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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
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." (Dimensions of Paradise, p.9) and "The universe, human nature, and the mind of the Creator were made commensurable by number, which Plato called the 'bond' holding all things together." (p.230).

The fine-structure constant was introduced into physics by Arnold Sommerfeld, Pauli's professor and mentor, and being captivated by the mystery of spectral lines of the atom he said, "What we are nowadays hearing of the language of the spectra is a true music of the spheres within the atom, chords of integral relationships, an order and harmony that becomes even more perfect in spite of manifold variety."(p.64). Pauli's contributions to modern physics include the Pauli exclusion principle for electrons in the atomic orbit, the theoretical prediction of the neutrino particle, the fourth quantum number related to spin, CPT symmetry related to "mirror reflections," the legendary "Pauli effect," and his exit from the world stage from room number 137. Pauli also helped Jung to develop his theory of synchronicity, or acausal connecting principle related to meaningful events. Miller quotes Max Born on p.253: "If alpha (the fine structure constant) were bigger than it really is, we should not be able to distinguish matter from ether (the vacuum, nothingness), and our task to disentangle the natural laws would be hopelessly difficult. The fact however that alpha has just its value 1/137 is certainly no chance but itself a law of nature. It is clear that the explanation of this number must be the central problem of natural philosophy." Pauli concluded that "most modern physics lends itself to the symbolic representation of psychic processes." (p.162). Readers of Carl Jung may find this book more interesting than Pauli fans, as it is more biographical and "Jungian" in content.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2010
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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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2009
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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
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. This book describes the famous physicist Wolfgang Pauli's struggle with this number and how he had to seek help from the world renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Together they delved into what Jung called "the no-man's land between "Physics and the Psychology of the Unconscious'. In the end Pauli died in hospital room 137
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2012
A "cosmic number" that is tantamount to the skeleton key of the universe is among the most intoxicating of notions. In "Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung," Arthur I. Miller tells the story of two unlikely associates and their quest for just such a number (and its relationship to the fine structure constant). Along the way we learn intimate details about the great physicists of an extremely fertile period that gave us such things as relativity, the photoelectric effect, the uncertainty principle, quantum physics, the atom bomb, and many others. We also learn more about the personal life of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, as well as some interesting tidbits about Sigmund Freud, plus new insights into the minds of Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd.

The book reminds us that a mixture of the humanities and hard science through mysticism and mathematics, (or depth psychology and physics) can broaden the search patterns of the mind - increasing the sheer number of algorithmic links in the circuitry of the brain that might be activated by the spread. You might even say that Jung and Pauli were browsing through everything they knew together in hopes of enhancing their understanding of their own respective fields of endeavor.

Pauli's interest in Jung was fueled by his fascination with the theory of the archetypes and how they could enable a man like him to "get the girl." Pauli's personal life had become a shambles and when he read Jung's description of the "introverted-thinking type" he was stunned by the "uncannily precise" resemblance to his own personality, which soon caused him to actively seek Jung's counsel. Over time, as they became closer associates, Jung benefited from Pauli's mathematical prowess as well as his insider's knowledge of the wild frontier of theoretical physics and its tightly knit community of advanced thinkers.

It was a synergetic relationship. Jung's concept of the opposite psychological types (introvert/extrovert) was remarkably similar to Niels Bohr's concept of "complementarity," which, when viewed with respect to the tension between the opposites within the physical universe (the quantum jumpiness that exists between particle and wave, position and momentum) raised a number of interesting questions.

"Synchronicity" was one of them. Synchronicity, simultaneity, complimentarity: all were used interchangeably by Pauli and Jung at various times, albeit each concept has a specific meaning and application which would take us far afield if we were to discuss their particulars at length. But synchronicity became Jung's word of choice for one of his most profound definitions, and it is doubtful that he could have conceived of it in the way that he did had it not been for his friendship with Pauli.

The study of Kabbalah, alchemy, the Book of Changes (the "I Ching") as well as the arcane symbolism of magic in tandem with hard science and mathematics enabled both Pauli and Jung to plumb the depths of their creativity, stretching their minds beyond the over-specializations of their narrow career paths and narcissist egos.

But the central theme of the book is that there is a "cosmic number" and what it may signify. I swallowed the whole idea of the mystical number, hook, line, and sinker until I saw Darren Aronofsky's "Pi." After viewing his thought provoking film several times I was even unable to write a review of this book. There is no question that numbers (and number patterns) describe the texture of reality with sparkling clarity and in a language that is universal, as well as beautiful (among mathematicians). But deep "Cartesian doubt" was implanted in my mind by the argument between the main character, Max, and his older, wiser friend, Sol, as they discussed "scientific rigor" versus "numerology." The same could be said for the conversation in the movie between the rabbi Cohen and Max as to the existence of the Holy Name of God and some magic number (with 216 digits) that might reveal the now-forgotten sound of it. As for the stock market, let's just say that human psychology appears to render it unpredictable, chaotic, and indecipherable by number alone.

Still, the quest for the cosmic number that is so well told in this book should not be denigrated by Cartesian doubt. The search alone is the great adventure, and from Stonehenge to the Hubble telescope we have never stopped looking for that elusive skeleton key that will unlock our destiny.

One last thing though; in The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next Lee Smolen stated that no new laws of physics have been discovered in the last 25 years. This astounded me when I first read it, and many of my speculations since then have been influenced by the implications of this observation. However, after reading Clifford Pickover's Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them I was reminded once again that many of the greatest lawmakers of science studied magic, religion, poetry, art, even music, and then combined it with scientifically rigorous and ruthlessly logical (or empirical) method. In the end, such things have a way of extending the swath of the hypothetical searchlight and often ignite the intuitive genius of an Isaac Newton or an Albert Einstein. After all, the universe is curved, not straight.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2010
Although Jung briefly refers to synchronicity in his forward to Wilhelm's translation of the "I Ching," it wasn't elaborated as a theory until he and Pauli jointly published, "The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche." That the two men became friends and collaborated together can almost be seen as a synchronistic event in itself. I am tempted to call Jung a mystic who dabbled in science and Pauli a scientist who dabbled in mysticism. That would be over-generalizing, but not by much. Jung's theories have never been accepted within some mainstream schools of thought. Yet, Pauli not only accepted them, but was put in touch with his emotional side through their therapeutic implementation.

Miller's book explains how the two men influenced each other, yet the cosmic number in its title has more to do with Pauli than with Jung. The number 137 is more important in physics than in Jungian theory, though it is involved in some interesting synchronicities. For example, the values of the Hebrew letters for Kabbalah total 137. Pauli's quest to uncover the meaning of the cosmic number is similar in nature to Jung's quest to understand the self and the process of individuation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 2, 2011
I see this hardcover (c. 2009) is now available in softcover (c. 2010) with a slightly different title: "137."

Ironically (and I think I use that overused word correctly here), the new title "137" will lead to a disappointment for most folks.

I enjoyed the hardcover (and have not seen the softcover) but unless the author has added a lot more to the 2010 edition, many readers are going to be frustrated that not more was written about one of the dimensionless constant in physics: the fine structure constant, 137.

Things I liked best about the book:

a. Author is a physicist, so he brings a different perspective to this, than, let's say, a liberal arts undergraduate in literature who writes about physics.

b. In just a few pages, Arthur Miller manages to distill the theories of Freud and Jung into comprehensible jargon.

c. It complements very nicely "Hydrogen: The Essential Element," by John Rigden.

What I disliked about the book:

1. Way too much on dream analysis, but I think most other readers will appreciate this and wish there was more. But that's fine. If one does not enjoy this part of the book, it's easy to skip ahead. If one enjoys it, one can re-read the sections over to see deeper meanings that may have been missed the first time.

2. Not enough on the fine structure constant, 137. If this is all there is about "137," it won't engender much of a following.

