A Quantum of Insults

Nobel laureate physicist Wolfgang Pauli had a penchant for hurling evil zingers at other scientists

Wolfgang Pauli with Paul Ehrenfest (CERN)

By the age of 20, Viennese physicist Wolfgang Pauli had acquired the reputation of being a wunderkind, a child genius. His PhD supervisor Arnold Sommerfeld had recruited him to write an article about Einsteinian relativity for a scientific encyclopedia. The opportunity gave Pauli the chance to shine. Fellow physicists applauded its systematic overview of the subject.

Pauli’s seminal article on Relativity Theory

Along with being brilliant, however, Pauli also acquired a reputation for being caustic and derisive of others. His put-downs of other physicists were legendary. Virtually no one could escape his venomous insults. Paul Ehrenfest, one of his targets, nicknamed Pauli “Die Geissel Gottes (the Scourge of God),” an epithet that he embraced, and used to sign his letters. Another of his nicknames was “Der fürchterlich Pauli (The Terrible Pauli)”. Finally, in a 1932 satirical version of Faust, acted by young scientists at Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics, Pauli was cast as Mephistopheles, or the Devil.

Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenfest

Pauli’s first meeting with Ehrenfest, at the 1922 “Bohr Festspiele (Bohr Festival) in Göttingen, was epic. Like Pauli, Ehrenfest had contributed to Sommerfeld’s Encylopedia — in his case, on Statistical Mechanics. As Swedish physicist Oskar Klein described the meeting:

“On that occasion Ehrenfest stood a little away from Pauli, looked at him mockingly and said: ‘Herr Pauli, I like your article better than I like you! To which Pauli very calmly replied: ‘That is funny, with me it is just the opposite!’”

Swedish physicist Oskar Klein (ESVA)

Klein himself was the subject of Pauli’s degrading remarks. An accomplished researcher, he still didn’t impress Pauli. Upon leaving a position in Copenhagen to return to Sweden, Pauli offered him this advice:

“I hope you will now fulfill the words ‘Go and teach the people.’ Your great pedagogical ability was always one of your strongest suits… I am not of the opinion that finding new laws of nature and indicating new directions is one of your great strengths, although you have always developed a certain ambition in this direction.”

German physicist E. Pascual Jordan (ESVA)

One of Pauli’s good friends and collaborators was German physicist Pascual Jordan. Nonetheless, Pauli criticized him as a “formalist” (meaning just a mathematician).

During the Nazi era, Jordan, though a supporter of international cooperation in physics, an opponent of antisemitism, and a vocal supporter of Einstein, decided to join the party. Pauli slammed him, but maintained a friendship. Jordan soon received an appointment at the University of Rostock, an institution that Pauli did not think highly of. After World War II, Pauli was entreated to help rehabilitate Jordan’s reputation. Pauli explained to people, sarcastically:

“Herr Jordan [had an excuse for joining the party]. He was a professor at Rostock!”

Albert Einstein with Wolfgang Pauli (ESVA)

Albert Einstein greatly respected Pauli’s opinion. Pauli was one of the few physicists to read over his unified field theory attempts, and offer criticism. He was one of the few notable physicists that Einstein directly collaborated with (on a joint 1945 paper) in his later years. When Pauli won the Nobel Prize, Einstein commented that he considered Pauli a worthy successor. (Sadly, Pauli would die in 1958, only three years after Einstein’s death).

Despite his respect for Einstein, Pauli would still offer mocking comments. For example, when one of Einstein’s unified field theory attempts was published, Pauli offered this barb:

“It is indeed a courageous deed of the editors to accept an essay on a new field theory of Einstein for the ‘Results in the Exact Sciences.’ His never-ending gift for invention, his persistent energy in the pursuit of a fixed aim in recent years surprise us with, on the average, one such theory per year. Psychologically interesting is that the author normally considers his actual theory for a while as the ‘definite solution.’ Hence one could cry out: ‘Einstein’s new field theory is dead. Long live Einstein’s new field theory!’”

Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (ESVA)

In 1947, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, then residing in Ireland, announced his own unified field theory, based partly on his discussions with Einstein. The announcement was picked up by the international media, which in some reports framed the result as Schrödinger achieving the goal that had alluded Einstein. Einstein was understandably miffed, and publicly criticized the hype over Schrödinger’s result. Pauli’s reaction to that skirmish, according to physicist Peter Freund, was telling:

“I really don’t see what the whole fuss is about. This theory is ill conceived. If you connected my name with it in any fashion then I would have a right to sue you.”

Physicist Werner Heisenberg (center) with Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli (ESVA)

German physicist Werner Heisenberg was a good friend of, and sometimes collaborator with, Pauli, dating back to their university days. In the mid-1950s they worked together on an attempted unified field theory. In 1958, Heisenberg jumped the gun, in Pauli’s view, by announcing his version of the theory. As historian Arthur Miller documents, one report about the work dubbed Pauli “Heisenberg’s assistant.” Insulted by the designation, Pauli started to attack Heisenberg’s theory publicly. After hearing Heisenberg speak about his theory on the radio, stating that only the details needed to be filled in, Pauli sent physicist George Gamow a sketch of an empty rectangle with the inscription:

“This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing.”

Pauli’s mocking of Heisenberg
Wolfgang Pauli and John Wheeler at the “Nobel-Bier-Abend” (Evening beer party to celebrate Pauli’s Nobel Prize) in 1945 (CERN Pauli Archive)

Of the American physicists Pauli came into contact with, one of the figures he respected most was John Wheeler. In spring 1940, Wheeler invited Pauli to attend a research seminar delivered by the young Richard Feynman, who was working with him at the time on a theory of direct electron interactions (Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory). At one point Pauli took Feynman aside and criticized Wheeler for being too ambitious in claiming that a quantum version of their theory would be straightforward. Indeed, it was Feynman, not Wheeler, who made the breakthrough in that area, by positing the notion of “sum over histories).

Polish-born American physicist Stanley Deser

Polish-born American physicist Stanley Deser is one of the few eminent physicists today who interacted with Pauli. He distinctly remembers Pauli’s venomous side. As Deser recalled:

“He was very rude and very self-assured. He was there for the greater glory of God. I have a letter from Pauli. I wanted to come and visit him at that time in Zurich. And he wrote me a reply saying unfortunately he doesn’t issue visas from Switzerland so he can’t stop me from coming.”

German-born British physicist Rudolph Peierls (ESVA)

Not Even Wrong!

Finally, to recount perhaps the most famous of Pauli’s insults, which Columbia University physicist Peter Woit would adopt as the title of his popular blog and book Not Even Wrong. According to German-born British physicist Rudolph Peierls:

“a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, ‘It is not even wrong’.”

Wolfgang Pauli in his younger years

Wolfgang Pauli’s example shows that brilliance doesn’t always equal compassion. Yet, because of his genius and predictable penchant for insults, physicists generally took his caustic nature in stride. They wanted to hear what he had to say, barbs and all, because they thought it would be of value. As Einstein once remarked, after Pauli had besieged him with critiques: “You were right after all, you rascal.”

Chance Encounters with a Mystic, Gnostic Muse

Serendipitous discussions in a coffee shop with Jungian scholar Kathleen Damiani about Neoplatonism, David Bohm, and other topics

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When Carl G. Jung coined the term synchronicity to denote meaningful acausal connections, he looked for examples in his life and in the lives of his patients. Cases in which a certain object or image manifested itself in various forms within a short period of time resonated with him.

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Quaternio diagram that Jung developed with quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli

One famous story that Jung told is that of the golden scarab:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since.

