Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Dream tigers in the cathedral for isomorphy


Brasilia cathedral

The physicist dreams that a major war is being waged. He wants to send news to his colleagues but his messages are censored. Then a mathematician he knows and trusts appears with his wife. The mathematician says to the scientist, clearly and firmly, “Cathedrals should be built for isomorphy.” The wife expands on this, but the scientist can’t understand her speech. She gives him written texts, but he can’t read them. However he wakes in great excitement feeling (as he put it) that the dream is “fundamental“.


The physicist is Wolfgang Pauli, the pioneer of quantum mechanics and Nobel laureate. The date of his dream was September 6, 1954. He included his dream report in his voluminous correspondence with Carl Jung.
Pauli was quite familiar with the term “isomorphy” from mathematics, where it is used to describe identity of form, or reproduction of the same form. For Pauli, “cathedrals are open to all”, so he sensed that the dream related to taking technical language and difficult concepts and making them accessible to a larger audience in order to explain important things. The urgency of the task was underscored by the context of war, the difficulty by the dream censors coming between him and those he wished to reach.
Then there’s the matter of what the mathematician’s wife is trying to communicate the scientist can’t receive. Pauli must have puzzled over that, but as far as I know there is no record of what he made of it. If it were my dream, I would have a strong suspicion that what the wife could have contributed was a way of communicating a complex idea through stories and example drawn from everyday life – the kind of stories that would speak to people where they live.
This dream prompted Pauli to suggest to Jung that “isomorphy” might be a better term for many forms of meaningful coincidence than “synchronicity”, the term that Jung invented. I think Pauli was right, and I have decided I am going to make a concerted attempt to bring this term into our common vocabulary. (“Isomorphy” is a recognized term in structural anthropology, but is unknown to the general public.) This is not a matter only of bookish wordplay, but of rising to a clearer understanding of our daily engagement with the deeper reality.
Pauli dreamed of “cathedrals for isomorphy” when he and Jung were engaged in a long investigation of what they had rightly come to view as the supreme issue for both psychology and physics: how mind and matter interact, and whether, when we go as deep as we can possibly go, we will find that mind and matter, psyche and physis, are one and the same. On the experiential level, our best chance of learning about these things is to track meaningful coincidence – and above all, isomorphy, in the sense of the recurrence of identical or similar forms.



You dream of a tiger, let’s say. You notice, in the morning, that the light falling through the slats of the venetian blinds in your study tiger-stripes the room. You sit down at your desk and a quote you jotted down from Borges’ poem “The Other Tiger” pops out of an old notebook:
       …I go on
Seeking through the afternoon time
The other tiger, that which is not in verse

You go to your Facebook page and find a friend has posted a brief account of a dream on the eve of the winter solstice, the night of the lunar eclipse, about a scary tiger that becomes less terrible by the end of the dream. You remember that years ago, the morning after another lunar eclipse, you wrote a story titled “Moon Tiger” about a scary tiger that came down to earth but was gentled and contained. You go out to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and in the cute neighborhood store that sells potpourri and bath salts and seasonal baskets, the front table is full of plush toys dominated by….a tiger. Then friends remind you that according to the Chinese calendar, we are in the Year of the Tiger, and will be until February 3, the Chinese New Year.  And you can hardly miss the fact that today, Tiger is one of the forms that returns.

Noticing this kind of thing isn’t necessarily about getting a message or a “hit” on something specific. It’s more about noticing how life rhymes, developing your flair for pattern recognition. To build a “cathedral for isomorphy” in your own life, notice the themes and symbols that keep reentering your perception..

Oh, right, Tiger isn’t done yet. I was about to sign off this post when a Korean friend messaged me to say that this isn’t just any Year of the Tiger: “It is a special Tiger. White Tiger, which means good luck. It won;t return in the cycle for another sixty years!  Lots of Chinese and Koreans are trying  to give birth while we are still in the Year of the White Tiger.”

Dream Tiger courtesy of Marilyn Scott-Walker at The Toymaker’s Journal

  • Rachel

    My 8 year old son is having a reaccuring dream of a severed seahorse head floating in a swimming pool. In his dream he runs home in terror, only to find a dead horse lying in his room. What does this mean. I know that a dead horse means disappointment and the sea horse means opportunity. But what does the severed seahorse head mean? This is very scary for him and horses are his life. He was born in the year of the horse. (which, by the way, he knew before I did)He rode his first horse when he was two years old. (under strict supervision, ofcoarse) now it seems like the horse is leading him somewhere, but I cant really understand it all. I would like to help him. Your in put?

