Wolfgang Pauli


What was Pauli’s childhood like?

Wolfgang Pauli was born in Vienna, Austria on April 25 of 1900 to Wolfgang Joseph Pauli and Bertha Camilla Schütz.  His father was a chemist, his sister (Hertha Pauli) was a writer and actress, his godfather (Ernst Mach) was a physicist, his paternal great grandfather was a publisher (Wolf Pascheles), and his maternal grandfather (Friedrich Schütz) was a writer.  Pauli’s father was raised Jewish but converted to Roman Catholicism prior to his marriage to Pauli’s mother who was raised Roman Catholic.  Due to the conversion, Pauli’s father changed his last name from Pascheles to Pauli in 1898, just before Pauli was born.  Pauli’s mother was a devout Roman Catholic and raised her son, Pauli as such; however, Pauli’s entire family eventually left the church.  Pauli was considered to be a Diest (the belief that human beings can know God only via reason and the observation of nature, but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations) and a Mystic (the belief in attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths).

Pauli spent a lot of time with his godfather, Ernst Mach, who often performed physics experiments in his presence.  He is said to have influenced Pauli deeply and encouraged his well-known rational and logical attitude, asserting that intuition had no place in physics and that facts and logic were of utmost importance.  Pauli is known to have been greatly influenced by this attitude; however, Pauli often struggled between the idea of intuition vs logical rationale as an adult.  He was a child prodigy and wrote three papers on general relativity before he was out of his teens.

What was Pauli’s educational experience like?

Pauli graduated from the Döblinger-Gymnasium of Vienna in 1918 with honors and published his first paper which was on Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, only two months after graduation.  Subsequently he attended the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich under Arnold Sommerfeld and graduated with his Phd in 1921 (at the age of 21) with a thesis on the quantum theory of ionized diatomic hydrogen (H+2).  Two months following Pauli’s graduation from Ludwig-Maximilians University he reviewed Einstein’s relativity theory for Encyklopädie der mathematischen Wissenschaften (Encyclopedia of Mathematical Sciences) at the request of Sommerfeld, which received immense praise from Einstein.

According to Atmanspacher (1996), Einstein stated in 1922 of Pauli’s review: “Whoever studies this mature and grandly composed work would not believe that the author is a man of twenty-one.  One does not know what to admire most: the psychological understanding of the evolution of ideas, the accuracy of mathematical deduction, the deep physical insight, the capacity for lucid systematic presentation, the knowledge of literature, the factual completeness, or the infallibility of criticism.”

Pauli went on to become the assistant of Max Born at the University of Göttingen in Germany and the assistant of Neils Bohr at the Institute for Theoretical Physics (later known as the Neils Bohr Institute) in Copenhagen, Denmark the following year.  Between 1923 and 1928 Pauli lectured at the University of Hamburg in Germany.  While at Hamburg, Pauli made significant contributions to the field of quantum mechanics, formulating the exclusion principle and the theory of non-relativistic spin.  He was later appointed as Professor of Theoretical Physics at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.  He served as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1935.  He was awarded the Lorentz Medal (a medal given by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for important contributions to theoretical physics) in 1931.

What was the significance of the number 137 in Pauli’s life?

Arnold Sommerfield had introduced the fine structure constant (a fundamental physical constant characterizing the strength of the electromagnetic interaction between elementary charged particles) known as Sommerfield’s Constant in 1916.  Sommerfield’s Constant is related to the elementary charge e, which characterizes the strength between an elementary charged particle with the electromagnetic field by the formula: ε0ħcα = e2.  Because this results in a dimensionless quantity, its value is about 1/137 in all systems of units.  Pauli was haunted by the number 137 during his entire life, subsequently stressing that its theoretical understanding would be of utmost importance.

How did Pauli and Jung meet? 

In 1930 Pauli experienced a personal crisis, which he referred to as a ‘big neurosis’, following the proposal of his neutrino theory due to the suicide of his mother (1927) who poisoned herself in response to his father’s involvement in an affair.  In response, Pauli married a cabaret dancer (1930), from whom he divorced within the year and began drinking heavily.  Following his father’s advice, he subsequently consulted psychotherapist Carl Jung in regards to his state of mind as they both lived near Zurich.  A reluctant patient, Jung and Pauli met initially simply to compare ideals; however, Pauli contributed to Jung’s synchronicity thesis and Jung contributed to Pauli’s understanding of the psyche’s archetypal and collective factors.  Eventually, Jung began interpreting Pauli’s archetypal dreams and Pauli became one of Jung’s best students.  Pauli, who was later known for his extreme analytical nature, criticized the scientific rationale behind Jung’s theories, causing Jung to clarify his thoughts, especially in regards to his concept of synchronicity.  Discussions between Jung and Pauli are documented in the Pauli/Jung letters, now published as Atom and Archetype (2014).  Additionally, Jung’s analysis of over 400 of Pauli’s dreams are documented in Psychology and Alchemy (1952).  These dreams contained an extraordinary array of archetypal images.

Pauli was well known as a very critical theorist.  In constant contact with Einstein, Jung, and Bohr throughout his life, he published his theoretical papers completely free of philosophical commentary; however, he was deeply interested in the philosophical aspect of physics and life.  Unlike much of the public of the time, Pauli took Jung’s work seriously.  Communicating most of his thoughts via letters between friends, Pauli seemed to be a compulsive writer, unable to think without a pen in hand.

How did Hitler’s rise to power effect Pauli?

Germany took over Austria in 1938, causing Pauli to become a German citizen.  As Hitler’s rise to power and take over of Europe ensued, Pauli attempted to obtain Swiss citizenship in 1940, in order to remain at the ETH Zurich (where he was still professor), to no avail due to his German citizenship.  Pauli subsequently migrated to the United States where he was employed as a professor of theoretical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study.  In 1945, Pauli was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the Exclusion Principle which was also known as the Pauli Principle.  After World War II ended in 1946, Pauli became a naturalized citizen of the United States, moving back to Zurich, Germany shortly thereafter.  Pauli was finally awarded Swiss citizenship in 1949 and was awarded the Max Planck medal (the highest award of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft for extraordinary achievements in theoretical physics) in 1958.

What were the circumstances surrounding Pauli’s death?

Unfortunately, Pauli fell ill with pancreatic cancer in 1958 causing him to remain at the Rotkreuz hospital in Zurich, Germany until his death on December 14, 1958.  Curiously, Pauli’s room number at the hospital was 137 which was intriguing to him because this number had been a synchronistic reoccurring event throughout his life.


Atmanspacher, H. (1996). The Hidden Side of Wolfgang Pauli. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/940/1/HiddenPauli.pdf

Pauli, W. (1946, December 13). Exclusion Principle and Quantum Mechanics. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1945/pauli-lecture.pdf

Wikipedia. (2017, February 20). Wolfgang Pauli. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Pauli

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