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Golden scarab

Even though Jung often drew from his own experiences in describing synchronicity, he cleared realized that anecdotal evidence would not be enough to establish a broader principle. In tandem with quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, he aspired to firm up the idea by deepening its connection with modern physics. In addition, he sought examples of themes, or “archetypes,” that emerged in various cultures without apparent causal linkage.

Though Jung was specific in his definition of synchronicity, a more colloquial meaning has emerged, denoting events that seem serendipitously connected without apparent explanation or causal linkage. For example, two people arrive in an airport transit lounge in a foreign country, strike up a conservation, and learn that they had each attended the same high school, graduating within five years of each other. Synchronicity, they might cry out. However, no matter how unlikely an event might seem, we must grapple with the fact that, due to statistics, seemingly unlikely occurrences happen all the time. Take for example, a group of more than 23 random people. There is more than a 50 percent chance that at a least two of them share the same birthday. Statistical analysis reveals many such oddities.

This whole discussion is a prelude to an account of some unusual events that happened to me while I was writing my book Synchronicity, while sitting in a certain cafe. The incidents were pure chance, but still memorable to me.

Around the time I started writing the book, I was leaning over my laptop in one of my favorite coffee shop, trying to focus on my writing, not conversation. Nevertheless, I started to hear a woman speaking about neo-Platonism and Gnosticism. Given that those were some of the very topics I writing about at the time, I introduced myself. We began to discuss such ideas.

The woman turned out to be Kathleen Damiani, a Jungian scholar interested in Gnostic writings, neo-Platonism, and other topics, and author of the book “Sophia and the Dragon.” As the cafe was closing for the day, she quickly jotted down some references for me to look up, which I did.

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Kathleen Damiani giving a talk

Although I returned to the cafe regularly, I didn’t see her for many months. I kept writing frantically, hoping to meet a deadline for the first draft of the book. Then, on the very day I was completing the manuscript, as the cafe was about to close, she walked into the coffee shop again. She vaguely recognized me and re-introduced herself. I told her that I had just finished the draft, including a section on quantum physics and the work of David Bohm and others.

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Physicist David Bohm

Surprisingly, she replied that she knew people who were friends with Bohm, and seemed knowledgeable about quantum physics. Then, she told me she needed to finish up the conversation, as she was about to move to another state, on the other side of the country. So the last day for me writing the draft manuscript turned out to be her last day ever stopping by the coffee shop, and her last day in that region of the country. How lucky I was to get to chat with her again, given those circumstances. Not synchronicity, mind you, but good fortune.

Is it Magic or is it Quantum?

An Entangled Parable of Acausal Connections

Twins Fred and George enacting “magic” to enlighten us about quantum entanglement

One of the most surprising aspects of quantum entanglement is access to shared information between widely separated particles, enabling them to coordinate their state parameters (for example spin or polarization states) over great distances. Bell’s theorem, proposed by (Northern) Irish physicist John Stewart Bell in 1964, offers a litmus test to see if a greater deterministic framework with local realism or the possibility of “hidden variables” (advocated by Albert Einstein and David Bohm, respectively) might have conveyed information between the particles in an entangled state, or if such a back-channel might be ruled out. 

John Stewart Bell

To understand the difference between the presence or absence of local realism (as gauged by the two possible outcomes for Bell’s theorem), let’s tell a story two different ways. In the first version of the tale, akin to a detective story, we’ll be as realistic as possible — leading to a conclusion Einstein and Bohm would support. In the second telling, we’ll make it a fantasy story and add an element of magic. Quantum entanglement is not magic, of course, but if we didn’t posit the notion of instant, non-local anticorrelation due to an entangled quantum state, it would sure seem that way.

