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Wolfgang Pauli

Born Wolfgang Ernst Pauli
25 April 1900(1900-04-25)
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died 15 December 1958 (aged 58)
Zürich, Switzerland
Citizenship Switzerland
Nationality Austria
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Göttingen
University of Copenhagen
University of Hamburg
ETH Zürich
Princeton University
Alma mater Ludwig-Maximilians University
Doctoral advisor Arnold Sommerfeld
Other academic advisors Max Born
Doctoral students Nicholas Kemmer
Felix Villars
Other notable students Sigurd Zienau
Known for Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli-Villars regularization
Pauli matrices
Pauli effect
Pauli equation
Pauli group
Coining 'not even wrong'
Influences Ernst Mach
Carl Jung
Influenced Ralph Kronig
Notable awards Lorentz Medal (1931)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1945)
Matteucci Medal (1956)
Max Planck Medal (1958)
His godfather was Ernst Mach. He is not to be confused with Wolfgang Paul, who Pauli called his 'real part.'

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (April 25, 1900 – December 15, 1958) was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he 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," involving spin theory, underpinning the structure of matter and the whole of chemistry.




Early years

Wolfgang Pauli young.jpg

Pauli was born in Vienna to a chemist Wolfgang Joseph Pauli and his wife Berta Camilla Schütz. His middle name was given in honor of his godfather, physicist Ernst Mach. Pauli's paternal grandparents were from prominent Jewish families of Prague; his father converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism shortly before his marriage in 1899. Bertha Schütz was raised in her mother's Roman Catholic religion; her father was Jewish writer Friedrich Schütz. Pauli was raised as a Roman Catholic, although eventually he and his parents left the Church.[1]

Pauli attended the Döblinger-Gymnasium in Vienna, graduating with distinction in 1918. Only two months after graduation, the young prodigy published his first paper, on Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. He attended the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, working under Arnold Sommerfeld, where he received his PhD in July 1921 for his thesis on the quantum theory of ionized molecular hydrogen.

Sommerfeld asked Pauli to review the theory of relativity for the Encyklopaedie 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, it remains a standard reference on the subject to this day.

Pauli spent a year at the University of Göttingen as the assistant to Max Born, and the following year at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, which later became the Niels Bohr Institute in 1965. 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 nonrelativistic spin.

At the end of 1930, shortly after his postulation of the neutrino and immediately following his divorce in November, Pauli had a severe breakdown. He consulted psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung who, like Pauli, lived near Zürich. Jung immediately began interpreting Pauli's deeply archetypal dreams,[2] and Pauli became one of the depth psychologist’s best students. Soon, he began to criticize the epistemology of Jung’s theory scientifically, and this contributed to a certain clarification of the latter’s thoughts, especially about the concept of synchronicity. A great deal of these discussions is 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.

In 1928, he was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at ETH Zürich in Switzerland where he made significant scientific progress. He held visiting professorships at the University of Michigan in 1931, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1935. He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1931.

The German annexation of Austria in 1938 made him a German national, which became a difficulty with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Pauli moved to the United States in 1940, where he was Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton. After the war, in 1946, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States, before returning to Zürich, where he mostly remained for the rest of his life.

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 Zürich, 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.

Scientific research

Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Wolfgang Pauli, ca. 1935

Pauli made many important contributions in his career as a physicist, primarily in the field of quantum mechanics. He seldom published papers, preferring lengthy correspondences with colleagues such as Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, with whom he had close friendships. Many of his ideas and results were never published and appeared only in his letters, which were often copied and circulated by their recipients. Pauli was apparently unconcerned that much of his work thus went uncredited.[citation needed]

Pauli proposed in 1924 a new quantum degree of freedom (or quantum number) with two possible values, in order to resolve inconsistencies between observed molecular spectra and the developing theory of quantum mechanics. He formulated the Pauli exclusion principle, perhaps his most important work, which stated that no two electrons could exist in the same quantum state, identified by four quantum numbers including his new two-valued degree of freedom. The idea of spin originated with Ralph Kronig. George Uhlenbeck and Samuel Goudsmit one year later identified Pauli's new degree of freedom as electron spin.

