Sources returnpage

Pauli, Wolfgang

Category: Genius

Pauli with his second wife Franca

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (25 April 1900 – 15 December 1958) was an Austrian-born theoretical physicist, philosopher, and one of the pioneers of quantum physics.

Pauli helped to lay the foundations for the quantum theory of fields and he participated actively in the great advances made in this domain around 1945. His Theory of Relativity appears in the Enzyklopaedie der Mathematischen Wissenschaften, Volume 5, Part 2 (1920), his Quantum Theory in Handbuch der Physik, Vol. 23 (1926), and his Principles of Wave Mechanics in Handbuch der Physik, Vol. 24 (1933).

Pauli was a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London and a member of the Swiss Physical Society, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1930.

In 1945, after having been nominated by Albert Einstein, Pauli received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or Pauli principle."

Exclusion and spin

Professor I Waller [explaining the importance of the exclusion principle]:-


Pauli based his investigation on a profound analysis of the experimental and theoretical knowledge in atomic physics at the time.

He found that four quantum numbers are in general needed in order to define the energy state of an electron.

He then pronounced his principle, which can be expressed by saying that there cannot be more than one electron in each energy state when this state is completely defined.

Three quantum numbers only can be related to the revolution of the electron round the nucleus. The necessity of a fourth quantum number proved the existence of interesting properties of the electron.

Other physicists found that these properties may be interpreted by stating that the electron has a "spin", i.e. that it behaves to some extent as if it were rapidly rotating round an axis through its centre of gravity.

Pauli probably did not know this – or did he with his Kabbalistic background and Jewish roots? – but this ties in absolutely with mystic thinking.  The four quantum numbers correspond to the Elements.  In effect the symbolic Elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire are the four quantum numbers – levels of vibrational energy.

The electron spin is the mystic ‘Unit of energy’ spin – on/off like a spinning top.  Mysticism meets physics.

The exclusion principle ties in with the idea of matter having functions and properties, where the properties are expressed as functions.

Pauli with Heisenberg

Werner Heisenberg once described Pauli's philosophy as one of ‘lucid platonic mysticism' which involved a ‘synthesis embracing both rational understanding and the mystical experience of unity'. 

I do not believe in the possible future of mysticism in the old form. However, I do believe that the natural sciences will out of themselves bring forth a counter-pole in their adherents, which connects to the old mystic elements.'


Pauli aged 26

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was the son of Wolfgang Joseph Pauli, a Jewish medical doctor born in Prague, who practised in Vienna. By the time Pauli was born, his father had given up his medical practice for research in chemistry and physics, and was a university professor.

Pauli's paternal grandparents were from prominent Jewish families in Prague; his great-grandfather was a well known Jewish publisher. Pauli's father changed his name to Wolfgang Joseph Pauli in 1898, and, in the following year, converted from Judaism to become a Roman Catholic. He married in May 1899. 

Pauli's mother, Bertha Schütz, had a mother who was Roman Catholic; whilst her father was Jewish writer Friedrich Schütz.  Pauli's father's apparent change in religion would have been in part to avoid persecution and discrimination.  Even in the late 1800s anti-semitism was running very high and many jobs were denied Jews in Austria and Germany.

Pauli’s beliefs are very much driven by his Jewish heritage and indeed we might think of him as more Jewish than Catholic.  This is important, as he later worked with a number of other Jewish scientists, including Einstein and developed many of his spiritual ‘Kabbalistic’ ideas with Carl Gustav Jung.  Jung's family were Jewish converts, but his mother's father was a professor of Hebrew.

Pauli’s father had been inspired to study science by Ernst Mach, and when his first child was born he named him Wolfgang Ernst Pauli. Not only did Pauli's middle name come from Mach, but Mach was also his godfather giving him a silver cup when he was christened on 31 May 1900.

at school

Wolfgang attended school in Vienna where he attended the Döblingen Gymnasium. He was certainly not a typical pupil for he read Einstein's papers on relativity while he was still at the Gymnasium. He graduated from the Gymnasium in July 1918 with distinction.

Only two months after graduation, he published his first paper, on Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity.

After leaving the Gymnasium he entered the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich. While still an undergraduate at Munich he wrote two further articles on the theory of relativity. At Munich, Pauli was taught by Arnold Sommerfeld who quickly recognised his genius. Pauli received his PhD in July 1921 for his thesis on the quantum theory of ionized diatomic hydrogen (H+ 2).

Sommerfeld had asked Pauli to review the theory of relativity for the Encyklopädie der mathematischen Wissenschaften (Encyclopedia of Mathematical Sciences). Two months after receiving his doctorate, Pauli completed the article, which came to 237 pages. It was praised by Einstein; published as a monograph, and remains a standard reference on the subject to this day.