First the realistic version. Imagine a family with two identical twin boys, Fred and George. They look so much alike, that they sometimes fool their friends. Therefore they are raised with a strict rule. No matter which way you dress, pick some characteristic that is different. In their town, which is somewhat isolated, clothing options are limited. Shirts come in red or blue, but not other colors. They are either plaid or striped, long-sleeved or short-sleeved. Thus, if, on a certain day, Fred chooses plaid as his distinguishing characteristic, George must wear striped to distinguish the two, no matter what the color. But if, on the other hand, George decides one day that he absolutely must wear a different colored shirt that day than Fred’s, if he dons a blue shirt, George is slated for red, no matter what the pattern.

We have used color, pattern, and length as metaphors for the three axes, x, y, and z, in which the magnetic fields might be directed to measure spin. The binary options in each case — red or blue, plaid or striped, long-sleeved or short, represent “spin up” or “spin down” as the measured results in those directions. Fred and George’s daily preferences (color, pattern, or length) are akin to the directional choices (x, y, or z) made by experimenters for the paired electrons they are measuring.

With Fred and George at home, their parents can readily coordinate one of their clothing characteristics so they are wearing opposites each day. But what happen when they go to separate schools that each have soccer teams, requiring changing each day into a freshly-cleaned shirt (which the schools provide) before practice? Each afternoon, at exactly 1:00 PM, Fred and George each simultaneously pick either color, pattern, or length as their distinguishing option, and the school presents each with a soccer shirt. Strangely enough, if Fred and George each happen to pick “color,” one gets red and the other gets blue, with about a fifty-fifty chance, over time, for each to get a certain hue. They absolutely never would get the same color, if that is their preference. In contrast, if Fred and George each happen to pick “length” as their key difference that day, they’d each have a 50 percent chance of getting a short-sleeved shirt, with their brothers simultaneously being given — at the other school — long-sleeves. Focused on their sleeve lengths, they wouldn’t even bother to look at color. Finally, if Fred picks “pattern” and George, at the same time, picks “length,” they’d each be given one of the binary options for each, without view to any of the other characteristics. Therefore, in that case they would be no noted correlation or anti-correlation, as the case may be, between their choices, if those were noted over time — say for a full year.

As a matter of fact, with their parents’ full consent, both kids are involved in a twin study for a psychology project about sibling choices. As part of it, psychologists at each school record the boys’ soccer clothing preferences each day (once again, color, pattern, or length), and the outcomes. After a full year of observation, the researchers meet, compare notes and discuss.

During their discussions, the psychologists note the anti-correlation effect when both boys happen to choose the same characteristic. They take each boy aside and ask him if he coordinates in advance with his brother before coming to school (there are no mobile devices allowed at the school, so they can’t phone each other or send each other messages). Each boy swears — in the way the psychologists believe — that they absolutely don’t make their choices in advance. Rather, they decide in the spur of the moment, right before each soccer practice. The school officials also attest that the don’t know in advance what selections the kids will make.

As scientific observers, the psychologists infer that there must have been some kind of hidden information sent to the school, and preparation for all of the possible outcomes. They surmise that each school must have kept all of the clothing options in stock. Thus, for blue shirts, each must keep plaid and striped varieties available, just in case the boy pupil happens to choose “pattern” that day instead of color. Similarly, for red, they likely have both plaids and striped, long-sleeves and short-sleeves in stock, perhaps in equal measure, just to account for all of the possibilities. Realism demands that just because something isn’t measured, observed, or chosen, it must still be available, just in case, to allow for the full range of possible selections.

To establish the validity of their realism hypothesis, they develop a theoretical set of inequalities between various options that would hold if all the items are already in stock, but not hold if they somehow magically appeared. One inequality they come up with is the following: the number of times Fred chooses color and gets red, while George chooses length and gets long-sleeves, plus the number of times Fred chooses pattern and gets striped, while George chooses length and gets short-sleeves, must be greater than or equal to the number of times Fred chooses color and gets red, while George chooses pattern and gets plaid. The researchers also compose other equivalent variations of that inequality. Otherwise, their conjecture about a supply of various shirt types with all options available doesn’t hold up mathematically.