In 1926, shortly after Heisenberg published the matrix theory of modern quantum mechanics, Pauli used it to derive the observed spectrum of the hydrogen atom. This result was important in securing credibility for Heisenberg's theory.

Pauli introduced the 2 × 2 Pauli matrices as a basis of spin operators, thus solving the nonrelativistic theory of spin. This work is sometimes said to have influenced Paul Dirac in his creation of the Dirac equation for the relativistic electron, though Dirac stated that he invented these same matrices himself independently at the time, without Pauli's influence. Dirac invented similar but larger (4x4) spin matrices for use in his relativistic treatment of fermionic spin.

In 1930, Pauli considered the problem of beta decay. In a letter of 4 December to Lise Meitner et al., beginning, "Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen", he proposed the existence of a hitherto unobserved neutral particle with a small mass, no greater than 1% the mass of a proton, in order to explain the continuous spectrum of beta decay. In 1934, Enrico Fermi incorporated the particle, which he called a neutrino, into his theory of beta decay. The neutrino was first confirmed experimentally in 1956 by Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan, two and a half years before Pauli's death. On receiving the news, he replied by telegram: "Thanks for message. Everything comes to him who knows how to wait. Pauli."[3]

In 1940, he proved the spin-statistics theorem, a critical result of quantum field theory which states that particles with half-integer spin are fermions, while particles with integer spin are bosons.

In 1949, he published a paper on Pauli-Villars regularization, which provides an important prescription for renormalization, or removing infinities from quantum field theories.

Pauli made repeated criticisms of the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology,[4][5] and his contemporary admirers point to modes of epigenetic inheritance as supportive of his arguments.[6]

Personality and reputation

The Pauli effect was named after his bizarre 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. These strange occurrences were in line with his investigations into the legitimacy of parapsychology, particularly his collaboration with CG Jung on the concept of synchronicity.

Regarding physics, Pauli was famously a perfectionist. This extended not just to his own work, but also to the work of his colleagues. As a result, he 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: Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch! "Not only is it not right, it's not even wrong!"

His supposed remarks when meeting another leading physicist, Paul Ehrenfest, illustrates this notion of an arrogant Pauli. The two met at a conference for the first time. Ehrenfest was familiar with Pauli's papers and was quite impressed with them. After a few minutes of conversation, Ehrenfest remarked, "I think I like your Encyclopedia article [on relativity theory] better than you," to which Pauli shot back, "That's strange. With me, regarding you, it is just the opposite."[7] The two became very good friends from then on.

A somewhat warmer picture emerges from this story which appears in the article on Dirac:

"Werner Heisenberg [in Physics and Beyond, 1971] recollects a friendly conversation among young participants at the 1927 Solvay Conference, about Einstein and Planck's views on religion. Wolfgang Pauli, Heisenberg, and Dirac took part in it. Dirac's contribution was a poignant and clear criticism of the political manipulation of religion, that was much appreciated for its lucidity by Bohr, when Heisenberg reported it to him later. Among other things, Dirac said: "I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest - and as scientists honesty is our precise duty - we cannot help but admit that any religion is a pack of false statements, deprived of any real foundation. The very idea of God is a product of human imagination. [...] I do not recognize any religious myth, at least because they contradict one another. [...]" Heisenberg's view was tolerant. Pauli had kept silent, after some initial remarks. But when finally he was asked for his opinion, jokingly he said: "Well, I'd say that also our friend Dirac has got a religion and the first commandment of this religion is 'God does not exist and Paul Dirac is his prophet'". Everybody burst into laughter, including Dirac.

