Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts

Friday, March 19, 2021

Allied Alchemists

137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession
Arthur I. Miller
Nonfiction 363 pages

Despite the title, you’ll have to read the final chapter before you learn much about the number 137. But that doesn’t hurt this double biography. Along the way you’ll learn about the numbers three and four and what they meant to Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd, one a pioneer of science, the other a mystic.

While three is the number of the trinity, four is that of the cardinal directions. C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli both examined the symbolism of these numbers.

Their relationship began when Pauli approached Jung for therapy. Although, Jung referred him to one of his pupils, Jung took an active interest in Pauli’s analysis. As their friendship developed, Pauli found an outlet for his mystical, intuitive side. Jung hoped that Pauli could lend a more scientific foundation to Jung's brand of psychology.

Jung believed that the human psyche was populated by archetypes which supplied symbolic meaning. Certain numbers, among them three and four, could take on archetypal qualities in dreams and visions. Just as these numbers appeared in myth and alchemical texts, they also appeared in Pauli’s dreams and in his efforts to discover the structure of the atom.

Early in his career, Pauli worked with Niels Bohr whose theory of the atom hinged on three quantum numbers. But the theory wasn’t complete until Ralph Kronig proposed that electrons had a spin of one half and others provided evidence. Spin became the fourth quantum number, but its addition meant that electrons could no longer be visualized.

Pauli and Jung both believed in the paranormal, unlike Jung’s mentor Sigmund Freud. Once while arguing with Freud about parapsychology, Jung experienced a feeling like his diaphragm was turning into hot iron. Just then, a loud noise came from Freud’s bookcase and both men jumped. Jung remarked that the event was an example of “a physical effect brought about by a mental thought.” Freud was merely dismissive.

Pauli was a believer in what his colleagues named the Pauli Effect. The frequent failure of equipment in the presence of Pauli made the theoretician unwelcome in physics laboratories due to his Pauli effect. People suffered from the Effect as well. On one occasion the chairs to Pauli's right and left of Pauli simultaneously collapsed, dislodging the women seated upon them.

Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to account for a type of paranormal phenomena. Synchronicity is what Jung calls meaningful coincidences that have no apparent cause. For example, on one occasion a woman was discussing her dream of a scarab when one tapped on Jung’s office window. The coincidental appearance of a real scarab profoundly affected Jung’s patient and allowed her to benefit from her therapy. Telepathic and precognitive dreams are other examples of synchronicity.

The causal universe of Newtonian physics was displaced early in the twentieth century by the arrival of quantum physics. Events at the quantum level could no longer be said to be causal – they are probabilistic. Both Pauli and Jung were well aware of this and Pauli had no difficulty accepting the possibility of synchronicity.

The friendship between the two resulted in the 1952 publication of “The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche,” a volume containing two essays — Jung’s “Synchronicity: an acausal connecting principal” and Pauli’s “The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler.”

Returning to 137 — the number occurs several places in the book. Bohr’s theory was tested by examining the spectral lines created by the light emitted when an electron drops from a higher to a lower orbit. Some of these were found to consist of closely spaced individual lines known as the “fine structure.” The distance between the lines of the fine structure of a spectral line, Bohr called “the fine structure constant.” Pauli was able to determine that this constant is a pure number equal to 1/137 or 0.00729. He wondered why 137 and not some other number — a question that was to occupy much of his professional life.

In addition to being a prime number, there are several other interesting facts about this number. The values of the Hebrew letters which spell the word Kabbalah total 137. So do the Biblical phrases, “The God of Truth” and “The Surrounding Brightness,” and the Hebrew word for “crucifix.”

But perhaps the oddest coincidence was that the hospital room in which Pauli died was number 137. When Charles Enz visited Pauli, he informed Enz that the room was number 137, “I’m never getting out of here alive.”

