Schrodinger is most famous today for three things: 1) Schrodinger’s Cat [which I won’t go into in this series of posts], 2) his Wave Theory (which I’ve already talked about), and also 3) his book, What Is Life?
In What Is Life?, Schrodinger presented many of the questions scientists would struggle to answer in the twentieth century– questions they continue to wrestle with today. This book influenced an entire generation of biologists and chemists, as well as many a philosopher. And it is still an important book today to thinking people the world over. But I won’t be delving into What Is Life?, either. Perhaps it will make The Three Hundred all on its own one day (?).
What I want to write about in this post is Schrodinger’s general worldview. And as before, I am grateful to use as my source, Walter Moore’s SCHRODINGER: Life And Thought.
Erwin Schrodinger wanted to believe. In something.
“Skepticism alone is a cheap and barren affair,” he once wrote.
Schrodinger sought his whole life for Truth, and felt he came closest when he embraced the teachings of the Vedas. He came early to the Vedic idea that All Is One, and he never strayed far from that conviction. I think this underlying philosophy is what drove him in the direction of his Wave Theory Of Matter. At one time he genuinely believed that all matter is made up of energetic vibrations– though later, at least publicly, he backtracked from that physical interpretation of his equations.
Schrodinger was perplexed by the fact that, out of many minds, we could construct one world. The reality that each person’s otherwise sealed-off consciousness somehow shared in the perception of one existence was an astonishing fact to him that he felt most of us took for granted merely because of its familiarity. He believed there could only be one solution to this paradox: all of our individual selves are united in a single, underlying consciousness.
According to the teachings of the Upanishads, one person’s soul (the Atman) is identical with the all-comprehending universal over-soul (the Brahmin). This is sometimes referred to as the Identity Doctrine of Vedic philosophy.
From this belief, Schrodinger developed an ethical worldview. “We living beings all belong to one another,” he wrote. “We are all actually members or aspects of a single being.”
Schrodinger (influenced greatly by Schopenhauer) believed that “for the one who has found the highest God everywhere, that man will not harm himself through himself.”
Schrodinger thought that humankind is evolving into a true social animal, and that the moral doctrine “Be Unselfish” reflects this evolution.
He wondered if, ethically speaking, what is now passed down culturally may one day be passed down genetically, manifesting itself instinctively in all human beings. Currently, thought Schrodinger, the Be Unselfish doctrine is more of a social imposition, and the tendency of our individual egos to resist it is “the resistance of the existing shape to the transforming chisel.”
Schrodinger had, I think, retained hope in some form of an afterlife. He agreed, at least sometimes, with Kant that Time was something that humans create and impose upon the Universe. If so, he reasoned, Time has no power over us since it is the mind that controls Time, not Time the mind. The mind, in other words, will survive Time.