  • Savannah

    It looks like isomorphy multiplies much like coincidence too… I read your essay earlier tonight, over dinner at a Japanese neighbourhood restaurant. When I finish I turn my chair and look up from my phone screen straight at a wall mounted tile… with the bas relief image of a yellow tiger stalking its prey. There is a sign right below, a Japanese character. I call over the waitress and ask her if she knows what it says. Puzzled but willing, she dashes over to the serving counter where within moments six sushi chefs and servers are engaged in animated debate, gesticulating wildly. I wait smiling, and thinking it’s pretty funny it takes six people speaking fluent Japanese several minutes to interpret one character. Eventually the waitress makes her way back to me and hesitates… I’m not sure how to explain, she says, but you know the circle with 12 animals? I take a guess… the Zodiac? Yes, she nods, this is the year of the tiger, next year the hare? I realise the wall plaque is part of a calendar and the sign simply reads “TIGER.” My English isn’t very good, she apologises, you understand what I mean? Perfectly, I grin. Then I tell her what I’d been reading over dinner.

  • Louisa

    If the isomorphy cathedral dream were mine, the mathematician and his missus would be Kurt Gödel and his doting wife Adele, a perfectly mismatched couple of a crazy genius of mathematical logic and a dancer from a Viennese nightclub Der Nachtfalter, The Moth. One of Gödel’s colleagues wrote that Adele had “a real flair for the mot juste… and a knack for amusing”. But mind you, she stuck by her husband through thin and very, very thin for fifty years, so she must have known of something more real than castles in the air.

  • Irene

    I am beginning to understand that if I am to rise “to a clearer understanding of our daily engagement to a deeper reality”, I must develop a more interactive dialogue with the people (and animals, etc.) of this deeper reality. Engagement, for me, implies action, conscious modification of something in the physical world, ceremony or other. So Robert could you suggest what you could do to follow up on this tiger isomorphy.
    Rachel, I would strongly suggest doing Lightning Dream Work with your son. I have great fun doing it with my children and am always surprised at how their understanding of their own inner landscape is so often different from anything I could have possibly offered as mere interpretation.

  • Wanda Burch

    Building a cathedral of isomorphy…I like that. In my architectural dreaming, this phrase speaks to me; and I love those days when everything falls together in a life-rhyming manner. I even enjoy the simple ones that happen to all of us all the time, such as yesterday wondering whatever happened to…a person I had not thought about in more than 30 years. I opened my email and she had found me on Facebook. “Hi,” she says. “Is this really Wanda Easter….? Can we catch up if it is.”

  • Robert Moss

    Wanda – I love your richly detailed architectural dreams. By further isomorphy, I found myself watching a made-for-TV version of Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth last night; it’s about the construction of a medieval cathedral. As for your long-lost friend seeking you out when you were thinking of her, for me this is an example of yet another mode of meaningful coincidence, the one Mark Twain (a great student of these things) called “mental telegraphy” – of mind reaching to mind.

  • Robert Moss

    Irene – Yes, I agree with you about the need for action and embodiment of what comes through from the world-behind-the-world. Since I have long been conscious of walking with Tiger (as well as other animals) this isn’t much of a stretch for me. In my shamanic practice, Tiger is a wonderful ally in facilitating soul recovery. I have written poetry for Tiger, and a story that I may now dust off and post here. And of course Tiger needs to be fed, in the literal way and in others.

  • Robert Moss

    Louisa – Thanks for this very interesting sleuthing! Pauli identifies the mathematician in his letter to Jung only as “A”. If Adele Gödel is “Mrs A” that puts a very interesting spin on things in terms of Pauli’s own psychology, because Pauli also married a cabaret dancer – one who ditched him (for a chemist) within less than a year.

  • Robert Moss

    Savannah – Ah, yesterday was clearly a Day of the Tiger!

  • Robert Moss

    Rachel – If this were my son, I would want to develop a practice of working and playing with dreams with him that goes beyond trying to figure out what individual images mean. He is not too young to learn and practice our Lightning Dreamwork process with you, for starters. Are you helping him to keep a dream journal, and to draw and write his dream images? This can be very helpful in its own right.
    As for the dream of the seahorse’s severed head and the dead horse in the room, I can’t help thinking about how these images evoke the horrific scene of the horse head in the bed in the original “Godfather” movie, and I would think carefully about whether (1) my son was exposed to that scene at an early age and/or (2) whether anyone in the family ambit bears any resemblance to “Godfather” characters.

  • Justin Patrick Moore

    Isomorphic Calisthenics: A form of dynamic exercise used to “develop a flair in pattern recognition” (RM). Can be used to jog memory towards a knowledge of ones higher purpose. Also a fun game to get a spinal kundalini rush of insightful kicks.