Miller’s book is an interesting mixture of biography and science and very hard to put down. For those who understand the math, Miller supplies a bit to ponder. But for the most part, the book can easily be enjoyed by non-scientists.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Jung at heart— the psychiatrist’s memoir

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

C. G. Jung. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe, Translated by Richard and Clara Winston
Non-fiction, 430 pages

Carl Gustav Jung wrote his fittingly titled, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” late in his life. As Jung recollects his childhood, youth and career, readers gain insight into his intellectual development and the origins of his theories. Even at an early age, Jung knew his understanding of God was different from that of his minister father. His understanding was intuitive, bordering on mystical. His father understood God in a more conventional and rational manner. Though Jung had a scientific mind, he also possessed a sense of wonder in the natural world, an understanding of myth and an acceptance of the paranormal. Though highly intelligent, his unconventional thinking earned him scorn and disrespect from teachers and peers. Even after Jung became well respected, many of his peers questioned his theories. Regardless, Jung was, and remains, a major influence in psychotherapeutic and personality theories.

Early in his psychiatric career, Jung was influenced by Sigmund Freud. Initially Freud considered Jung the likely heir to his theories. Jung, however, could not accept Freud’s emphasis on sexuality as a major force behind psychic activity. To Jung, man was far more than his sexuality.

To Jung, psychic phenomenon encompasses not only the unconscious and conscious, but also anything that can be conceived by the psyche, including the opposites of those conceptions: “The fact, therefore, that a polarity underlies the dynamics of the psyche means that the whole problem of opposites in its broadest sense, with all its concomitant religious and philosophical aspects, is drawn into the psychological discussion... Leaving aside their claim to be independent truths, the fact remains that regarded empirically—which is to say, scientifically—they are primarily psychic phenomena. This fact seems to me incontestable. That they claim a justification for themselves is in keeping with the psychological approach, which does not brand such a claim unjustified, but on the contrary treats it with special consideration.”

Freud used the myths of Oedipus and Electra to explain children’s sexual desires toward their parents and their developmental adaptations to those desires. Like Freud, Jung used myth to explain psychic phenomena, but Jung went further, developing the concept of archetypes, and mining myth for richer meaning. Speaking about the need for myth, Jung states, “Meaning makes a great many things endurable—perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science… We cannot explain an inspiration. Our chief feeling about it is that it is not the result of our own ratiocinations, but that it came to us from elsewhere.”

Though no substitute for a basic primer on Jung’s theories, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” provides insight into the nature of the man himself. Jung was a complex personality, willing to be both rational and mystical at once, a man who embraced both scientific empiricism as well as philosophical speculation. Unlike many scientists of his time, Jung doesn’t dismiss subjective experience as unscientific. He embraces his intimations, dreams, visions and paranormal experiences and attempts to understand them.

Jung’s description of his near death experience is especially fascinating. Unlike other narratives of this type, Jung doesn’t encounter a spiritual being in heaven. Rather, he meets his attending physician. During his convalescence, Jung realizes that he encountered his physician because the doctor is, himself, close to death. When Jung later learns that his doctor has died, he concludes that his intuitions had been correct. Jung’s memoir contains several paranormal anecdotes, which Jung treats with both an open mind and a desire for explanations.

Jung’s memoir will interest historians of psychological thought, Jungian practitioners and interpreters of mythology. Others will appreciate Jung’s candor in revealing his personal life—especially his ability to reconcile belief in both the natural and the supernatural and his appreciation for both scientific and mystical knowledge.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Psychiatrists and little green men

C. G. Jung. Translation by R. C. F. Hull

C. G. Jung tells us that modern reports of UFOs began during the final years of World War II with sightings in Sweden and Germany. They continued after the war with sightings chiefly in America, but also in Europe, Asia, the Sahara, and the Antarctic.

Jung believed that there wasn't enough evidence to say flying saucers existed physically. Enough evidence existed, however, for examining the psychological significance of UFOs. He does so by examining dreams and art objects in which UFOs occur.