Analyzing their collected data, sure enough realism holds up. Presented with the evidence, Fred and George’s parents confess to the psychologists about a secret scheme they have developed along with the school. Every morning they send a private note with each kid, tucked into a hidden compartment of his schoolbag, detailing a list of possible responses to each clothing option. For instance, Fred might have a note expressing the parents’ wish that if he selects “color” he should get blue that day, if he selects “pattern” he should get striped, if he selects “length” he should get “short-sleeved.” Fred would get a note with the opposite requests that day: red, plaid, and long-sleeved. The choices each day would be completely random, with 50 percent likelihood for each, just anti-correlated for each category. That way, the scheme would not arouse suspicion amongst the boys, who like to think they’re independent from their parents. Each school would check the notes each day, serving as “hidden variables,” while keeping all possible combinations in stock. The psychologists find the whole plan complicated, but at least it offers a logical explanation for an otherwise baffling set of events.

Now let’s cast the same characters in a fantasy story. Fred and George still go to different schools, still play soccer, still need to select one aspect of the soccer shirts they wear each day, and still find their shirts anti-correlated if that happen to chose the same characteristic, such as color, pattern, or sleeve-length. They are also being watching by psychologists, who record their choices. That much is the same. There are only two things different. First of all, the school only stocks one kind of shirt — plain and of a single length. Secondly, the boys are from a family of wizards. From birth, they have been magically entangled. If one chooses a clothing characteristic and the other chooses the same property, they instantly and automatically anti-coordinate. For example, if each puts on a soccer shirt and says “color,” one automatically turns blue or red (with equal likelihood) and the other instantly takes on the opposite hue. The school knows that the boys are wizards and allows them such a daily ritual just to practice their powers in a benign way. The psychologists, who don’t know about the magics, compose their “shirt options inequality,” test it against their collected data, but it just doesn’t add up. They conclude that there simply must be some kind of mysterious entanglement between the boys that evades all realistic desciptions. End of story.

Similarly, contemporary quantum experimentalists, with Bell’s inequality in hand, are well able to distinguish between the realistic (hidden variables) and entangled (standard quantum) options. However, in designing their experiments, they must make sure that there are no “loopholes” allowing for alternative explanations. Rather than be trusting, like the psychologists in our stories who believe that the boys don’t share notes or send messages to each other, circumstances would need to be such that preparation and (light-speed or less) communication would be impossible.

Grooving in Infinite Dimensions

The Unlikely Journey of Musician Max Born, from Fellini to Folk Songs, Including Recollections of his Famous Nobel-Prize-winning Grandfather

Clockwise: Max Russell Born in the recording studio of his good friend Hay Zeelen, an international authority in music mastering who produced, mixed and mastered Strange Times, and his new solo material (from his Facebook page), his 1969 performance as the Roman slave boy Giton in Fellini’s Satyricon, and a portrait of his esteemed grandfather Max Born, 1954 Nobel Laureate in Physics

In sunny Mallorca, Spain a gifted singer-songwriter, with a proclivity toward eastern philosophy (Buddhism) and alternative medicine (yoga, natural remedies), pens clever lyrics about quantum physics and relativity, among other topics. His topical albums, such as “Strange Times,” display abundant talent and imagination.

Strange Times, a recent solo album by Max Born

And the crafter of quantum verse is well-positioned to do so. Max Russell Born, the musician and former actor (starring in Fellini’s 1969 surrealist film Satyricon), happens to be one of the grandsons of Prof. Max Born, the eminent physicist and coiner of the term “quantum mechanics.”

Prof. Max Born, the quantum physicist, with Gustav Born, who would become a pharmacologist and physician

Music runs in the family. Max’s father, Dr. Gustav “Gus” Born, the son of Prof. Born the quantum physicist, played piano and flute. Max’s sister, Dr. Georgina “Georgie” Born, was a member of several alternative bands, including Henry Cow and the Feminist Improvising Group, before becoming Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Music at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University, and later Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford.

