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137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

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Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung Hardcover – April 27, 2009

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The heart of this book lies not in the promised decipherment of the title but in Miller’s excellent dual biography of two men who changed their fields. Physicist Pauli was a brilliant but unhappy womanizer when his life’s disturbances led him to consult with Jung, famous for connecting psychology with spirituality. The relationship was a fruitful one on both sides, with Pauli making peace with his unsettled soul and continuing his groundbreaking theorizing, while Jung gained understanding of principles of contemporary physics that led, albeit circuitously, to his articulation of the idea of synchronicity, which he felt was one of his most important contributions. A series of Pauli’s vivid dreams, together with Jung’s analysis of them, forms an unexpectedly rich centerpiece of the book. And the cosmic number? A bit of bait-and-switch, that, as it is only briefly mentioned. But a worthy book, nonetheless.


Arthur I. Miller is a master at capturing the intersection of creativity and intelligence. He did it with Einstein and Picasso, and now he does it with Pauli and Jung. Their shared obsession with the number 137 provides a window into their genius. (Walter Isaacson)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065329
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Michael Sherbon on May 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arthur I. Miller addresses the foundational problem of the fine-structure constant (the "Cosmic Number") and the historical, biographical background entailed in the search for a solution to this mostly unsolved problem. The main title is only symbolic of the goal toward which Pauli and Jung were searching: the Philosopher's Stone, or Quintessence of alchemy, the attainment of an enlightened and individuated psyche. The "Cosmic Number" is symbolic of a vital archetypal process in nature, and the physical meaning as giving the strength of the electromagnetic interaction is only part of the problem that concerned Pauli in particular. What Pauli called his "background physics" was a catalyst for linking sense perceptions with creative concepts, and 137 was the "archetypal number" for this. So not only is the fine-structure constant a dimensionless number of fundamental importance in physics, it is of key symbolic significance to Jung's depth psychology and the history of alchemy.

In his study of the archetypal ideas of Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd from the 17th century, Pauli traced the line of their research back to Pythagoras. While Plato is only briefly mentioned in this book, significant and remarkable parallels are to be found between the geometry of Plato's ideal City of Magnesia and Wolfgang Pauli's dream, "the great vision - of the World Clock". According to John Michell the ideal City of Magnesia is a form of the Cosmological Circle from ancient geometry. "By Plato's time, the very idea of a canon of music had been forgotten everywhere except in the academies of Egypt, but he himself had evidently studied and learned it, for the number code behind it is at the root of all his mathematical allegories and provided the scientific basis of his philosophy.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Traveller and reader on June 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because I was intrigued by the title. As a non-scientist I love books which elucidate science for the ordinary reader - the lay person - and which inspire me to see the world in a different way and this is certainly one of those. It's a fascinating read about two seminal and intriguing personalities - Wolfgang Pauli, a major figure in the development of quantum physics, and Jung, one of the founders of psychoanalysis. Pauli was a very atypical scientist. While other scientists were very competitive and obsessed with their work, he was a more rounded personality. He spent time in the bar districts of Hamburg, had relationships with cabaret singers and eventually went too far and ended up on Jung's couch. This marked the beginning of a very fruitful relationship for both Jung and Pauli. As well as science and psychoanlysis, the book ranges across alchemy, the I Ching, mandalas and other areas which were of interest to Jung and also became of interest to Pauli, who realised that science alone was not enough to give a full description of the universe. Miller tells this fascinating story lucidly and brilliantly.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Thomas B. Kirsch on February 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The relationship between Wolfgang Pauli, the Nobel Prize winning scientist and influential person in the discovery of Quantum Physics, and C.G. Jung, famed psychologist, and founder of analytical psychology, has fascinated many people. The correspondence between the two men has been published, and there are now at least three books which deal with their relationship. The author has written several books on famed scientists, and he knows that field well. However, his knowledge and sensitivity to the work of Jung is not so deep. As I am a Jungian analyst I see that he really does not "get" Jung. So I found the part about Pauli more interesting, and I tended to skip the part on Jung, because I knew that history from my own study. Nevertheless, the book is well written, well researched, and I think it adds to the lore about these two men's relationship. The fact that these two men came from such different backgrounds and fields and yet forged a close relationship makes for a fascinating story.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Arie Pieter Vander Stroom on November 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is about the number One Hundred Thirty-Seven, which is the value of the the fine-structure constant (alpha). This constant is the way physicists describe the probability that an electron will emit or absorb a photon. Alpha is the square of the charge of the electron divided by the speed of light times Planck's constant. Thus 137 in itself combines the true fundamentals of electromagnetism (the electron charge), relativity (the speed of light), and quantum mechanics (Planck's constant). And most intriguingly, Alpha is a strictly dimensionless number. Clearly the observation of alpha being constant (137) and dimensionless seems to support the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. The anthropic principle is the collective name for several ways of asserting that the observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the life observed in it. Throughout the Thirties and Forties, the greatest scientists of the day tried and failed to figure out the magic number 137. The great Werner Heisenberg told his friends that the problems of quantum theory would disappear only when 137 was explained. One of Heisenberg's friends, theorist Wolfgang Pauli, wasted endless research time trying to multiply pi by other numbers to get 137; Edward Teller, now a prominent advocate of star wars, derived alpha from gravitation. In mathematics one hundred thirty-seven is the 33rd prime number; the next is 139, with which it comprises a twin prime, and thus 137 is a Chen prime. 137 is an Eisenstein prime with no imaginary part and a real part of the form 3n -1. It is also the fourth Stern prime. 137 is a strong prime in the sense that it is more than the arithmetic mean of its two. 137 is a strictly non-palindromic number and a primeval number. Clearly 137 seems to be a very special number.Read more ›
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