A random thought:

It is absolutely incredible, the quantum jumps men and women made in the first quarter of the 20th century: from Virginia Woolf and James Joyce to Picasso and Cezanne to Einstein and Pauli. Absolutely incredible.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2011
Great book. Of course one will be interested in Jung or Pauli or both. The book focuses more on Pauli and provides biographical information at a brisk pace. Jung not as much. The thesis of the book occupies itself with the magic number of the cosmos. Both jung and Pauli brainstorm the magic number and it appears both of them made fantastic discoveries as a result. The book keeps on the right side of the maths and so the reader can read the book without been spooked by technical details. The story is told at a snappy pace and is well worth a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2014
This is a fantastic book that was long overdue. It recounts Wolfgang Pauli's amazing relationship with Carl Jung during one of the most creative period in human history. As far as I know this has never been done before. Not to this extent anyway.

But make no mistake, this is a full-fledged biography of Wolfgang Pauli. We find here the same process devised by Arthur I. Miller in "Empire of the Stars", the authors's previous book. In that case the main theme of the book was the rivalry between Sir Arthur Eddington and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. And that's how the book was marketed. But in reality it's actually a biography of Chandra. That's fine with me because I had been looking for a biography of Pauli and could not find one that was non mathematical. My search ended here.

Carl Jung stars here in the supporting role, just like he would do in any decent biography of Sigmund Freud. For both of them Jung came to play a vital role in their lives. Except that Pauli has never been a rival for Jung, like Freud was. They collaborated over many years and each one saw in the other a complement of himself. Pauli was a hard core scientist who was interested by the occult, while Jung was trying to find a scientific grounding for his theories. It was the perfect marriage between the real and the surreal. I like to view their relationship as some sort of alchemical wedding. They certainly represent a very unique case in the annals of science.

Their relationship started when Pauli's inner world had suddenly disintegrated and he thought he was becoming insane. That is when he decided to consult with Jung. Pauli was eventually able to recover his sanity, but not completely. That is what makes this book so fascinating. From time to time we can actually feel the wind blowing over from the asylum, to put it the way Jung described his first meeting with Pauli. That's how serious Pauli's condition had become in midlife.

If you are not already familiar with the life and work of Carl Jung you will learn everything you need to know about this often misunderstood figure of the 20th century. The essence of his life's work is magisterially conveyed by the author. Miller is actually a historian of science, but he acquitted himself exceptionally well of the delicate task of bringing together the irrational world of the unconscious with the abstruse concepts of Quantum Physics as they were being formalized at the time.

When the New Physics was taking shape so was the Analytical Psychology movement initiated by Carl Jung. It was like two parallel universes that came in contact with each other through some sort of metaphysical wormhole that thrusted Pauli and Jung into a new dimension of reality where together they mined previously unexplored regions of the mind.

In this book we constantly alternate between the rational and the irrational. Between mathematical physics and numerology. Between the conscious and the unconscious. And of course between Pauli and Jung. Even if you know little about the inner workings of the mind you will quickly become familiar with abstract concepts of the psyche, like for example Carl Jung's notion of a collective unconscious. And unless you are already knowledgeable about the intricate world of the atom you will discover why its mysterious behaviour was driving Pauli crazy.

Whatever your background is you might already be familiar with the expression "It's not even wrong". That comes from Pauli who made this comment to a colleague after reading a paper that had been written by a student. The young man had obviously not properly understood what the problem he was studying really implied, as it often happened with the unwary scientist in the early days of Quantum Physics. There was nothing wrong per say with what this poor chap had written, except that the solution he offered showed that he was completely oblivious to the profound implications of what was being discussed in his paper. The full translation from the original German should read as follow "It's not only not right, IT'S NOT EVEN WRONG!" This is a subtile way of saying to someone that he missed the point.

While our understanding of Carl Jung and his Analytical Psychology has been growing since his death, Wolfgang Pauli has become today one of the most underestimated physicist of the Quantum Revolution. But this well researched biography reminds us that he actually played a key role in establishing this new paradigm. We also learn that he was a man as complex and bizarre as the new field he helped to create. And in the end we come to realize that, like the number 137 that so obsessed him, he will probably always remain a mystery.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2014
The book gave me more insight into the the minds of both men. The quantum concepts are never easy to explain. And Carl Jung, for his part, can be dense in his writing. But the book provides a sensitive overview of two great minds. It's definitely worth reading.
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