, was pleased to take a break from his research and help celebrate the Institute’s inaugural.

Robert Fludd

At the posh event, suddenly there was a loud crash. Without warning or apparent reason, a beautiful Chinese vase dropped off a shelf, fell to the floor, and smashed into smithereens, releasing a huge puddle of water. Pauli immediately sensed the reason: his mere presence. He later wrote to Jung:

“Als bei der Gründung der C. G. Jung-Institutes jener lustige ‘Pauli-effekt’ der umgestürzten Blumenvase erfolgte…”

(When the funny “Pauli effect” of the overturned flower vase took place at the founding of the C.G. Jung Institute…)

-Wolfgang Pauli to Carl Jung, June 16, 1948 (ETH Archive)

Pauli thought that the flood released by the vase was meaningfully connected to his own studies of Robert Fludd. After all, the words “Fludd” and “Flood” (or “Flut” in German) are roughly pronounced the same. He took it as symbolic of his research discoveries regarding that thinker.

Pauli’s research on Kepler and Fludd was published along with Jung’s theory of synchronicity

Is the Pauli effect real? Certainly not. The human brain has a propensity to look for patterns, even when a series of occurrences might statistically be attributed to mere coincidence. Moreover, often genuine patterns that seem mysterious have scientific explanation in a common cause. For instance, thunder following lightning, each once believed to be harbingers of ill fate, derive from the same meteorological phenomenon, namely electrical disturbances in the clouds.

Therefore we might attribute the effect to a real common cause (genuine absentmindedness and clumsiness) mixed with the keen desire by Pauli and other to look for patterns amongst the noise. Sure all the times he didn’t cause catastrophes vastly outnumbered the handful of events recorded. Yet the Pauli effect is certainly great fun to talk about, lending humor to the serious topic of theoretical physics.

The author at the C.G. Jung Institute, where the famous “Pauli effect” of a fallen vase took place in 1948

What’s So Funny About Neutrinos?

How Nature’s Elusive Lightweight Particles Have Been the Targets of Humor for 90 Years

Oscillating neutrinos compared to chameleons changing their colors (Courtesy Tia Miceli, “Nine weird facts about neutrinos,” Fermilab News, Fermi National Lab)

Neutrinos arrived as the neat solution to a vexing problem in particle physics. In the radioactive process called beta decay, in which atomic nuclei transform themselves by emitting beta particles (energetic electrons), researchers discovered that a measure of energy and momentum (mass times velocity) was lost. On the other hand, total electric charge remained the same. In a fair swap, the negative charge carried away by the electrons was precisely balanced by an increase in positive charge for the nuclei. Like a stealthy thief in the night, some unseen neutral agent seemed to be snatching away some of the energy and momentum, while being careful not to disturb the net charge.

In 1930, to explain that discrepancy, in Austrian theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli proposed a new lightweight particle, which he originally called the “neutron.” It was later renamed the “neutrino,” once the massive neutral counterpart of the proton, also dubbed the “neutron,” was discovered. With virtually no rest mass and little ability to interact with other particles, except through what came to be known as the weak interaction, the force behind beta decay, the neutrino would be extremely hard to detect. That’s why, Pauli argued, it had hitherto escaped notice. As it turned out, the first detection of neutrinos would not be until 1956 in the Cowan-Reines experiment.

It didn’t help matters that Pauli framed his proposal rather comically. He sent a letter to researchers studying the decay process, addressed (in German) “Dear Radioactive Ladies and Gentlemen.” Thus, while his idea was considered seriously, it carried with it a measure of humor.

Two years later, in 1932,while lovers of literature commemorated the centenary of the death of Goethe, members of Niels Bohr’s Institute of Theoretical Physics decided, at an annual conference, to stage their own parody of Goethe’s most famous work, Faust. The year also coincided with the tenth anniversary of two of Bohr’s most famous accolades — the Nobel Prize and the “Bohr Fest” in Göttingen, Germany in which Bohr’s influential talks began to shape him into a kind of physics icon. It was also little more than a decade since the Institute was founded, thanks to the generosity of the Carlsberg brewing family.