Georgina “Georgie” Born, a former member of several alternative rock bands, including Henry Cow and the Feminist Improvising Group, is currently Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University.

Olivia Newton-John, Max’s first cousin, and one of the quantum physicist’s granddaughters, is a famous singer, noted for her performances in the musicals Grease and Xanadu, as well as for a string of hit pop tunes, such as “Physical.”

Olivia Newton-John’s hit song Physical
Olivia Newton-John with Dr. Gustav Born at a ceremony honoring quantum physicist Max Born

The Born family has German-Jewish origins. Prof. Max Born founded quantum mechanics and encouraged the young Werner Heisenberg to pursue his own groundbreaking work along those lines during the mid-1920s at the University of Göttingen, Germany in the mid-1920s. Born’s concept of reformulating physics away from the physically measurable Newtonian mechanics to more abstract quantum laws was truly revolutionary. The ‘Born rule’ mapped direct physical relationships, such as momentum equals mass times change of position over time, into indirect, probabilistic connections involving intermediaries called “wave functions,” derived from the work of Erwin Schrödinger. Hence momentum and position were no longer directly connected in such a way that both might be known simultaneously, a principle Heisenberg refined into the uncertainty principle. Albert Einstein, who was a strict determinist, was disturbed by such developments, writing to Born in December 1926:

„Die Quantenmechanik ist sehr achtunggebietend. Aber eine innere Stimme sagt mir, daß das noch nicht der wahre Jakob ist. Die Theorie liefert viel, aber dem Geheimnis des Alten bringt sie uns kaum näher. Jedenfalls bin ich überzeugt, daß der nicht würfelt.“

“Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the ‘Old One.’ I, at any rate, am convinced that He is not playing dice.”

Prof. Born was resolutely secular, and found Einstein’s idea of a divine entity setting ironclad rules for a clockwork universe deeply troubling. Rather, he resolutely believed in individual free will. Randomness and indeterminacy, he thought, was a good thing, not a glitch in a theory. His wife Hedwig “Hedi” Ehrenberg Born was a fiery spirit herself, and agreed with him in his intellectual battles with Einstein. Personally, though, Einstein and the Borns were close friends.

Letter from Hitler to Prof. Max Born acknowledging his dismissal and (ironically) thanking him for his service.

In 1933, following the rise of Hitler in Germany, the Nazis introduced an antisemitic law that barred faculty of Jewish heritage (with some exceptions at first) from holding academic positions. Born was placed on leave, and later dismissed. He and his family, including their children Irene, Gritli, and Gustav, moved to the United Kingdom, where he took up a two year position at Cambridge, and then a full-time position at the University of Edinburgh. He would remain in the UK for two decades, returning to Germany in the mid-1950s, around the time he received the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Born family in 1933

During World War II, Gustav served the British forces as a physician. In August 1945, he was stationed in Japan during time of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Consequently, he treated survivors of the bombing, some of whom had bleeding disorders. That experience led him to groundbreaking work in the studies of blood conditions related to platelets. He married psychoanalyst Ann Plowden-Wardlaw. That marriage, which would end in divorce, produced three children: Max, Georgina, and Sebastian.

Today, Max Russell Born enjoys making music, performing with guitar and vocals, and has recorded a number of songs and several albums. That passion dates back to his boyhood. I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to interview him by phone.


Paul Halpern: It seems like, from your profile, that you’ve been interested in music since you were a child, is that right?

Max Born: Yeah, sure. My father played classical music; he played piano and flute. He wanted to be a musician, but his father, the scientist, said, “you can’t make a living,” as so many parents do. [When World War II began] he went into medicine so that he wouldn’t have to fight. [With the army] he was then sent to Hiroshima in Japan. After they dropped the bomb, he saw with his own eyes what that was like — people dying of radiation sickness. He told us some 60 years later.