Regardless of whether they exist physically, UFOs are psychologically significant and the increase in reports regarding them may be evidence that humanity is creating a new myth. Jung feels that in a progressively materialistic world, there’s a need to replace the function formerly served by religion with a new mythos, perhaps one involving UFOs.

I can’t say that I entirely agree with this conclusion. While it is certainly true that some people have adopted a scientific viewpoint that is skeptical of many traditional teachings, others have rejected outright such scientific theories as the evolution of species or the antiquity that science assigns to the earth.

Jung also believes that threats to individuality, such as communism or fascism are an additional factor causing people to develop a new mythos. UFOs, being round, are reminiscent of mandalas, which are archetypal expressions of the self. Mandalas often appear in dreams when individuals are struggling to unify the disparate aspects of personality which together constitute the self.

I’m not convinced that what’s behind the UFO mythos is a threat to individuality. Communism was not the only threat during the cold war. The possibility of nuclear oblivion was also considered very real at the time Jung wrote this essay. It makes sense that many UFOs were observed in the proximity of military installations. Perhaps people desired the intervention of a more advanced civilization to protect mankind from itself.

Symbols, in Jung’s view, can have multiple meanings. This certainly seems to apply to UFOs. When Jung was writing, UFOs presented a possible mechanism for mankind’s salvation. This was before the literature became crowded with accounts of alien abductions. Jung does not address those who claim to have been prodded and probed, not to mention, violated and raped by aliens. Those reports came later, and what they signify, I can only speculate. Perhaps it indicates a rejection of a redeeming alien civilization in favor of one which would manipulate us for its own ends.

In addition to their appearance in dreams and art, UFOs could also be psychic projections, according to Jung. “At various times all sorts of other projections have appeared in the heavens besides the saucers.” These include the visions seen by troops at Mons during World War I, by crusaders during a siege of Jerusalem, and the visions of three children at Fatima, Portugal.

Perhaps visions are not that unusual. Perhaps what is unusual is their frequent appearance in saucer form since World War II. Yet it is also possible that UFOs are both real and psychic phenomena. In this case, their appearance would often be what Jung considers synchronistic events, that is, coincidences that are psychically significant. Since UFOs sometimes show up on radar screens, Jung reasons they may sometimes be physical phenomena. Unless, of course, psychic phenomena also shows up on radar.

This slender volume was originally published in “Civilization in Transition” which is the 10th volume in Jung’s collected works. Jung wrote it in 1958. The first English translation appeared in 1959.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Altered Traits

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson 
Non-fiction, 336 pages

I read many dull research papers in school. Since then I’ve concluded that research oriented psychologists can’t write, while therapy oriented psychologists don’t understand science. I’ve changed my view. Authors, Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, are both able researchers and writers.

This is great. I’ve read far too much well done research that doesn’t say much and far too much self-help psychology that cherry picks science.

The authors spent decades studying meditation, and are honest enough to say where their research was poorly designed or flawed. They began their research in the 1970s before tools such as fMRI and SPECT became available and learned a lot over their years.

Books about science and fiction by Steig Larrson can be repetitive. That’s necessary sometimes. While reading this book, expect repetition. It’s worth it: this is the definitive book on meditation research.

The authors discuss research into three types of meditation, “focusing on breathing; generating loving kindness; and monitoring thoughts without getting swept away by them.” Each of the three meditations can cause mental changes, some brief and some lasting. While breath or mantra meditators requires multiple sessions before change can be noticed, loving kindness meditation brings results after only a single session.

Temporary changes, while interesting, are not the same as altered traits. These require years of meditation. Yogis who’ve spent decades practicing the third type of meditation have yielded astonishing findings. “Gamma, the very fastest brain wave occurs during moments when differing brain regions fire in harmony, like moments of insight when different elements of a mental puzzle ‘click’ together.” Gamma wave activity lasts only a fifth of a second for most people, but some yogis can generate gamma waves for minutes at a time, even in their sleep. I’d love to know what’s on their minds. Guess I should meditate more.