The Pauli effect is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the apparently mysterious failure of technical equipment in the presence of certain people, particularly theoretical physicists. It is named after the Austrian theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli.

The Pauli effect is not to be confused with the Pauli exclusion principle, which is a bona fide physical phenomenon.

History[edit | edit source]

Since the 20th century, the work of physics research has been divided between theorists and experimentalists (see scientific method). Only a few physicists, such as Fermi, have been successful in both roles. Lacking skill and experience in experimental work, many theorists have earned a reputation for accidentally breaking experimental equipment. Pauli was exceptional in this regard: it was said that he was such a good theorist that any experiments would self-destruct simply due to his presence. For fear of the Pauli effect, the German-American experimental physicist Otto Stern banned Pauli from his laboratory despite their friendship.

An incident occurred in a physics laboratory at the University of Göttingen. An expensive measuring device, for no apparent reason, suddenly stopped working. Obviously, the head of the research group concluded, they had fallen victim to the Pauli effect; but, as someone countered, Pauli was on his way to Zürich, so that was not possible. When this story was related to Pauli, though, Pauli recalled that at that moment he had indeed been in Göttingen — waiting for a connection at the train station.

The Pauli effect, if it were real, would be classified as a "macro-psychokinetic" phenomenon. Wolfgang Pauli, however, was (according to his biographer Enz) convinced that the effect named after him was real — Markus Fierz, a close colleague, says "Pauli himself thoroughly believed in his effect".[1] As Pauli considered parapsychology as worth serious investigation, this would fit with his scientific thinking. In February 1950, when he was at Princeton University, the cyclotron burnt, and he asked himself if this mischief belonged to such a Pauli effect, named after him.[2]

The Pauli effect at the foundation of the C.G. Jung Institute, Zürich 1948,, caused Pauli to write his article "Background-Physics", in which he tries to find complementary relationships between physics and depth psychology.[3]

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

The effect is highlighted in the Mr. Bean television series, where Mr. Bean is shown interfering with television reception merely by his presence.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Enz (2002), p. 150.
  2. Pauli, Wolfgang; et al (1996). Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel mit Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, u.a., ed. Karl von Meyenn, p. 37, Berlin: Springer.
  3. Pauli, Wolfgang; Jung, C G (2001). Atom and Archetype: the Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932-1958, ed. C.A. Meier, pp. 179-196, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Enz, Charles P (2002). No Time to be Brief: A Scientific Biography of Wolfgang Pauli, New York: Oxford University Press.

External links[edit | edit source]

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