Quantum physicist Max Born in his later years

PH: Do you remember your grandfather [the quantum physicist] getting the Nobel Prize in 1954, when you were three years old?

MB: No, but I remember him because we used to drive over to Germany to see him when I was a kid. And then I didn’t see him for a long time. But one time my father said, in 1970 [when the elder Max Born was very ill], I’ll pay your train ticket if you want to go and see him. I took the train to Germany and saw him in his hospital bed. I knew he was dying and that he wanted to go back to his house to die, so I felt sorry for him. He was sitting up in his bed. I stood in front of it and starting telling him about me — that I’m interested in consciousness, psychedelics, spirituality, and astrology. He was interested but didn’t say much; he smiled at me.

I wanted to ask him something but I thought, do I dare ask him? I didn’t want to traumatize him. But in the end I thought, he had a big mind. I said, “you are about to leave this; you are about to die. Do you think there is anything else?” He didn’t freak out. He just smiled at me.

They asked me if I wanted to stay until tomorrow. But I said I wanted to go home. So I said goodbye to him and came back to London.

Something like 2 or 3 months later [after the elder Born died], just for a laugh, I went to see a psychic. She said to me, “I see an old man with white hair.” And I’m thinking, white hair? My oldest friends were 28. I was really puzzled. She said “you know who I’m talking about.” I said “are you talking about my grandfather?” Without missing a beat she said “he just wants to wish you a Happy Birthday.” [It happened to be young Max’s birthday that day.] I thought, bloody hell, I only asked him the question [about whether or not there is an afterlife], and he answered me!

Bob Dylan, an influence on Max Born’s music
Image of a typical London scene in the 1960s (stock photo)

Max described how he dropped out of school, ran away from home, and lived in central London, where he began to experiment with psychedelics. Musically, he was influenced at the time by Bob Dylan, whose famous 1966 concert at the Royal Albert Hall he attended. In 1968 he met the acclaimed Italian director Federico Fellini, who was scouting for an attractive boy to cast in the surrealistic film Satyricon. Based on fragments by Petronius, that film examined the decadence of ancient Rome in a revolutionary, otherworldly fashion./media/f40870a932325a97ce8e3706c13a4dcaA clip from “Ciao, Federico” in which young Max Born, dressed for his role as Giton in Satyricon, sings the Bob Dylan song, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

Poster of Fellini’s Satyricon
Scenes from Satyricon, with Max Born as Giton

PH: How do you look back on the film Satyricon and its depiction of hedonism?

MB: I had a great mental connection with Fellini. We became good friends. When I first met him in London he said it was going to be a science fiction film. I knew it was a film based on a book from ancient Rome, so didn’t know what he meant. But later on it dawned on me. Fellini broke the mould of all historical films so far. What he meant by science fiction was that he told he designers “I don’t want Roman design.” He told the music people, “I want you you to make stuff up.” He wanted it to be an alien culture, and he succeeded. And he did it well before CGI, with just cardboard, plywood, and paint. It’s such a visual feast. You can’t get bored. “Max,” he said, “this film is about how the Roman Empire came to be decadent, losing its way, and fell into pieces. And that’s what’s happening in the Western World.” We saw it back then. Now it’s reached a crescendo.

About a year after the film was released, Max decided to spent time in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery situated in Scotland, where he learned how to meditate. The experience help lend him greater balance in his life. That set him on the road to learning more about natural healing. While he continued to sing and play the guitar, he didn’t start writing music until about 20 years ago, when he moved to Spain and got married. There’s more to the interview, which I hope to convey in a future post, but perhaps its time to stop and take in some of Max’s music. Let’s start with some songs he wrote recently about modern physics.



