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Schrodinger, Erwin

Category: Genius

Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger (1887 –1961) was an Austrian theoretical physicist, who achieved fame for his contributions to quantum mechanics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1933. In 1935, after extensive correspondence with personal friend Albert Einstein, he proposed the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment. 

Schrödinger was born in Vienna.  His mother was half Austrian and half English; hence Schrödinger learned English and German at home.  He rose over the years through the academic ranks, and in January 1926, aged 39, Schrödinger published a paper on wave mechanics and what is now known as the Schrödinger equation.  This paper has been universally celebrated as one of the most important achievements of the twentieth century, and created a revolution in quantum mechanics, and indeed of all physics and chemistry.

A second paper was submitted just four weeks later that “solved the quantum harmonic oscillator” and gave a new derivation of the Schrödinger equation. A third paper in May showed the equivalence of his approach to that of Heisenberg. A fourth paper  showed how to treat problems in which the system changes with time, as in scattering problems. These papers were the central achievement of his career and were at once recognized as having great significance by the physics community.

To what do we owe this enormous burst of genius?

Making love!  Sex and passion in great droves. 

                          Schrodinger with his wife Anny

Schrödinger had unconventional relationships with women. Whilst his relations with his wife were good, he had had many lovers with his wife's knowledge. Anny had her own lover for many years, Schrödinger's friend Hermann Weyl. When Schrödinger left for Oxford he asked for his assistant to be accepted for transfer too because, at that time, he was in love with his assistant's wife Hilde.  Hilde became pregnant with Schrödinger's child”.

In 1933, Schrödinger left Germany and became a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.  On 4 November 1933 Schrödinger, his wife and Hilde arrived in Oxford.

But  “his  position at Oxford did not work out; due to his unconventional personal life”.  In 1934, Schrödinger left for the USA.  Princeton University were no more accommodating than Oxford had been, “his wish to set up house with his wife and his mistress posed a problem”. In the end, he settled for the University of Graz in Austria in 1936.  After extensive correspondence with his friend Albert Einstein, he proposed the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.

In 1939, after the Anschluss, Schrödinger had problems because of his known opposition to Nazism. He suffered harassment and received instructions not to leave the country, but he and his wife fled to Italy. He settled eventually in Dublin and became the Director of the School for Theoretical Physics.

During this time, he remained committed to his particular passion; “scandalous involvements with students occurred” [isn't this fun] and he fathered two children by two different Irish women.

In 1944,  he wrote What is Life?, which contains a discussion of the concept of a complex molecule with the genetic code for living organisms. According to James D. Watson's memoir, DNA, The Secret of Life, Schrödinger's book gave Watson the inspiration to research the gene, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure. Schrödinger stayed in Dublin until retiring in 1955, sexually exhausted [no I'm joking]. 

So we know that making love was his biggest mechanism of inspiration, what else was there? [If anything!] 

At an early age, Schrödinger was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer. As a result of his extensive reading of Schopenhauer's works, he became deeply interested in philosophy, perception, and eastern religion, especially Vedanta.  It was the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, which influenced his speculations at the close of What is Life? about the possibility that “individual consciousness is only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness pervading the universe”. World soul.   So the collection of Higher spirits are the unitary consciousness and the Conscious self and Will are the individual consciousnesses.

In the fifties, Schrödinger turned from mainstream quantum mechanics' definition of wave-particle duality and promoted the idea that there were no 'particles', there was only energy and that energy was either in motion [vibrating] or at rest [still, not vibrating].  He suffered 'considerable opposition' to this idea. 

On 4 January 1961, Schrödinger died in Vienna of tuberculosis at the age of 73. 

References

  • Nature and the Greeks and Science and Humanism Cambridge University Press (1996) ISBN 0521575508.
  • The interpretation of Quantum Mechanics Ox Bow Press (1995) ISBN 1881987094.
  • Statistical Thermodynamics Dover Publications (1989) ISBN 0486661016.
  • Collected papers Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn (1984) ISBN 3700105738.
  • My View of the World Ox Bow Press (1983) ISBN 0918024307.
  • Expanding Universes Cambridge University Press (1956).
  • Space-Time Structure Cambridge University Press (1950) ISBN 0521315204.
  • What is Life? Macmillan (1946).
  • What is Life? & Mind and Matter Cambridge University Press (1974) ISBN 052109397X.
  • A Life of Erwin Schrödinger, Walter J. Moore, Cambridge University Press, Canto Edition (2003) ISBN 0521469341.

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