Hans Primas is a professor emeritus of chemistry at ETH in Zurich, with strong interests in psychology and philosophy inspired by the work of C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli
and their collaborations. Primas' scientific work is in nuclear magnetic resonance (his student and colleague Richard R. Ernst won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1991 for work on NMR), on formulations of quantum mechanics, on the problem of measurement
, and on realism in quantum theory.
is a neutral enabler of experience
(perceptions) that faces both the material
world (objects) and the immaterial
(a subject with concepts)
With Harald Atmanspacher
, Primas edited the 2009 book Recasting Reality
, papers delivered at a conference on Wolfgang Pauli's Philosophical Ideas and Contemporary Science
. The conference goals included the idea of a psychophysically neutral monism with mind and matter
as dual aspects
, which Pauli favored. This dual-aspect monism represents a seriously discussed alternative to reductionist
or materialist accounts in current discussions in the philosophy of mind and psychology.
Primas' 2009 article, "Complementary of Mind and Matter," is an exegesis of what may have been Pauli's thoughts on psyche
- mind and matter.
1 Introduction: Pauli on Mind and Matter
At the end of his authoritative article The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on
the Scientific Theories of Kepler Wolfgang Pauli (1952, p. 164) stated:
He continued with the visionary remark:
1. How can we characterize "physis"?
2. How can we characterize "psyche"?
3. What do we mean by "complementarity aspects"?
4. What do we mean by "the same reality"?
These questions are not yet well-defined - there are many possible answers.
In the following I propose a scenario in which Pauli's vision can be discussed
consistently in simple and mathematically well-defined terms which allow us
to work out additional details. Thereby I adopt an ontological monism, combined
with an epistemic symmetry breaking leading to an epistemic dual-aspect
approach. The dual aspects refer to tenseless descriptions in terms of a
homogeneous time and to tensed descriptions in terms of a non-homogeneous
time characterized by a privileged instant, the Now.
2 The First Problem: What is Matter?
2.1 Pauli's Answer
Even the answer to the apparently easy question "what is matter?" has
changed dramatically several times since 1644, when Descartes classified matter
and mind as distinct substances. At any rate, the traditional characterization
of the physical as res extensa and of the mental as res cogitans does
not allow to construct a workable theory for the mind-matter problem.
Similarly we cannot adopt atomism, which was the starting point of historical
classical science: the idea that there exist theory-independent elementary
objects, for example in the sense of Newton:
"God in the Beginning form'd Matter in solid,
Today nobody defends Newton's atomistic ontology any more. Nevertheless,
the naive reductionism which tries to explain all phenomena in terms of entities
at a supposedly lowest level of theoretical description is still popular.
This approach fails simply because the presumed lower level entities do not
exist in a theory-independent sense.
Modern quantum mechanics put an end
to atomism. The so-called "fundamental" entities (such as electrons, quarks,
or gluons) represent patterns of reality, yet they are not building blocks of
reality. They are not primary, but rather secondary and derived, in the same
sense as solitons are localized excitations of water, and not building blocks
There is a bewildering diversity of concepts of matter. Certainly no substantial
advance in the mind-matter problem can be achieved without a clear
characterization of what we mean by matter. Fortunately we can find a modern
answer to the question What is Matter? in Pauli's (1954) contribution
to the International Symposium Presented in Honor of the Two-Hundredth
Anniversary of Columbia University:
massy, hard, impenetrable moveable Particles".
"Matter has always been and will always be one of the main objects of
physics. . . . even light has become matter now, due to Einstein's discoveries.
It has mass and also weight; it is not different from ordinary matter, it too
having both energy and momentum."
2.2 Matter and Homogeneous Time
Adopting Pauli's answer, we have to recall that energy conservation is subject
to a fundamental theorem by Emmy Noether (1918) which provides a deep
connection between symmetries and conservation laws: For every conservation
law, there exists a continuous symmetry. By definition, energy is the conserved
quantity related to the time-translation symmetry. The concept of energy is
meaningless if time is not homogeneous. In other words, energy conservation
holds only if the presupposed equations of motion do not contain any preferred
moment of time.