It all comes out of nothing
 With energy to burn
 All this stuff and nonsense
 Whichever way you turn
 Bursting into being
 With no good reason why
 Dancing on the ceiling
 In the corner of your eye

And it makes you an offer
 You can’t reasonably refuse
 I believe I´ve got them old
 Quantum blues

At the subatomic level
 You wonder what they´re smoking
 When things get really small
 The rules they all get broken
 What had once seemed solid
 Seems to vanish in thin air
 Leaving you to wonder
 If it was ever really there

It´s enough to leave a man
 Dazed and confused
 I believe I´ve got them old
 Quantum blues

Now nothing is for certain
 Said old Werner Heisenberg
 And this is a solid fact
 So the whole thing´s quite absurd
 You can know where something is
 Or else how fast it´s going
 But both you cannot know at once
 There is no way of knowing

If you look at this too closely
 You´ll surely blow a fuse
 I believe I´ve got them old 
 Quantum blues

When two lonely particles
 Have once shared their heart
 They stay in touch forever
 Though a universe apart
 Once they make a connection
 And here´s the big surprise
 Once they´ve been entangled
 Their love never dies

And on this ship of fools
 We´ve all signed up for the cruise
 I believe I´ve got them old
 Quantum blues

My woman says I´m crazy
 To worry about this stuff
 She says come back to bed man
 She says enough´s enough
 But I jumped down the rabbit hole
 And I never will return
 I know I should have listened
 But I never learn

And that look upon her face
 Says we are not amused
 I believe I´ve got them old
 Quantum blues.

FOURTH DIMENSION ( Should really be fifth… ) by Max Born

I´m living in the Fourth Dimension
Don´t have no stress — don´t feel no tension
Come and join me — when you´re ready
Material life — can be so heavy

E = MC squared — Yeah E = MC squared
You are energy, baby — don´t be scared
Of E = MC squared — yeah E = MC squared

I´m grooving in the Fourth Dimension
Eternal life — is the thing in question
I´m drinking from — that loving cup
So pay your dues — and come on up

E = MC squared — Yeah E = MC squared
You could be free — but you never dared
Face E = MC squared — yeah E = MC squared

I´m hanging out — in the Fourth Dimension
All my beliefs — are in suspension
Don´t need no evidence — don´t need no persuasion
Just feel the truth of that old equation

E = MC squared — Yeah E = MC squared
Even old Einstein wasn´t prepared
For E = MC squared — yeah E = MC squared

God throws the dice — he don´t control them
Kisses them for luck — then he rolls them
And he screams out loud — for the hearing impaired
Energy is Matter times the Speed of Light Squared

E = MC squared — Yeah E = MC squared
There´s nothing but energy — baby don´t be scared
Of E = MC squared — E = MC squared
E = MC squared — E = MC squared
I´ll say it again for the hearing impaired
Yeah E = MC squared…
(Fade out…)

IN THE ZONE, by Max Born

There it is again — eleven eleven
Checked my phone — it´s a sign from heaven
Timing is everything
Let it be known — I´m in the groove — I´m in the zone

Sold my euros — on a hunch
Bought some roubles — went to lunch
Next day the euro was toast
I work alone — I´m in the groove — I´m in the zone

I missed my plane — stuck on the ground
An hour later — the plane goes down
The flight I missed by seconds
The bird had flown — I´m in the groove — I´m in the zone

As I thought of you — far away across the sea
You rang my doorbell — synchronicity
It´s all beyond explanation
My mind was blown — I´m in the groove — I´m in the zone

Some call it fate — some call it luck
Some just say — what the f_ck
I just keep on trucking
Like a Rolling Stone — I´m in the groove — I´m in the zone

Let it be known — I´m in the groove — I´m in the zone/media/6c03119bf64417cf8b36df86bd0aa89d

Facebook: “Locked Down Inna Babylon,” by Max Born

Purchase Strange Times by Max Born on Apple Music

The author is very grateful to Max Born for taking the time to be interviewed by phone on July 11, 2020.

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

Amazon (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Synchronicity-Understand-Quantum-Nature-Effect-ebook/dp/B0828MPY5W

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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.