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

Article excerpt

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 Moreover, musical and historical references are shown to symbolize Mobius' psychic imbalance and his need for integration of the shadow archetype.

keywords: Jungian interpretation, archetypes, shadow, unconscious, physics, literature and science.

url: http://κ.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/2007_roberts01.shtml

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

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

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

Jung sent Pauli a copy of the completed article based on a selection of his dreams. Jung wished to show that there was no suggestion in the paper that the dreamer was a physicist. …