Einstein, after reading Pauli's monograph on relativity, wrote:-

Whoever studies this mature and grandly conceived work might not believe that its author is a twenty-one year old man. One wonders what to admire most, the psychological understanding for the development of ideas, the sureness of mathematical deduction, the profound physical insight, the capacity for lucid, systematical presentation, the knowledge of the literature, the complete treatment of the subject matter, or the sureness of critical appraisal.

Pauli in Copenhagen

Pauli spent a year at the University of Göttingen as the assistant to Max Born.  It was in Göttingen that he first met Niels Bohr in person and he said:-

... a new phase of my scientific life began when I met Niels Bohr personally for the first time. This was in 1922, when he gave a series of guest lectures at Göttingen when he reported on his theoretical investigations on the periodic system of elements. During these meetings, Bohr asked me whether I could come to Copenhagen for a year.

Pauli eagerly accepted the invitation and spent the year 1922-23 at Bohr's Institute:-

Following Bohr's invitation, I went to Copenhagen in the autumn of 1922, where I made a serious effort to explain the so-called 'anomalous Zeeman effect', ... a type of splitting of the spectral lines in a magnetic field which is different from the normal triplet.

From 1923 to 1928, he was a lecturer at the University of Hamburg. During this period, Pauli was instrumental in the development of the modern theory of quantum mechanics. In particular, he formulated the exclusion principle and the theory of non-relativistic spin.

Pauli with Sommerfeld in 1940

In 1924 Pauli, proposed a quantum spin number for electrons. Pauli's exclusion principle was proposed in 1925. Less than a year after this, Heisenberg submitted his article on quantum mechanics which was to change the whole approach to the topic. Pauli, who before that had begun to feel that further advances could not be made with the theory as it then existed, quickly made progress using Heisenberg's new ideas and before the end of 1925 he had derived the hydrogen spectrum from the new theory.

In 1928, he was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at ETH Zurich in Switzerland where he made significant scientific progress.

In 1931 Pauli was Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan, then in 1935-1936 he was Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He returned to Zürich but after the Second World War broke out in 1939, he found himself in an awkward situation since Germany, having annexed Austria in 1938, had made him a German citizen. In 1940 he was greatly relieved to receive an offer from Princeton and he was appointed to the chair of theoretical physics there, spending 1941 as Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan, and 1942 as Visiting Professor at Purdue University.


Pauli worried that fascism might bring about the end of scientific life in Europe. For this reason he actively encouraged scientific developments in the United States and also in the Soviet Union. He was keen to participate in conferences in the Soviet Union, attending the All-Union physics conference in Odessa in 1939 and the All-Union physics conference in Moscow in 1937. Pauli also tried to encourage those scientists who could remain in Italy and Germany to do so, for he believed this might ensure that scientific culture survived after the War.

Pauli did not remain in the United States but he returned to Zürich after World War II. It was not an easy decision for him but basically he always felt European and never quite felt that he fitted into life in the United States.

Professor Laurikainen wrote about other directions which Pauli's work took him in the years following World War II:-

During the last 10-15 years of his life, Pauli spent much time studying the history and philosophy of science. His starting point was the philosophy of quantum mechanics, but this led him to psychology, the history of ideas and many other fields, not least the relation of religion to natural science.

Some of the physicists who made early contributions to 'quantum mysticism'(left to right, top row first): Neils Bohr, Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger.

The 'Pauli-effect'

Pauli, if he had been born in a different age might have been accused of being a sorcerer, as he exhibited uncontrollable psychokinetic ability.  The Pauli effect was named after his ability to break experimental equipment simply by being in the vicinity. Pauli was aware of his reputation and was delighted whenever the Pauli effect manifested.

George Garnow – The Exclusion Principle [Scientific American 1956]
It is well known that theoretical physicists are quite inept in handling experimental apparatus; in fact, the standing of a theoretical physicist is said to be measurable in terms of his ability to break delicate devices merely by touching them.  By this standard Wolfgang Pauli was a very good theoretical physicist; apparatus would fall, break, shatter or burn when he merely walked into a laboratory

As a consequence Pauli became very interested in investigations into the legitimacy of parapsychology.


Victor Weisskopf [Pauli’s assistant]

All of Pauli’s disciples developed a deep personal attachment to him not only because of the many insights he gave us, but because of his fundamentally endearing human qualities.  It is true that sometimes he was a little hard to take, but all of us felt that he helped us to see our weaknesses… Pauli’s occasional and highly publicised roughness was an expression of his dislike of half truths and sloppy thinking, but it was never meant to be directed against any person.  Pauli was an excessively honest man; he had an almost childlike honesty.  What he said were always his true thoughts, directly expressed.

