When I opened my new guidebook at random, of all things, it happened to fall on a page listing an alchemical museum. I was delighted at the thought of visiting on my upcoming trip to Prague what was billed as the only alchemical museum in the world. Yet when I looked a second time I saw it was closed for the summer. Instead I had to satisfy myself with rereading an article on alchemy by physicist Wolfgang Pauli I had found very thought provoking. He uses the work of Johanus Kepler as a lens through which to view the transition from alchemy to the classical scientific perspective.
Pauli is best known for his work on the spin of elementary particles. As a particle physicist he grappled closely with the wave particle duality. He also was a patient and collaborator of Carl Jung. He worked with Jung to integrate the intuitive, imagistic, and feeling material that came through his dreams with his much stronger thinking side. Like Jung, he came to feel that both mind and matter were manifestations of the same primary material or force prior to both. The article called "The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler" appears in a volume with an essay of Jung's on synchronicity. The book is entitled The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche and was first published in 1955.
Kepler (1571-1630) was a devout Christian with mystical tendencies as well as an important figure in the history of science. Converted to the Copernican heliocentric universe early in his career by his tutor, he became obsessed with proving that the planetary orbits were circular. He was strongly influenced by, among other things, neo-Platonic philosophy, which explored the harmonious mathematical relationships behind music and tried to generalize these to nature as a whole. Kepler saw the Divine in the regularity of geometry and saw the cosmos as what might be called Divine Geometry. The sphere was for him the most perfect geometric form. He felt its harmonious proportions encoded the Triune Christian God (with the Son standing for Creation), the relationship of the soul to the body, of God to the human soul, and, at least early on, of the sun to the planets. (The picture is a model of Kepler's early view of the solar system.) He thought the soul responded instinctively to the harmonies of the sphere because, as Pauli puts it, by virtue of its circular form [it] is an image of God, in Whom these proportions and the geometric truths following therefrom exist from all eternity. " Below are a few passages from Harmonices mundi, Kepler's book on "the harmony of the worlds."
... the movement of a point located in the center [of the sphere] to a single point on the surface, represents the first beginning of creation, emulating the eternal generation of the Son in that the center flows out towards infinitely many points of the whole surface, which, under the rule of the most perfect equality, is formed and described by infinitely many lines; and this straight line is, needless to say, the element of corporeal form.
The point spreads itself out over this extension so that point and surface are identical, except for the fact that the ratio of density and extension is reversed. Hence there exists everywhere between point and surface the most absolute equality, the closest unity, the most beautiful harmony[literally: breathing together!], connection, relation, proportion, and commensurability. And although Center, Surface, and Distance are manifestly Three, yet they are One, so that no one of them could be imagined to be absent without destroying the whole.
...the circle beautifully fits into the intersecting plane (of which it is the circumscribed limit) as well as into the intersected sphere by way of a reciprocal co-incidence of both, just as the mind is both inherent in the body, informing it and connecting with corporal form, and sustained by God, an irradiation as it were, that flows into the body from the divine countenance; whence it [the mind] derives its nobler nature.
Alas poor Kepler, working with the careful astronomical data collected by Tycho Brahe, found that the planetary orbits are not circular. However his commitment to geometry had not failed him since he eventually was able to show that they are elliptical. He also determined that a planet swept out equal areas of its orbit in equal time periods (click for an animation of Kepler's 2nd Law. Finally he recognized the mathematical relationship between the (mean) distance of a planet from the Sun and the size of its orbit. By doing so he found a much more complex harmony in nature, which finally enshrined the sun at the center of the universe. Kepler's work was essential to the formulation of the law of gravity by Newton, who lived from 1643 to 1727.
The final part of Pauli’s article explores the vitriolic controversy between Kepler and his contemporary Robert Fludd, a practitioner of alchemy.