In that play, Pauli was mocked as Mephistopheles, the devil. Paul Ehrenfest, the emotionally volatile statistical physicist who would eventually take his own life and the life of one of his sons, was portrayed as Faust. Finally, the neutrino itself stood in for Gretchen, the woman that, in the original play, Mephistopheles provoked Faust to seduce.

Pauli as Mephistopheles, sketched by George Gamow

On October 7, 1935, Niels Bohr celebrated his 50th birthday. Rather than presenting him with a serious tome, his associates decided to put together a satirical publication, known as The Journal of Jocular Physics.

Once again, the neutrino got the comic treatment. A French poem “La Plainte du Neutrino” (The neutrino’s complaint) served as a parody of “Un secret” by French poet Felix Arvers. The satirical version compared the neutrino’s elusiveness to a secret unrequited love.

By the second half of the twentieth century, once neutrinos were actually discovered, the jokes died down a bit. Much of the humor during that period centered on the fact that trillions of neutrinos pass through our bodies each second with virtually no chance of affecting us. One joke, developed by the neutrino’s discoverers Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines of Los Alamos, was to present to someone a seemingly empty cardboard box that is labelled something like “at any moment this box is guaranteed to contain at least 100 neutrinos.”

Another type of joke centers on the fact that neutrinos can “oscillate,” meaning cycle through a blend of types. See, for example, the Fermilab News cartoon at the start of this blog.

However in 2011, when the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) team, based at a detector in Gran Sasso, Italy, offered the bold claim of faster-than-light neutrinos, the resulting cascade of jokes flooded the world of social media. The team announced that it had measured streams of neutrinos emanating from the CERN accelerator laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, about 450 miles away, to be arriving approximately 60 billionths of a second earlier than light speed would allow. “This result comes as a complete surprise,” announced OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato, in a press release. “After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement.” (Antonio Ereditato, press release, OPERA experiment, September 23, 2011)

Faster-than-light neutrinos jokes became the meme of the moment. As the Los Angeles Times reported within days after the announcement, “Neutrino jokes hit Twittersphere faster than the speed of light.”

Satirical songwriters soon joined in on the craze, including an Irish band, Corrigan Brothers and Pete Creighton, with their “Neutrino Song.” “Was old Albert wrong?” they asked in verse. “That fabulous theory of relativity is being debunked…”

If Einstein’s theory had been shattered, theoretical physics would have faced a unexpected challenge. Perhaps it would have taken a “new Einstein” to pick up the pieces and assemble a more durable theory. But as has often been the case, reports of the demise of relativity were greatly exaggerated.

In June 2012, CERN issued a press release stating “the original OPERA measurement can be attributed to a faulty element of the experiment’s fibre optic timing system.” Neutrino velocities, as confirmed by OPERA and three other experiments, do not exceed the speed of light. That is “what we all expected deep down,” stated CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. (Sergio Bertolucci, press release, CERN, June 8, 2012)

With neutrinos boringly following the known laws of physics, humor about such particles has reached another lull. But never fear. Pauli’s poltergeist particles preserve a propensity for periodically popping into parody. It just might take one more anonymous run, and a fresh crop of neutrino jokes might fill social media once again.

Paul Halpern is a University of the Sciences physics professor and the author of sixteen popular science books, including Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect.

When “Einstein 2.0” Met “Freud’s Successor”

Physicist Wolfgang Pauli and psychologist Carl G. Jung

Wolfgang Pauli was a brilliant, forthright physicist, who made his mark in many different fields. He was known from an early age as a wunderkind whose insights into general relativity, quantum physics, and other fields were phenomenal. His treatise on relativity, written at the age of 20, was a brilliant summary of Einstein’s masterwork. 

Pauli’s brilliant early treatise on r

By the time he was in his 20s, he was one of the most respected physicists in the world, offering advice to Bohr, Einstein, and others. Impressed with his independence of thinking, Einstein often sent him unified field theories and other proposals, bracing in return for Pauli’s inevitable criticism. Pauli’s development of the exclusion principle — no two electrons (or related particles called “fermions”) might occupy the same quantum state, proved instrumental to advances in quantum physics, and led to the concept of spin. 

