Synchronicity: Wolfgang Pauli’s vision of the “world clock”

Here is another excerpt from Synchronicity. In it, the author looks into the relationship between Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung.

The background of it is: Wolfgang Pauli had a lot of personal problems – he was a heavy drinker, I think – he married impulsively and the bride left him a couple weeks following the marriage – his mother poisoned herself – and there was a ton of other stuff going on, too. His life was chaos, and he felt like he was going to have some sort of breakdown. So he started visiting Carl Jung.

That is what this excerpt is about.

Jung found his patient to be:

…a university man, a very one-sided intellectual. His unconscious had become troubled and activated; so it projected itself onto other men who appeared to be his enemies, and he felt terribly lonely, because everyone seemed to be against him.


…he had lived in a very one-sided intellectual way, and naturally had certain desires and needs also. But he had no chance with women at all, because he had no differentiation of feeling whatsoever. So he made a fool of himself with women at once and of course they had no patience with him.

Jung discovered that Pauli was “chock full of archaic material” and, not wishing to influence his dreams and images, handed him over to one of his (Jung’s) students, who worked with the physicist over the next five months.

Editorial Ramblings from Sheila: Briefly – for any of you out there not familiar with Jung (and I am – good Lord am I!) – Jung felt that all human personalities have the same polarities, and psychic health depends upon some sort of balance between these polarities. He broke these into: Intuition being the polarity of Sensation. Thinking being the polarity of Feeling. If the balance is tipped only towards feeling, you can have psychic problems. If the balance is tipped only towards thinking (which is what Jung discovered was what was going on with Wolfgang Pauli), your psyche will be in trouble. While it may seem to you all out there that I am a random ball of emotion, I must remind you that you are only seeing a tiny sliver of my personality, a sliver that I control, and manipulate. I decide what I feel like sharing with you. And the truth of the matter is – that I am way more tipped towards the Thinking side of things, and this has caused problems from time to time. If I have bouts of depression, or rage, that’s where it comes from. Feeling is not given its proper due – and so it morphs into something destructive, or out-of-proportion. This is very common with intelligent people. You think you can THINK your way out of things. When you cannot, there are crack-ups. It is here – on the blog – and in my other writing – in any of my creative pursuits – where I get to go directly into FEELING, and give it its due, bring it to the forefront, wallow in it, be creative with it. It’s fun, it’s enormously cathartic. But in my “real life”, this is not the case. It’s a complex thing, I should write about it more. I’m getting much better at tipping the scales back towards Feeling, but I need a lot of help and support in that, friends who love me and know what’s going on with me, who can help me recognize when I’m out of whack.

The following excerpt describes perfectly well my own experience of the lack of equilibrium between Thought and Feeling:

…In Pauli’s case, thought had dominated feeling so that the emotions were relegated to what Jung termed the Shadow side of the Ego. In other words, Pauli’s emotional and Feeling nature had never fully developed but existed in a raw and highly energized form which tended to break through in the form of irrational behavior, dreams, and neuroses. Thought, sensing what it felt to be primitive forces at work, put the lid on even tighter so that Feeling found itself in the position of a red-hot pressure cooker with the valve jammed. The result was Pauli’s absurd marriage, his increasingly sarcastic attacks on colleagues and his bouts of drunkenness.

According to Jung, the cure lay in bringing Feeling out of the Shadow and into the light, where it could perform its proper function and restore harmony to Pauli’s whole personality. The method for Pauli was to come to terms with the content of his unconscious thought through dreams and waking fantasies. Over the next months Pauli produced “over a thousand dreams and visual impressions,” which were later analyzed by Jung and formed the basis of one of his major writings — Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy. The psychologist had discovered that the symbolism within Pauli’s dreams was remarkably similar to that of the medieval alchemists. The culmination of this series of dreams was Pauli’s vision of the world clock, an image of “the most sublime harmony” which left a deep impression on him, and, in Jung’s words, was “what we would call — in the language of religion — a conversion.”

If you want to see a drawing of this “world clock”, based on Pauli’s accounts of his dream of it, I found one here. Just scroll down.

Now here is how Jung interpreted this dream, and in so doing, helped Pauli to be “reborn” as a more whole and complete man, his psyche in equilibrium.

…Jung identified the point of rotation of the disks with the mystical speculum, for it both partakes of the rhythmic movement yet stands outside it. [Sheila's note: Speaking as a woman, there ain't nothin' mystical 'bout a speculum. The very word gives me the heebie-jeebies. Onward.] The two disks belong to the two universes of the conscious and the unconscious, which intersect in this speculum. The whole figure together with its elaborate internal movement is therefore a mandala of the Self, which is at one and the same time the center and the periphery of the world clock. In addition, the dream could also stand as a model of the universe itself and the nature of space-time…

But it should also be pointed out that Pauli, as a physicist, was also seeking to discover an innter unity between the elementary particles and their abstract symmetries. The vision of the world clock is therefore capable of many levels of interpretation, and it is indeed a particularly rich image in its resonances of meaning.

Pauli’s rebirth as “a perfectly normal and reasonable person … completely adapted” was therefore the result of sensing a deep inner symmetry to his own mind, a dynamic pattern that had been illustrated in symbolic times by the early Gnostics, the alchemists of the Middle Ages, and the Taoists of ancient China…

The notion of symmetries in nature and in the psyche continued to preoccupy the physicist for the rest of his life. The results confirmed Jung’s findings on what he called the archetypes, dynamic forces and mosaics of energy within the collective unconscious which are revealed to us symbolically through dreams, fantasies, works of art, and myths.

Pretty cool, huh?

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2 Responses to Synchronicity: Wolfgang Pauli’s vision of the “world clock”

  1. CW says:

    This is good stuff Red…

    I think a lot of what we call “synchronicity” is wrapped up in the nature of spacetime.

    On the one hand, Sean Carroll & Co refer to the “arrow of time” flying in generally one direction, which has certain impacts on the nature of reality.

    On the other hand, the superstringy universe doesn’t necessarily have to have that arrow flying in any particular direction, or even being an arrow.

    One of the big questions to me is “where are the ‘spiritual’ dimensions?” When you dream something and it later comes true, or read someone’s mind, or something, is that a manifestation of plain old physical dimensions we don’t understand, or is there something inherently different (from the physical universe) about our consciousness or our souls?

  2. red says:

    CW -

    Really interesting. In one of the other excerpts below, the author of the book says something like:

    “What is important about these synchronicities is that they feel inherently meaningful to the person it happens to…”

    Or something like that.

    I have dreamt of someone I haven’t seen in years. That person calls the next day. This isn’t a rare thing – it happens to all of us.

    Now: an outsider may just say “That’s a coincidence.” And it very well may be. But my personal experience of it is highly meaningful. You know? Like: “God, I was JUST thinking about you!!”

    The question is: is there anything in nature that can explain my own experience of “meaning” in that random event?

    I’m not saying this well. Let me think upon it more.