Pauli became known in the physics community as the "conscience of physics," the critic to whom his colleagues were accountable. He could be scathing in his dismissal of any theory he found lacking, often labelling it ganz falsch, utterly false.

However, this was not his most severe criticism, which he reserved for theories or theses so unclearly presented as to be untestable or unevaluatable and, thus, not properly belonging within the realm of science, even though posing as such.

They were worse than wrong because they could not be proven wrong. Famously, he once said of such an unclear paper: It is not even wrong!"

Life, beliefs and spirituality

One of the more intriguing aspects of Pauli is that his private life was marred by tragedy. It is also one of the ironies that periods of scientific discovery by Pauli, coincided with periods of increasing personal difficulties for him.  In 1927, when Pauli himself was 27, his mother, to whom he had been very close, committed suicide, after his father had left her for another woman. In the following year his father remarried making an even more unhappy situation for Pauli who referred to his father's new wife as "the evil step-mother". On 6 May 1929 Pauli left the Roman Catholic Church completely. 

Marvin Jay Greenberg – from the foreword to The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche
Pauli went through a period starting at age 23 of self destructive personal behaviour.  Whilst at Hamburg University working hard on research in physics by day, Pauli secretly roamed the bars and brothels of the red light district – synchronistically named Sankt Pauli – at night.  He had a short affair there with a woman who turned out to be a heroin addict.  He drank too much and got into brawls….. Pauli also explored the demi monde of Berlin.  It was there that he met and fell for a cabaret dancer who was a friend of his sister.  Pauli married her despite her letting it be known she was in love with someone else.  The marriage was a disaster.


 Pauli married Käthe Margarethe Deppner in Berlin on 23 December 1929. The marriage was never a success, even in the first few months, and they were divorced in Vienna on 29 November 1930.

At the end of 1930, shortly after his postulation of the neutrino and immediately following his divorce in November, Pauli had a severe nervous breakdown.

He consulted psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung who, like Pauli, lived near Zurich. Jung assigned him to Erna Rosenbaum a young female doctor, whose gentle approach over 5 months brought him back to sanity.  Pauli detailed around 1500 dreams which he sent to Jung and Jung published work based on some of the dreams, always respecting Pauli’s privacy.  Jung used 400 of his dreams for his 1935 Eranos lecture and Pauli’s dreams are also to be found in Jung’s Tavistock Lectures [1935] and Terry lectures [1937].  Jung describes his patient as an intellectual of "remarkable intelligence and learning". The fact that the patient whose dreams Jung discusses was Pauli, was not made generally public until after Pauli's death.

Pauli was declared well again in 1934 and married again in the same year, but before this had poured out his nightmares and emotional troubles of insecurity, anger, loneliness, helplessness and problems with men, women and society in general.

Even after he was better, Jung found his dreams so helpful, he asked Pauli to continue recording them and to stay in touch.  The subjects of his dreams were about his work in quantum physics, philosophy, mathematics, mysticism, religion, alchemy and the prejudiced attitudes in European society. Jung found one symbol in Pauli's dreams that personified his mysticism and that was Fire – a symbol of rebirth.

Both Pauli and Jung eventually concluded that the age old dream of reason and modern rational science had come to a philosophical dead end (aporia). Pauli would argue that quantum theory was not a complete theory, in that it lacked the psychological and scientific power to explain biological and mental processes, such as consciousness.


Pauli and Jung's joint work was directed towards the creation of an archetypal language that unified the quantum field nature of physis (matter) and psyche (mind). In their search for a middle ground between their two scientific paradigmatic fields of physics and psychology, Pauli and Jung published their juxtaposed ideas in Interpretation of Nature published in 1952. Pauli believed that his dreams were attempting to create a unified theory of quantum physics and alchemical mysticism.

Pauli criticized Jung's theories scientifically, and this contributed to a certain clarification of the latter's thoughts, especially about the concept of synchronicity. A great many of these discussions are documented in the Pauli/Jung letters, today published as Atom and Archetype. Jung's elaborate analysis of more than 400 of Pauli's dreams is documented in Psychology and Alchemy.

Pauli and Jung’s collaboration was to bear fruit for both of them.  Pauli had always been a closet spiritualist, but his work with Jung was to help him scientifically too.

While exploring the phenomena of synchronicity, Carl Gustav Jung … began a collaboration with him. During that collaboration Jung's study of synchronistic phenomena underwent a considerable change; …. Pauli, on the other hand, became increasingly sensitive to the philosophical aspects concerning the unconscious. Jung and Pauli's common reflections went far beyond psychology and physics, entering into the realm where the two areas meet in the philosophy of nature. In fact, as a consequence of their collaboration, synchronicity was transformed from an empirical concept into a fundamental explanatory-interpretative principle, which together with causality could possibly lead to a more complete worldview.  PMID:  15533199

Synchronicity is essentially an admittance of the existence of the Great Work, Destiny and Fate.  When Jung carefully chooses the word ‘archetype’ to describe this, he is admitting the existence of ‘the Fates’ as archetypes.  And Pauli too came to believe in destiny and plans and evolution as a great work.