3 The Second Problem:
"Taking the existence of all these transmutations into account, what remains
of the old ideas of matter and substance? The answer is energy. This is the
true substance, that which is conserved; only the form in which it appears
How to Characterize the Mental Domain?
3.1 Violation of Physical Laws?
A recurrent theme in discussions of the mind-matter problem is the alleged
violation of physical laws - usually without giving a precise account how we
have to understand a "physical law". Yet, the scope of validity of conservation
laws is well understood: a conservation law holds if and only if the system
considered is invariant under the corresponding Noether-symmetry operation.
Therefore it makes no sense to argue as Bunge (1980, p. 17) does:
"If immaterial mind could move matter, then it would create energy; and
if matter were to act on immaterial mind, then energy would disappear. In
either case energy . . . would fail to be conserved. And so physics, chemistry,
biology, and economics would collapse."
Intentional influences are not invariant under time-translations, so that in
this case any argument involving energy conservation is misplaced. Whenever
energy is well-defined, it is conserved by definition. Therefore it makes no
sense to speak of the violation of energy conservation.
3.2 The Physical World is Not Causally Closed
Physicalism as a doctrine about the empirical world, claiming "that mental
entities, properties, relations and facts are all really physical". Or in another formulation: "Physics can, in principle, predict
the probability with which a human body will follow any given trajectory"
(Putnam, 1992, p. 83). Many philosophers assume a metaphysical naturalism,
claiming that the realm of the physical is "causally closed". In the weakest
conception, causal closure means that "every physical phenomenon that has
a sufficient cause has a sufficient physical cause". According
to Kim (1980, p. 40) another way of stating the principle of physical causal closure is this:
"If you pick any physical event and trace out its causal ancestry or posterity,
that will never take you outside the physical domain. . . . If you reject
this principle, you are ipso facto rejecting the in-principle completability of
This argument is not correct. It is true that under very general conditions
any causally open physical system can be embedded into a causally closed
time-invariant description with a larger state space. However, such an ad hoc
extension presupposes a two-way determinism, where the present is "mathematically
determined jointly by the past and future, however remote". That is, only if the external influences are given for all past and future
times, then we can reconstruct a local time-invariant deterministic description.
Even if we can reconstruct a causal ancestry (which is by no means unique)
in every particular case, this does not imply the possibility of a global causal
The assertion that "modern science is premised on the assumption that
the material world is a causally closed system" is in striking
contradiction to experimental science. Every experiment requires an irreversible
dynamics. No experiment refers to a closed physical system. In a
strictly deterministic world it would neither be possible to perform meaningful
experiments nor to verify the partially causal behavior of a physical system.
We conclude that science neither assumes that the material world is a causally
closed system, nor that physical laws imply the causal closure of physics.
3.3 Experimental Physics Requires Intentionality
All experimental science is based on the understanding that the actions of
an experimenter are intentional, and not actions which happen to him. There
are no physical laws which cover intentionality (understood as the mind's
directedness upon objects).
Experimental physics demands the distinction of
past and future, the concept of the now, and the freedom of the experimenter
to choose initial conditions. To test experimentally whether a given physical
system is causal, it is indispensable that the experimenter has the freedom to
deliberately choose (within well-defined limits) a stimulus and then to record
the response. Moreover, it is required that an experiment can be repeated at
any particular instant.
Sometimes it is claimed that such a freedom is illusory. Yet, without this
freedom all experimental science would be pointless:
as to which experiment to do is defended even by determinists
like Einstein, who saw physical theories as the "free creations of the human mind."
To deny the freedom of action of an experimenter
Every experimental investigation presupposes that the specific design and
implementation of an experiment is compatible with, but not exclusively determined
by, known physical laws. This situation does not imply that the first
principles of physics are inconsistent or not valid, but only that they cannot
account for intentionally chosen experimental arrangements and initial
conditions. This fact "proves that contingency is an essential feature of the
is to deny the meaningfulness of experimental science.