Personal life

In May 1929, Pauli left the Roman Catholic Church. In December of that year, he married Käthe Margarethe Deppner. The marriage was an unhappy one, ending in divorce in 1930 after less than a year. He married again in 1934 to Franziska Bertram. They had no children.


by Pauli
  • Pauli, Wolfgang; Jung, C.G. (1955). The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. Random House. 
  • Pauli, Wolfgang (1981). Theory of Relativity. New York: Dover. ISBN 048664152X. 
  • Pauli, Wolfgang; Jung, C.G. (2001). ed. C.A. Meier. ed. Atom and Archetype, The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932–1958. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 
about Pauli
  • Enz, Charles P. (2002). No Time to be Brief, A scientific biography of Wolfgang Pauli. Oxford Univ. Press. 
  • Enz, Charles P. (1995). "Rationales und Irrationales im Leben Wolfgang Paulis". in ed. H. Atmanspacher, et al.. Der Pauli-Jung-Dialog. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 
  • Gieser, Suzanne (2005). The Innermost Kernel. Depth Psychology and Quantum Physics. Wolfgang Pauli's Dialogue with C.G. Jung. Springer Verlag. 
  • Jung, C.G. (1980). Psychology and Alchemy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Univ. Press. 
  • Keve, Tom (2000). Triad: the physicists, the analysts, the kabbalists. London: Rosenberger & Krausz. 
  • Lindorff, David (1994). Pauli and Jung: The Meeting of Two Great Minds. Quest Books. 
  • Pais, Abraham (2000). The Genius of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Enz, P.; von Meyenn, Karl (editors); Schlapp, Robert (translator) (1994), Wolfgang Pauli - Writings on physics and philosophy, Berlin: Springer Verlag, ISBN 978-354-05685-99 
  • Laurikainen, K. V. (1988). Beyond the Atom - The Philosophical Thought of Wolfgang Pauli. Berlin: Springer Verlag. ISBN 0387194568. 
  • Casimir, H. B. G. (1983). Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-060-15028-9. 
  • Casimir, H. B. G. (1992). Het toeval van de werkelijkheid: Een halve eeuw natuurkunde. Amsterdam: Meulenhof. ISBN 9-029-09709-4. 
  • Miller, Arthur I. (2009). Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.. ISBN 978-039-30653-29. 

See also


  1. ^ "Jewish Physicists". Retrieved 2006-09-30. 
  2. ^ Varlaki, P.; Nadai L.; Bokor, J. (2008). "Number Archetypes and Background Control Theory Concerning the Fine Structure Constant". Acta Polytechnica Hungarica 5 (2). Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  3. ^ Enz, Charles; Meyenn, Karl von (1994). "Wolfgang Pauli, A Biographical Introduction". Writings on Physics and Philosophy (Springer-Verlag). 
  4. ^ Pauli, W. (1954). "Naturwissenschaftliche und erkenntnistheoretische Aspekte der Ideen vom Unbewussten". Dialectica 8: 283–301. doi:10.1111/j.1746-8361.1954.tb01265.x. 
  5. ^ Atmanspacher, H.; Primas, H. (2006). "Pauli’s ideas on mind and matter in the context of contemporary science". Journal of Consciousness Studies 13 (3): 5–50. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  6. ^ Conference on Wolfgang Pauli's Philosophical Ideas and Contemporary Science organised by ETH May 20–25, 2007. The abstract of a paper discussing this by Richard Jorgensen is here
  7. ^ The Historical Development of Quantum Theory, By Jagdish Mehra, Helmut Rechenberg, page 488, Springer (December 28, 2000), ISBN 978-0387951751, citing Oskar Klein.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (April 25, 1900 – December 15, 1958) Austrian-Swiss physicist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1945.