Jung was introduced to the I Ching by the Sinologist Richard Wilhelm. Pauli became familiar with its philosophy and mathematics through his reading of Schopenhauer and Leibniz. So not just a Nobel Laureate but a philosopher as well – a seeker of wisdom.

In their correspondence about the nature of the unconscious and synchronicity, Pauli and Jung also exchanged their musings on Pauli's dreams of a Chinese woman and her role in his psyche.  This is particularly fascinating as it implies Pauli, through his dreams, had met his Higher spirit or at least a 'guardian angel'.

Marriage and death

Pauli with 'Franca'

Things went better for Pauli after he married Franciska Bertram on 4 April 1934. In contrast with his first disastrous marriage his second marriage proved a great support to him. After his death, Franciska Pauli said this of her late husband:-

He was very easily hurt and therefore would let down a curtain. He tried to live without admitting reality. And his unworldliness stemmed precisely from his belief that this was possible.

This is the definition of not just a genius but a mystic genius.

In 1958, Pauli was awarded the Max Planck medal. In that same year, he fell ill with pancreatic cancer. When his last assistant, Charles Enz, visited him at the Rotkreuz hospital in Zurich, Pauli asked him: "Did you see the room number?" It was number 137. Throughout his life, Pauli had been preoccupied with the question of why the fine structure constant, a dimensionless fundamental constant, has a value nearly equal to 1/137. Pauli died in that room on 15 December 1958.

Beyond the Atom: The Philosophical Thought of Wolfgang Pauli - Professor Laurikainen

Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) was often called the conscience of physics. He was famous for his sharp and critical mind … but he was also an outstanding philosopher, especially interested in finding a new conception of reality and of causality. A careful study of the original sources of the past culminated in his study of Kepler and of medieval symbolism, a concept that played a central role in his discussion with Carl Jung …….. Pauli considered the sharp distinctions between knowledge and faith and between spirit and matter as dangerous. He thought they should complement each other in our comprehension of reality. ….  Pauli's ideas can be found in the large and as yet unpublished correspondence between Pauli and M. Fierz [which] add clarity to the few publications by Pauli on philosophical problems and helps explain why Pauli grasped the meaning of atomic theory more deeply than even Niels Bohr himself.




  • J Anal Psychol. 2004 Nov;49(5):707-28.  Beyond synchronicity: the worldview of Carl Gustav Jung and Wolfgang Pauli.  Donati M1.  1Milan.
  • J Anal Psychol. 2005 Apr;50(2):223-35.  Synchronicity and the I Ching: Jung, Pauli, and the Chinese woman.  Zabriskie B.  PMID:  15817044
  • J Anal Psychol. 2014 Apr;59(2):165-73. doi: 10.1111/1468-5922.12066.  From Copenhagen to the consulting room: Pauli and Jung in Copenhagen.  Gieser S1.
  • Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice--The Tavistock Lectures – Carl Gustav Jung [Paperback – 1 Jan 2009]
  • Beyond the Atom: The Philosophical Thought of Wolfgang Pauli Paperback – 1 Jan 1988 by Kalervo V. Laurikainen (Author), Christoph Schubert (Contributor)
  • Quantum physics, philosophy, and the image of God: Insights from Wolfgang Pauli  K. V. Laurikainen  Zygon 25 (4):391-404 (1990
  • The Interpretation of Nature Wolfgang Pauli and C G Jung - this book was first published in 1952 in German as Naturerklärung und Psyche. C. G. Jung: Synchronizität als ein Prinzip akausaler Zusammenhänge. W. Pauli: Der Einfluss archetypischer Vorstellungen auf die Bildung naturwissenschaftlicher Theorien bei Kepler.  One review of this book provided by a self styled 'eminent' professor of mathematics, concluded, “After thoroughly studying their writings for many months now, I have come to see clearly that they are both utterly mad”.  A good sign if ever there was one.  Madness is akin to genius after all.
  •  Pauli, Wolfgang (1981). Theory of Relativity.
  • Jung, C.G. (1980). Psychology and Alchemy.
  • Keve, Tom (2000). Triad: the physicists, the analysts, the kabbalists.
  • Pauli, W. (1954). "Naturwissenschaftliche und erkenntnistheoretische Aspekte der Ideen vom Unbewussten". Dialectica 8 (4): 283–301. doi:10.1111/j.1746-8361.1954.tb01265.x. [Natural Sciences and epistemological aspects of the idea of the unconscious]


For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.