5 The Fourth Problem:
Primas' description of Jung's three domains suggests they are fundamentally informational
, thus we can argue for a triple-aspect monism.
How to Characterize the "Unus Mundus"?
5.1 A Model of a Holistic Universe of Discourse.
For convenience but without loss of generality we divide the universe into three mutually compatible parts recognized as a mental domain, a material domain, and an interface between these domains.
Hans Primas' interests have covered an
enormous range: methods and instruments for nuclear magnetic resonance,
theoretical chemistry, C- and W-algebraic formulations of quantum mechanics,
the measurement problem and its various implications, holism and
realism in quantum theory, theory reduction, the work and personality of
Wolfgang Pauli, as well as Jungian psychology.
In many of these elds he provided important and original food for
thought, in some cases going far beyond the everyday business in the scientific world. As is the case with other scientists who are conceptually innovative,
Hans Primas is read more than he is quoted. His influence is due to
his writings. Even with the current
flood of publications, he still performs
the miracle of having scientists eagerly awaiting his next publication.
His external life, by way of contrast, is not very spectacular. With the
exception of a brief period as a guest professor at Washington University
at St. Louis, he has never been away from Zurich for any length of time. He
has never been awarded any prizes, never organized a congress, never done
any organizational work in a scientific society. He deliberately distanced
himself from the hustle and bustle of national and international scientific
Hans Primas' professional career started in 1945 with an apprenticeship
as a chemical laboratory assistant for an industrial company in Oerlikon,
close to his home city of Zurich. In 1948 he began to study chemistry at
the Technikum in Winterthur. In 1953 he became a research chemist at the
Laboratory for Organic Chemistry, which was headed at the time by the
Nobel laureate Leopold Ruzicka. In addition to taking courses in mathematics,
he also attended lectures by Wolfgang Pauli
during this period.
Under the aegis of Hans-Heinrich Gunthard, Primas became one of the
founding members of the Laboratory for Physical Chemistry at the ETH in
Zurich, where he stayed until his retirement. In 1960 he received his habilitation
in the Chemistry Department and became an associate professor for
Physical Chemistry one year later. 1966 saw him appointed as full professor
for theoretical chemistry. He was Dean of the Chemistry Department for
the periods 1967-68 and 1976-78. In 1991 his former doctoral student and
co-worker Richard R. Ernst was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for
his work on nuclear magnetic resonance.
The present volume takes up some of the discussions Primas has initiated
or inspired. It deals with fundamental problems in the theory of matter
and related philosophical questions. The individual articles have not been
professionally reviewed and any editing has been restricted to matters of
form. As a special feature of this book, and as a special service for the
reader, each contribution is preceded by a brief introduction ("contextual
background"), written by the editors, which places it in its scientific context
in general or in the context of Primas' work in particular. The first
three articles are an exception in this respect; to some extent they can be
understood as background material themselves. In addition to the subjects
they address, they also show aspects of Hans Primas' stature as a scientist.
The main body of the volume is organized according to the keywords
"matter" and "mind", the first category focusing on physically oriented
topics and the second on those of a philosophical nature. At the end of
the volume, the reader will find a list of publications by Hans Primas until
1998, the addresses of all contributors, and an index.
After his retirement in 1995, the life of Hans Primas keeps being dedicated
to scientific and general cultural matters. His workload is still enormous.
And he is still no friend of pomp and circumstance - in fact he
strongly dislikes such ceremonies. What he does like - and above all respect
- is competent and constructive criticism. Habent sua fata libelli:
this book is intended to provide valuable ideas and give rise to perceptive
criticism or innovative research projects. This is the spirit from which it
emerged, and this is the purpose to which it is dedicated.
Anton Amann Freiburg/Garching
Harald Atmanspacher Zurich