Two electrons of the same quantum level must have opposite spin

Similarly, his suggestion of a new, extremely light, neutral particle called the neutrino turned out right on the mark. His Nobel Prize in 1945 was expected and well-deserved. Discussing that achievement, Einstein acknowledged Pauli as a worthy successor. Hence, one of Pauli’s nicknames was ‘Zweistein,’ or ‘Einstein 2.0.’

Pauli’s notice that he had received the Nobel Prize (courtesy of CERN)

There was a dark side of Pauli, however. In the famous Copenhagen comic production of Faust, Pauli was depicted as Mephistopheles, or the devil. Other physicists nicknamed him “The Scourge of God,” an epithet he embraced. His critiques of other physicists were often cutting and discouraging. Yet, as Einstein often admitted, Pauli would usually turn out to be right. Pauli was resolutely a theorist, not an experimentalist, as demonstrated by the legendary “Pauli effect” in which he would seem to disrupt labs by his mere presence.

Sketch by George Gamow of Pauli as Mephistopheles

During a particularly bleak time in Pauli’s life (a divorce around the same time as his mother’s suicide), he turned to psychotherapy. On the advice of his father, he sought out the esteemed Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung, who lived and worked in Kusnacht, a suburb of Zürich.

Jungs house in Kusnacht. Photo by Paul Halpern.

Jung was extraordinarily original in his approach. Originally designated by Freud to be a successor in the psychoanalytic movement, he broke with his mentor in advocating the controversial notion of a collective unconscious, among other innovations. Through Einstein (with whom he had dinner when Einstein worked in Zürich), he came to be familiar with the marvels of modern physics, including the flexible nature of spacetime in relativity. By placing space and time in the same malleable framework, general relativity conceivably allows for connections that defy the forward direction of causality, such as hypothetical “closed timelike curves” that loop backward in time. 

Artistic Depiction of a Closed Timelike Curve

Quantum mechanics, another revolutionary branch of modern physics, posits acausal connections between particles in a shared quantum state — a situation dubbed by Erwin Schrödinger as “entanglement.” Jung’s own term for an “acausally connecting principle” was “synchronicity,” which he hoped would describe connections of the psyche as well as the material world.

Jung’s deep interest in trying to find a fusion of modern physics and psychology, blossomed further after he met Pauli. Pauli embraced Jung’s form of psychoanalysis — particularly dream interpretation — and became of his most significant patients. It was decades later, when Pauli returned to Zürich upon the end of World War II, that they had their most significant discussions about physics. By then, Pauli had become convinced that nature had underlying numerical patterns that called for interpretation. His obsessions meshed well with Jung’s concept of archetype — fundamental commonalities in a collective unconscious.

Although Pauli was acerbic and skeptical toward the theories of other physicists, including Einstein’s attempts at unification, he channeled considerable energy into offering advice to Jung about shaping a hybrid between the quantum and the mind. He made suggestions to enhance Jung’s theory of synchronicity. As he conveyed to Pauli in a famous diagram, Jung placed synchronicity on par with causality, and asserted that the former could explain coincidental phenomena that the latter could not.

While the physics community has remained skeptical of such a concept, which for Jung was grounded in parapsychology and pseudoscientific assertions of extrasensory perception, the notion of entanglement, remains a mysterious aspect of quantum physics. Indeed, entanglement is a well-established scientific phenomenon. Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at the Pauli-Jung dialogue, focusing on only what is scientifically proven, and examine the implications of long-distance coordination of particle characteristics in, for example, quantum teleportation experiments.

Today Pauli is not as well-known as Einstein, and Jung is not as well-known as Freud. Yet each in their day commanded tremendous influence over the physics and psychology communities, respectively. While Einstein and Freud each adhered to their own kinds of rigid determinism, Pauli and Jung each realized that the flexibility of modern physics, and its inclusion of symmetry principles, called for new descriptions of nature beyond mechanistic causality. Synchronicity offers a means of characterizing such acausal connections and advancing toward a fuller accounting of the natural world.

Dr. Paul Halpern in the Wolfgang Pauli Room at CERN

Paul Halpern is a University of the Sciences physics professor and the author of sixteen popular science books, including Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect.