Ideas of the Unconscious from the Standpoint of Natural Science and Epistemology

  • Wolfgang Pauli


The eightieth birthday of C. G. Jung, who represents the most recent tendency in the psychology of the unconscious, falls on 26th July of this year. It gives me the occasion for making an attempt, no doubt daring, to arrive as an outsider at ways of looking at problems and possibilities of future developments in this field by a comparative consideration of the ideas on the unconscious with those in other branches of knowledge. Since the only point of view directly accessible to me is that of the exact scientist, all practical applications which fall into the medical field of therapeutics will by necessity be disregarded in this essay.


Collect Work Iron Filing Psychical Process Eightieth Birthday Point Ofview 
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  1. 1.
    William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York, 1902, Lecture X, pp. 226, 227 of the edition in the Modern Library series (New York).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. my article “Wahrscheinlichkeit und Physik” in Dialectica 8, 112–124 (1954). [Essay 3 in this volume.]Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ch. de Montet: L’évolution vers l’essentiel, Lausanne 1950. Unfortunately the author died soon after the book appeared, so that I never met him.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cf. in this connection also P. Jordan: Verdrängung und Komplementarität, Hamburg-Bergedorf 1947.Google Scholar
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    C. G. Jung: Von den Wurzeln des Bewuβtseins, Zürich 1954. The chapter VII “Theoretische Überlegungen zum Wesen des Psychischen” quoted here is a reprint from his essay entitled “Der Geist der Psychologie” first published in Eranos Jahrbuch 14, 385— 490 (1946).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 8, p. 200.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    C. G. Jung: Psychologische Typen, Zürich, 1921. Chapter XI, Definitions, p. 661 s. v. “soul”, from which however “psyche” is expressly distinguished. English translation by H. G. Baynes, in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 6, p. 463.Google Scholar
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    Wurzeln des Bewuβtseins, p. 580. [C. G. Jung’s Collected Works, volume 8, p. 216.]Google Scholar
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    At this occasion I would like to call attention to the logical curiosity contained in the use by C. G. Jung of the combination of words “psychic statement”. It does not in fact concern a classification of the statements into psychic and non-psychic but the property associated to all statements, independently of their content, to be among the contents of the consciousness of the person stating, “that is, psychic” (hence also being accessible to investigation with respect to psychological conditions). From the point of view of formal logics the combination of words “psychic statement” used in this way therefore appears as a pleonasm such as “weiße Schimmel” (Schimmel = white horse).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bohr’s point of view on life phenomena, differing both from “mechanistic” and from “vitalistic” ideas, is expounded e. g. in the periodical “Erkenntnis”, 14, 293, 1936, in an article “Kausalität und Komplementarität” (Causality and Complementarity), which also gives references to earlier literature.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    In his book Neuere Probleme der Abstammungslehre 2nd ed., 1954, the zoologist B. Rensch discusses, in connection with the question of the origin of living things, a conception which he calls “hylopsychistic”. According to this idea “psychical processes in some form are a property of all living things” (p. 361). Using the argument that it is in principle unlikely that the law of parallel connection “suddenly came into being at some time in the course of a gradual and invariably continuous phylogenesis” he indicates the possibility, in principle, of “ascribing to inanimate things also, and hence to the inorganic, very primitive psychical components of processes running strictly in parallel” (p. 381).Google Scholar
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    C. G. Jung’s most important writings on alchemy are Das Geheimnis der goldenen Blüte, in collaboration with R. Wilhelm, 1 st ed. München 1929 [The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 13, pp. 1–56]; Psychologie und Alchemie, lst ed. Zürich 1944, 2nd ed. 1952 [The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 12]; and in Symbolik des Geistes, Zürich 1948, Contribution V: “Der Geist Mercurius”. [The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 13, pp. 191–250].Google Scholar
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    In Psychological Types, Chapter XI, Definitions, s. v. “symbol”, Jung defines the symbolic expression as the “best possible description ... of a relatively unknown fact”.Google Scholar
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    The reader may be reminded of the correspondences: the seven planets, the seven metals, among which the planet mercury = Hermes = quicksilver; spirit = soul = alcohol, etc. Is it fortuitous that Freud hit upon the alchemist mode of expression “to sublimate”?Google Scholar
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    See C. G. Jung: Von den Wurzeln des Bewuβtseins, Zürich 1954, see footnote 5 above.Google Scholar
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    The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 8, p. 183 f.Google Scholar
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    Prof. E. Panofsky (Princeton) has kindly informed me that the oldest known occurrence in literature of the Greek word apχετvπoσ is in Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12. 5. and 16. 3., who translates the word into Latin. Cicero’s Greek sources are not known to us. Through his authority the word came into common use in late antiquity.Google Scholar
