Pauli’s ‘loveless sex’ on Radio 4

Graham’s praise of Wolfgang Pauli’s ‘lovely sex’ in the brothels of Hamburg has recently drawn criticism from on-line commentators. This followed the live broadcast of Radio 4’s In Our Time about Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, a programme that also featured the physicist Frank Close and the historian of science Michela Massimi. In the show, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, Graham referred to the great physicist’s own description of his nocturnal activities: ‘sexual excitement … without feeling, without love and indeed without humanity’. This is why Graham spoke of ‘loveless sex’, the phrase that several listeners misheard. ‘I need to work on my enunciation’, Graham says.

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Wolfgang Pauli (RHS) with Werner Heisenberg (centre) and Niels Bohr (LHS) c. 1938


This was Graham’s first appearance on In Our Time. He was impressed by the amount of preparation that apparently goes into every show: ‘I had not appreciated how much effort goes into telling a coherent story’. Most impressive of all, though, is the sheer variety of topics that the show’s production team handles – from The California Gold Rush to TS Eliot’s The Waste Land and Modernity, two of Graham’s favourite radio programmes in recent years.

Graham says that his only regret about the recording was that he did not find an opportunity to point out that the term Pauli’s Exclusion Principle is a misnomer. Theorists can now derive the concept from the special theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, so we should really use the term that Pauli himself originally used when he proposed an exclusion ‘rule’.

NB Pauli made his comments on his night-life in Hamburg in a letter to the publisher Paul Rosbaud, 13 December 1955, in volume 6 of Pauli’s correspondence.