Where by “very precisely” I mean “indistinctly at best”

In today’s mail: Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, out next April from Norton. You start scratching your head right from the beginning:

Could there be a single number at the root of the universe which is, as Douglas Adams has it in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “the answer to life, the universe, and everything?”…. Some have been convinced that the answer might be the very weird number 137, which on the one hand very precisely describes the DNA of light and on the other is the sum of the Hebrew letters of the word “Kabbalah.”

This business, together with the overwrought title and publicity copy, suggests the book is one of those that scampers about from numerical coincidence to numerical coincidence, announcing breathlessly at each brief stop another revelation about the underlying unity of science and mysticism, and imputing these revelations to famous scientists and mystics who deserve better treatment.

But a brief skim suggests that, once you get past the first page, the book is a sober and thoroughly researched account of the relationship between Pauli and Jung, who really did know each other — in fact, Jung analyzed Pauli extensively — and who really did take seriously each other’s ideas and the notion of some connection between them. This isn’t even the first book on the subject. So: probably worth a look if you follow either early 20th century physics or early 20th century psychology. But start on page 2.

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4 thoughts on “Where by “very precisely” I mean “indistinctly at best”

  1. JmSR says:

    My favorite bit of numerological ho-hah is that all prime numbered presidents since Lincoln have been Republicans (counting Johnson as a Repub because Lincoln was one too).

  2. David Speyer says:

    In a weak defense of this nonsense, it is the sort of miracle you could imagine God leaving as a hidden clue: the fine structure constant is defined without regard to any human conventions and the Hebrew language and numerology are in Kabbalistic thinking directly given by God. This example is far too small to be meaningful, but if the order of the monster turned out to be the product of the first verse of Genesis, I would start wondering if the Kabbalists knew something!

  3. Adam says:

    This must be similar to the use of “literally” to mean “figuratively.”

  4. Dirty Davey says:

    “My favorite bit of numerological ho-hah is that all prime numbered presidents since Lincoln have been Republicans (counting Johnson as a Repub because Lincoln was one too).”

    It’s a shame this doesn’t work the other way–all Republican presidents being prime numbered–as that would suggest the frequency of such would inevitably decrease over time.

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