  • Nancy

    I was born in the Year of the Tiger 60 years ago, and would love to be here for 60 more years! I’ve dreamed of a tiger prowling behind my bed, and felt an edgy kinship with him — not a cuddly kitten cub! Of course I love the song “Eye of the Tiger”, that come-from-behind never-say-die determination, staying tough, staying hungry. Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past!

  • Robert Moss

    Justin – I love it! I’m reminded now of those words for different body times – endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph. I’m thinking that an isomorphic gymnast might well be a metamorph.

  • Robert Moss

    Nancy – whoa-hoo! World look out!

  • Ananna

    This is Brilliant! I love the idea and action of making a word like this into the daily life. I can see it as a way to “rising to a clearer understanding of our daily engagement with the deeper reality”. Isomorhy especially carries, for me, a way of connection through mapping of two events, systems, perceptual levels,… Your statement of “It’s more about noticing how life rhymes, developing your flair for pattern recognition” and not so much about getting a hit, is like saying music is more then just the score on a page.
    PS An interesting experiment might be to change the coincidence thread to isomorphy? I wonder how the forum dreamers perceptions or dreams might expand with this one shift of a word?

  • Robert Moss

    Patty – I love your enthusiasm! Nonetheless, we’ll be crafty as a night-stalking tiger about how exactly to insinuate “isomorphy” into the discussion.

  • Ananna

    So it takes more then “just the facts mam”. Like reintroducing a tiger “back into” mass takes more then a calm tiger walk down the isle. It might be obvious to the tiger how she fits into the homily, but might be taken as a eulogy to those current caretakers of cathedrals.

  • Robert Moss

    Patty – Now you have set a line from T.S.Eliot (from his poem “Gerontion”) padding through my mind: “In the juvescence of the year Came Christ the tiger…”

  • Azima

    Tiger is a very strong totem for me. Back in the day (about 30 years ago) my totem was the fawn or deer. My assertive and fiery aspects were quite repressed, or at least shall we say unexpressed in waking dream. Then as I was working with this, getting in touch with my power through dreamwork and neo-Reichian breathwork, I had a dream in which a tiger devoured a deer, and I woke up exhilarated, knowing that I was now the tiger AND the deer. So it’s good to be reminded that we’re in the home stretch of the Year of the Tiger. And good to know that we’ll be headed into the Year of the Hare, which evokes for me ALL the trickster friends: Hare, Fox, Coyote, Raven… Should be quite a year – again!

  • Robert Moss

    Azima – Your feelings around the dream where the tiger devoured the deer ring absolutely true. A primal and authentic experience of shamanic integration. As you know, shamanic types work with many animal guardians.

  • Patti Frankel

    I love this. Speaking of isomorphy, I’ve just finished writing a paper for school in which I talk about the necessity of, and importance of, new words and the shapes and forms they bring to our consciousness: finding them, creating them, inventing them, being open to being given them, recapturing old words and bringing them to the forefront again. So, isomorphy it is! Also I love this because white tiger is a particularly strong totem for me. So the year of the white tiger, when I read this, went through me like a zinger. I will add ‘isomorphy’ to my paper, by the way. :) I have quoted you quite a bit in it anyway. Speaking, again, of isomorphy. Finally, my favorite new word was given to me a couple of nights ago in a dream. In the dream, Jung says to me, regarding something I’m working to manifest in my life: “Trust the richness of your own expansionation!” Expansion + imagination = expansionation. Cheers!

  • Robert Moss

    Patti – Sounds like a great paper, and it’s very auspicious to give birth to it while we are still in the Year of the White Tiger…

  • Rachel

    Try this one on for size. My son says he can’t keep a dream journal because he keeps a top secret dream headquarters where he trains to become a warrior. I haven’t tried the lightening thing yet though, I have do some research on it. Keep you posted. BTW.. I don’t believe he has ever seen the godfather. I did ask everyone around him. They didn’t watch the godfather.

  • Robert Moss

    Rachel – Well then, when he’s scared by other dreams, ask him to bring the allies and weapons he needs from his Secret Dream HQ to deal with the problem.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs M

    Late to the party here. Just realized this essay was posted the day after I signed papers for a new apartment. There is a bookstore on my new street called… “The Other Tiger”. Lots to think (and dream) about.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ma Lazibones

    I just lost my comment so to be brief: the dead horse in the dream: it is for one, literal. The boy is receiving info of a horse passing, or that has passed. It’s just a news item, an obituary, could be pre-cog. Then also duality is the key to most dreams….so more…
    I have had tiger dreams and it’s okay.

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