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    Cf. also in this connection C. G. Jung, Aion (1951), pp. 372, 373.Google Scholar
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    See my paper “Der Einfluß archetypischer Vorstellungen auf die Bildung naturwissenschaftlicher Theorien bei Kepler” in Naturerklärung und Psyche, Zürich 1952. [English Translation in The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche, London 1955. — Essay 21 in this volume.]Google Scholar
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    See my essay: “Sommerfeld’s Beiträge zur Quantentheorie”, Die Naturwissenschaften 35, 129–132 (1948). [Essay 5 in this volume.]Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Cf. for this the essay by B. Peyer: “Das Problem der Vererbung von Reizwirkungen”, Vierteljahresschrift der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich 97 , 65 (1952).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    In connection with ideas of the unconscious I should like to mention here the “psychoLamarckist” A. Pauly: Darwinismus und Lamarckismus — Entwurf einer psychophysischen Teleologie, München, 1905. He makes the psyche of organisms, including plants, responsible for the phenomena of adaptation, which he calls “unconscious judgments” (1. c. p. 119 and p. 251), and refers to E. von Hartmann for the expression “unconscious”. Of course terminology of this sort is in the main a mere paraphrase of what is to be explained. This author often passes over the empirical results mentioned above, which are evidence against Lamarckism, with dogmatic expressions of opinion. Moreover his view that “the psyche” can causally evoke physical phenomena is probably untenable from the epistemological point of view. I mention this author rather for the historical interest that his point of view doubtless merits. — Recently C. G. Jung in “Synchronizität als Prinzip akausaler Zusammenhänge” in Naturerklärung und Psyche, Zürich 1952; see especially p. 78 f. (English translation in The Interpretation of Nature and Psyche, London 1955, p. 107), without in any way applying Lamarckian ideas, has made connection between purposive processes in biology and “a self-subsistent ‘unconscious’ knowledge” which he also calls “absolute knowledge”. He adds: “It is not cognition but as Leibniz so excellently calls it, a`perceiving’ which consists — or to be more cautious, seems to consist — of images, of subjectless `simulacra’. These postulated images are presumably the same as my archetypes, which can be shown to be formal factors in spontaneous fantasy products”. — I should like here to point out the relationship between the “absolute knowledge” postulated by Jung and the “unconscious judgments” of A. Pauly. Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    For the empirical material and for its theoretical discussion see e. g. G. G. Simpson: The meaning of Evolution, Yale University Press, 1949; abridged edition, New York, 1951. — A further reference is O. H. Schindewolf: Der Zeitfaktor in Geologie und Paläontologie, Stuttgart, 1950, where special attention is drawn to “times of impetus” (“Stoßzeiten”) in evolution.Google Scholar
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    I know that several mathematicians and physicists agree with this criticism. I believe however that it is the problems themselves, and not the physicists, that are responsible for the difficulties.Google Scholar
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    This criticism also applies to the book by Rensch already quoted (footnote 11, this essay) in which this model is accepted. The model would have to be supported by a positive consideration of this kind, especially in regard to the time-scale of the “anagenesis” (higher development) defined and established in this book.Google Scholar
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    In the reflections of G. Wald (Scientific American 191, 45, 1954) on the origin of life, which is wrapped in still greater obscurity, statements such as “one has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles” also play an essential part, without an estimate ever being made of how long a time would be required.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    The ancient Pythagoreans, with their reverence for the number four, would have taken particular pleasure in the quaternary chemical structure, built up on two pairs of opposites, of a nucleic acid (denoted DNA for short) which is essential for the processes of heredity and reproduction (J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick, Nature 171, 964, 1953).Google Scholar
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    Cf. also P. Jordan: “Der Begriff der Wahrscheinlichkeit in der Phylogenie” in Scientific Papers presented to Max Born, Edinburgh, 1953.Google Scholar
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    Cf. especially S. G. Soal and F. Bateman: Modern Experiments in Telepathy, Faber and Faber, London 1954. In this reference an account is also given of the earlier experiments of Rhine and others.Google Scholar
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    Cf. A. Schopenhauer’s essay “Animalischer Magnetismus und Magie” in vol. 4, Naturphilosophie und Ethik of his Works.Google Scholar
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    C. G. Jung: “Synchronizität als Prinzip akausaler Zusammenhänge” in Naturerklärung und Psyche, Zürich 1952. [English translation in The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche, London 1955.]Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    I should like to raise the question whether the most primitive psychical components (see footnote 11, this essay) assumed by Rensch, and ascribed to the inorganic also, do not manifest themselves in just such borderline phenomena.Google Scholar

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1994

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  • Wolfgang Pauli

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