  • When that amusing 'Pauli effect' of the overturned vase occurred, on the occasion of the founding of the Jung Institute, I had the immediate and vivid impression that I should ‘pour out water inside’ (- to use the symbolic language that I have acquired from you). Then when the connection between psychology and physics took up a relatively large part of your talk, it became even more clear to me what I was to do. The outcome of all this is the enclosed essay.
    • Letter to Carl Jung (16 June 1948 ), referring to an incident where a vase fell over, apparently spontaneously as he entered a room, and an essay: Moderne Beispiele zur 'Hintergrunds-physik' (Modern Examples of 'Background Physics' ). Jung and Pauli worked together in developing theories of Synchronicity.
  • Later, however, I came to recognize the objective nature of these dreams or fantasies ... Thus it was that I gradually came to acknowledge that such fantasies or dreams are neither meaningless nor purely arbitrary but rather convey a sort of 'second meaning' of the terms applied.
  • The purely psychological interpretation only apprehends half of the matter. The other half is the revealing of the archetypal basis of the terms actually applied in modern physics. What the final method of observation must see in the production of 'background physics' through the unconscious of modern man is a directing of objective toward a future description of nature that uniformly comprises physis and psyche, a form of description that at the moment we are experiencing only in a prescientific phase. To achieve such a uniform description of nature, it appears to be essential to have recourse to the archetypal background of the scientific terms and concepts.
  • When one analyzes the pre-conscious step to concepts, one always finds ideas which consist of 'symbolic images.' The first step to thinking is a painted vision of these inner pictures whose origin cannot be reduced only and firstly to the sensual perception but which are produced by an 'instinct to imagining' and which are re-produced by different individuals independently, i.e. collectively... But the archaic image is also the necessary predisposition and the source of a scientific attitude. To a total recognition belong also those images out of which have grown the rational concepts.
    • Letter to Markus Fierz (1948)
  • What now is the answer to the question as to the bridge between the perception of the senses and the concepts, which is now reduced to the question as to the bridge between the outer perceptions and those inner image-like representations. It seems to me one has to postulate a cosmic order of nature— outside of our arbitrariness— to which the outer material objects are subjected as are the inner images... The organizing and regulating has to be posited beyond the differentiation of physical and psychical... I am all for it to call this 'organizing and regulating' 'archetypes.' It would then be inadmissible to define these as psychic contents. Rather, the above-mentioned inner pictures (dominants of the collective unconscious, see Jung) are the psychic manifestations of the archetypes, but which would have to produce and condition all nature laws belonging to the world of matter. The nature laws of matter would then be the physical manifestation of the archetypes.
    • Letter to Markus Fierz (1948)
  • Both of us [seem] to agree that the future of Jung's ideas is not with [psycho-] therapy... but with a unitarian, holistic concept of nature and the position of man in it.
    • Letter to Markus Fierz regarding Carl Jung's ideas (25 December 1950)
  • "The fact of the existence of two theories [causal and acausal] that contradict each other in Jung ... corresponds psychologically to the vascillation between 3 and 4.
    • Letter To C.A. Meier (1950)
  • It is always the older that emanates the new one.
    • Letter to Markus Fierz (13 October 1951)
  • "The designation 'Jungian Psychology' is actually already unscientific sectarianism. I only acknowledge C.G. Jung's contribution to the general psychology of the unconscious.
    • Letter to C.A. Meier (the president of the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich) in (1956)
  • There is no God and Dirac is his messenger. (German: Es gibt keinen Gott und Dirac ist sein Prophet.)
    • W. Heisenberg, Der Teil und das Ganze, 1969, Piper, München, p. 119
  • Comment on Heisenberg's radio advertisement. "This is to show that I can paint like Titian." (A big drawing of a rectangle) "Only technical details are missing."


  • I don't mind your thinking slowly; I mind your publishing faster than you think.
  • If I understand Dirac correctly, his meaning is this: there is no God, and Dirac is his Prophet.
    • Variant: There is no God, and Paul Dirac is his prophet.
    • Variant of a sourced quote
  • This paper is so bad it is not even wrong.
    • Variant: This isn't right. This isn't even wrong. This saying and its attribution to Pauli are discussed in Peter Woit (2006) Not Even Wrong. Vintage. The book is primarily a critical discussion of string theory.
  • The deepest pleasure in science comes from finding an instantiation, a home, for some deeply felt, deeply held image.
    • Paraphrased in The Origins of Order by Stuart Kauffman (see this online paper for citation). This quote makes sense given Pauli's serious interest in Jungian psychology.
  • God made the bulk; surfaces were invented by the devil.
  • I have done a terrible thing, I have postulated a particle that cannot be detected.
    • when he postulated the existence of the very elusive neutrino, see for example Frederick Reines' foreword in Christine Sutton (1992). Spaceship Neutrino. Cambridge University Press. p. xi. ISBN 0-521-36703-4.  

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Simple English

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (25 April 1900 – 15 December 1958) was an Austrian theoretical physicist known for his work on spin theory, and for the discovery of the pauli exclusion principle, which is important for the structure of matter and the whole of chemistry. He was given the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945.


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