Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli bounced ideas off each other, Paul Halpern’s book shows.
Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and EffectPaul Halpern Basic (2020)
The storytellers of modern physics are ever on the hunt for new ways to convey the tension between the contrasting realities of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity argues for a universe in which causes lead to effects and nothing travels faster than light. Quantum physics tells of a quirkier world, in which things seem to happen at random and connections appear seemingly instantaneously. Both challenge our intuitions.
To explore this, theoretical physicist Paul Halpern finds inspiration in a relationship. In Synchronicity, he relates how Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli, distraught and drinking heavily after his divorce in 1930, sought out Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung for therapy. Jung, in turn, received a schooling in quantum physics. He learnt how measuring the state of one particle can seem to influence the state of another instantly, a property called entanglement.
Before meeting Pauli, Jung had coined the term synchronicity to describe the principle of acausal connections. He sought an explanation for his idea of a collective unconscious of human experience that influenced dreams, thoughts and behaviours. Pauli, helpfully, could recall his dreams easily and vividly.
For Jung, “analyzing a prominent quantum physicist, who happened to have complex dreams he could remember with ease, was an extraordinary find”, writes Halpern. For Pauli, the interactions led him to argue for the necessity of a unified theory of matter and mind. (He had done his seminal work on quantum mechanics in the 1920s, including formulating his exclusion principle, which explains why ordinary matter is stable and takes up space.)
The heart of Halpern’s book is the conflict between human intuitions of deep connections in the Universe, and the scientific case for such links. He sweeps the reader from the early Greeks to modern physics — from the works of Plato and Empedocles, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and others, to the arrival of relativity and quantum mechanics — building a case for potential connections without causality. A coda deals with the most recent experiments on entanglement, involving satellites, and nods to complex theoretical work that connects entanglement to the nature of space-time.
It an often-told tale, but Halpern strives to keep it fresh. For example, the conundrum of black-body radiation was solved by German physicist Max Planck’s hypothesis in 1900 that energy must come in quanta — minimum units that cannot be divided further. Halpern explains this evocatively, in terms of a jet-black mug of tea with a lid, heated in a microwave oven to 100 ºC. Pre-quantum theories predicted, implausibly, that this would be a source of hazardous, high-frequency ionizing radiation. Planck showed that quantization limits or even eliminates the energy emitted at high frequencies. His ideas kick-started quantum mechanics, and explain why we can sip hot tea without getting radiation burns. Despite such anecdotes, parts of the book could be hard going for those unfamiliar with the concepts.
One key to understanding acausal connections, often given short shrift, is the work of German mathematician Amalie ‘Emmy’ Noether, an important figure in Synchronicity. In the early twentieth century, she showed that symmetries in nature and the laws of conservation are two sides of one coin. For example, a spinning bicycle wheel has rotational symmetry: turning on its axis does not change the wheel. Conservation of angular momentum follows from rotational symmetry. Conservation laws, in turn, affect long-range, acausal phenomena. The angular momentum of two particles emitted from the same interaction has to be conserved, even if the particles end up kilometres apart. This leads to correlations in their measured properties.
More than the physics, it’s the scuttlebutt about the personalities that makes the book shine. It’s shocking to read how Pauli and German mathematician Pascual Jordan (an early contributor to quantum mechanics) were interested in parapsychology. Jordan was taken with experiments by the US botanist Joseph Banks Rhine — ostensibly showing that some people could read minds, guessing the images on hidden cards at a rate better than chance. Pauli “was open to speculation about numerology and the supernatural, an interest cemented through his interactions with Carl Gustav Jung”, writes Halpern. It’s a reminder that even extraordinarily rational intellect can come up short when confronted with the subjective depths of one’s own being.
It’s also shocking to see the unglamorous sides of Pauli and German theorist Werner Heisenberg. The charm and energy of youth behind them — along with their Nobel prizes — they struggled to remain relevant. Late in their careers, the duo developed the idea of a single field “from which all matter, energy, and natural interactions would coalesce as special cases”. When Pauli presented their ill-formed theory at a 1958 conference of the American Physical Society, he was met with derision.
To his alarm, Heisenberg began publicizing the work in Germany. Pauli wrote to a student about “Heisenberg’s radio- and newspaper-advertisement, with him in the principal role of super-Einstein, super-Faust, and super-human? His passion for publicity seems insatiable.” Albert Einstein spent his final years trying to reconcile relativity with quantum mechanics, but even his dogmatism was imbued with grace.
Connections between seemingly disparate elements and characters coalesce and connect in the book’s second half, a pleasing echo of the story. For example, Heisenberg and Pauli’s attempts recall Plato’s idea of a timeless realm of perfect forms underlying our observed reality. Rightly or wrongly, with much to uncover about how the Universe works, the allure of acausal connections remains.
Nature 584, 513-514 (2020)
Fuente/ Source: www.nature.com
Por/ By: Anil Ananthaswamy is a 2019–20 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Foto/ Photo: nature
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