Kepler's understanding of a rational universe ultimately grounded in the harmonies of mathematics collided with the traditional alchemical view based on a “archaic-magical” apprehension of nature in which boundaries between the real and the symbolic were completely absent. Like Kepler, Fludd understood the Divine to be reflected in the cosmos, yet much more dimly. Thus the relationship between the Divine and his creation was not harmonious for Fludd and other alchemists. They saw a cosmic struggle between form as the light principle, and matter, or darkness, which dwells in the earth. This struggle could only be redeemed by the alchemical process, which releases from matter its latent light and by the same token transforms the alchemist. The pictures below, what Fludd called "hieroglyphic figures," demostrate his view of the cosmos.
Pauli writes, "Fludd never distinguishes clearly between a real, material process and a symbolical representation. Because of the analogy of the microcosm to the macrocosm the [al]chemical process is indeed at the same time a reflection of the whole universe.... After the withdrawal of the formal light principle matter remains behind as the dark principle, though it was latently present before as a part of God…. In the middle, the sphere of the sun, where these opposing principles just counterbalanced each other, there is engendered in the mystery of the [al]chymic wedding the infans solaris, which is at the same time the liberated world soul."
Quantitative measurement has no role in, and was indeed a threat to, Fludd's understanding of the universe. Pauli quotes Fludd's spirited attack on Kepler's Harmonicies mundi and defense of the alchemical approach.
...What he has expressed in many words in long discussions I have compressed into a few words and explained by means of hieroglyphic and exceedingly significant figures, not, to be sure, for the reason that I delight in pictures (as he says elsewhere), but because I…had resolve to bring together much in little and, in the fashion of the alchemists, to collect the extracted essence, to reject the sedimentary substances, and to pour what is good into its proper vessel; so that, the mystery of science having been revealed, that which is hidden may become manifest; and that the inner nature of the thing after the outer vestments have been stripped off, may be enclosed, as a precious gem set in a gold ring, in a figure best suited to its nature---a figure, that is, in which its essence can be held by eye and mind as in a mirror and without many-worded circumlocutions.
For it is for the vulgar mathematicians to concern themselves with quantitative shadows; the alchemists and Hermetic philosophers, however, comprehend the true core of the natural bodies.
...I contemplate the internal and essential impulses that issues from nature herself; he has hold of the tale, I grasp the head; I perceive the first causes, he its effects.
If you know of another mathematics (besides that vulgar one from which all those hitherto celebrated as mathematicians have received their name), that is, a mathematics that is both natural and formal, I must confess that I have never tasted of it, unless we take refuge in the most general origin of the word...and give up the quantities. Of that, you must know, I do not speak here. You, Robert, may keep for yourself its glory and that of the proofs to be found in it---and how accurate and how certain those are, that, I think you will judge for yourself without me. I reflect on the visible movements determinable by the senses themselves, you may consider the inner impulses and endeavor to distinguish them according to grades. I hold the tale but I hold in my hands; you may grasp the head mentally, though only, I fear, in your dreams. I am content with the effects, that is, the movement of the planets. If you shall have found in the very causes harmonies as limpid as are mine in the movements, then it will be proper for me to congratulate you on your gift of invention and myself on my gift of observation---that is, as soon as I shall be able to observe anything.
Pauli points out that Kepler, a transition figure, overstates the empirical impetus behind his ideas. Pauli is also unwilling to side completely with the quantitative mode that Kepler defends, lamenting what was lost in the transition to the classical science that was to come. (Even thought Newton was a devoted alchemist, he kept his scientific work and writing separate from his alchemical concerns.)
Whereas as Kepler conceives of the soul almost as a mathematically described system of resonators, it has always been the symbolical image that has tried to express, in addition, the immeasurable [emphasis added] side of experience which also includes the imponderables of the emotions and emotional evaluations. Even though at the cost of consciousness of the quantitative side of nature and its laws, Fludd’s "hieroglyphic" figures do try to preserve a unity of the inner experience of the "observer" (as we should say today) and the external processes of nature, and thus a wholeness in its contemplation....
Pauli felt psychology as well as physics was beginning to bridge the gap between the quantative and qualitative that Kepler's work helped bring about. My sense is that more than 60 years after Pauli's article, this important coming together of the quantitative and the qualitative is still just beginning.