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Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961)

Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) was born Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger in Vienna, where he also died. His name is sometimes spelled Erwin Schrodinger or Erwin Schroedinger too. He is known for getting the Nobel Prize in Physics (1933) and much else.

This Austrian physicist worked in the field of quantum theory, and his work took part in forming the basis of wave mechanics: he formulated the wave equation (stationary and time-dependent Schrödinger equation) and theoretical works for understanding matrix mechanics.

Schrödinger was the author of many works in various fields of physics: statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, physics of dielectrics, colour theory, electrodynamics, general relativity, and cosmology, and he made several attempts to construct a unified field theory. Schrödinger paid great attention to the philosophical aspects of science, ancient and oriental philosophical concepts, ethics, and religion. He also wrote on philosophy and theoretical biology.

Being raised in a religious household, he called himself an atheist, but he had strong interests in Eastern religions and pantheism, and used religious symbolism in his works.

He learnt English outside of school, because his maternal grandmother was British. He studied in Vienna and conducted experimental work there.

At an early age, Schrödinger was strongly influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer and as a result became deeply interested throughout his life in colour theory and philosophy. In his lecture "Mind and Matter", he said that "The world extended in space and time is but our representation." This is a repetition of the first words of Schopenhauer's main work.

In 1921, he became full professor in Breslau (now in Poland), but moved to the University of Zürich. In 1927, he succeeded Max Planck at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. In 1934, however, Schrödinger decided to leave Germany; he disliked the Nazis' anti-semitism. He went to the University of Oxford. Soon after he arrived, he received the Nobel Prize together with Paul Dirac.

Now, he shared living quarters with two women, and that was not acceptedfull well by all the others there. In 1934, Schrödinger lectured at Princeton University, was offered a permanent position there, but did not accept it. Again, his wish to set up house with his wife and his mistress may have created a problem. He could have got a position at the University of Edinburgh but took up a position at the University of Graz in Austria in 1936.

In 1935 he proposed the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment. The philosophical issues raised by Schrödinger's cat are still debated in popular science.

In 1938 the University of Graz dismissed him from his job for political unreliability. He and his wife fled to Italy. From there, he went to visiting positions in Oxford and Ghent University. In the same year he got a personal invitation from Ireland's prime minister to reside in Ireland and help establish an Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin. He moved to Clontarf, Dublin, became the Director of the School for Theoretical Physics in 1940 and stayed in Dublin until retiring in 1955. He became a naturalised Irish citizen in 1948, but retained his Austrian citizenship. He wrote about 50 further publications on various topics, including his explorations of unified field theory.

Schrödinger had a lifelong interest in 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.

In 1956, he returned to Vienna (chair ad personam). During this period Schrödinger promoted the wave idea in quantum physics.

1961, Schrödinger died in Vienna at the age of 73 of tuberculosis. His wife, Anny, died in 1965.


In January 1926, Schrödinger published 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 of all physics and chemistry. Schrödinger's equation is his most enduring legacy at a more technical level.

A second paper was submitted just four weeks later that solved the quantum harmonic oscillator, rigid rotor, and diatomic molecule problems and gave a new derivation of the Schrödinger equation.

A third paper, published in May, showed the equivalence of his approach to that of Heisenberg and gave the treatment of the Stark effect.

A fourth paper in this series showed how to treat problems in which the system changes with time, as in scattering problems. In this paper he introduced a complex solution to the Wave equation in order to prevent the occurrence of a fourth order differential equation, and this was arguably the moment when quantum mechanics switched from real to complex numbers, never to return.

These papers were his central achievement and were at once recognized as having great significance by the physics community.

To this day, Schrödinger is known as the father of quantum mechanics.


If we think we can picture what is going on in the quantum domain, that is one indication that we've got it wrong. [Erwin Schrödinger]

The scientist only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity, imposes them upon himself and upon other scientists. [Erwin Schrödinger]

What we observe as material bodies and forces are . . . shapes and variations in the structure of space. [Erwin Schrödinger]

Physics does not consist only of atomic research, science does not consist only of physics, and life does not consist only of science.

Thinking, so far as it concerns the outer world, [if] it cannot be fitted into space and time, then it fails in its whole aim and one does not know what purpose it really serves. [Erwin Schrödinger]

If you cannot – in the long run – tell everyone what you have been doing, your doing has been worthless. [Erwin Schrödinger]

Particles are just schaumkommen (appearances). [Erwin Schrödinger]

The majority of educated persons . . . are not aware that scientific knowledge forms part of the idealistic background of human life. . . . They are prepared to leave this task to the specialists, as they leave the repairing of their pipes to the plumber. [Erwin Schrödinger]

From Mind and Matter

Nirvana is a state of pure blissful knowledge. [Erwin Schrödinger]

Man is to preserve his Karma and to develop it further . . . when man dies his Karma lives and creates for itself another carrier. [Erwin Schrödinger]

Writings of July 1918, quoted in A Life of Erwin Schrödinger (1994) by Walter Moore ISBN 0521437679 --> Consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else. [Erwin Schrödinger]

I insist upon the view that 'all is waves'. [Erwin Schrödinger]

The recognition ATMAN = BRAHMAN (the personal self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the happenings of the world. [Erwin Schrödinger]

The plurality that we perceive is only an appearance. [Erwin Schrödinger]

Inconceiveable as it seems to ordinary reason, you – and all other conscious beings as such – are all in all. Hence . . . that sacred, mystic formula ... 'Tat tvam asi' – this is you. [Erwin Schrödinger]


Erwin Schrödinger Quotations, Literature  

Schrödinger, Erwin. Space-Time Structure. London: Cambridge University Press, 1950.

Schrödinger, Erwin. What is Life? With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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