Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Schrödinger and friends

I am revisiting some of Erwin Schrödinger's beautifully-written essays in which he reflects on science, life and religion. (The Canto paperback published by Cambridge University Press incorporates What is Life? and Mind and Matter as well as Autobiographical Sketches.)

Schrödinger was profoundly influenced by Vedantic thought and, when I read him previously, I was more interested in and respectful of mysticism than I am now. It will be interesting to see whether I still feel I can endorse his view of the world.

He was not a paragon of virtue. An only child, he had a very happy childhood, though he admits that as a young man he neglected his ailing parents. I know that he fell out with Albert Einstein, and, though I don't know the circumstances, I believe that Schrödinger was at fault.

And here is a paragraph from Autobiographical Sketches (1960). It strikes a rather odd - and disturbing - note. But it should be noted that the Schrödingers stayed only a brief time in Jena, and Hitler's rise to power was well over a decade away.

In March/April 1920 Annemarie and I got married. We moved soon after to Jena, where we took furnished lodgings. I was expected to add some up-to-date theoretical physics to Professor Auerbach's set lectures. We enjoyed the friendship and cordiality of both the Auerbachs, who were Jews, and of my boss Max Wien and his wife (they were anti-Semites by tradition, but bore no personal malice). Being on such good terms with them all was a great help to me. In 1933, the Auerbachs, I am told, saw no means of escape from the oppression and humiliation which Hitler's taking over ... held in store for them but suicide. Eberhard Buchwald, a young physicist who had just lost his wife, and a couple called Eller with their two little sons were also amongst our friends in Jena. Mrs. Eller came to see me here in Alpbach last summer (1959), a poor bereaved woman whose three men-folk had lost their lives fighting for a cause they did not believe in.


  1. Did he really have a cat?

    1. I was determined not to raise the cat issue but, now that you have, I'll have to address it! And I can't tell you whether he owned a cat, but he did have, I think, a very positive attitude towards animals in general which he may have taken from Schopenhauer (from whose writings he learned about Vedanta).

      On July 31, 1914, his father came to tell him that he had been called up and they went to buy two guns, "a small one and a large one".

      "Fortunately," Schrödinger writes, "I was never forced to use them on either man or animal, and in 1938 during a search of my flat in Graz I handed them over to the good-natured official, just to be sure."

      The "man or animal" phrase reflects his love of animals, but the last bit about the "good-natured [Nazi?] official" is a bit strange.