18 Schrödinger

What sustains all the metaphysical nonsense promulgated in the name of quantum theory is its mathematical core, and that is something that is immensely accurate and hugely impressive.

Schrödinger’s formula is commonly described as a ‘wave equation’. Given what has been written above about Schrödinger, it is perhaps surprising to find that he never accepted this description, referring in 1952 to the ‘so-called wave picture’[i], and in 1957 to ‘so-called wave mechanics’[ii].

Schrödinger’s view of his own extremely successful equation was therefore somewhat more sophisticated than that attributed to him by Jammer earlier. It is likely that he recognised that there were important structural differences between his equation and the wave equation in use for sound and other wave phenomena, and these will shortly be important. There is nevertheless nothing in it to suggest particles either, and Schrödinger strongly resisted such a conclusion.

As indicated earlier, he was meticulous in speaking and writing about physics, and this blunted his criticisms of the Copenhagen approach. In 1922, he criticised the ‘taken-for-granted manner in which the absolute determinism of molecular processes was accepted by everybody’[iii], but eleven years later, at the time of his Nobel Prize address, he saw greater danger in the rejection of determinism:

‘It is by no means a new demand to claim that, in principle, the ultimate aim of exact science must be restricted to the description of what is really observable. The question is only whether we must henceforth forgo connecting the description, as we did hitherto, with a definite hypothesis as to the real structure of the Universe. Today there is a widespread tendency to insist on this renunciation. But I think that this is taking the matter too lightly.’[iv]

This echoes the view of Poincaré in chapter 7 that ‘The mind will consent only when it sees reason for the agreement, and when this agreement even seems to be predictable.’[v]

The view that science must restrict itself to what is observable is derived from the philosophical position known as logical positivism. In philosophy this has the laudable (if overly ambitious) objective of eliminating claims and statements that can never be checked. In modern physics it has had the contrary and perverse effect of liberating physicists to suggest multiple universes, time travel and all manner of other implausible and unphysical features.

Schrödinger suggests that:

‘Such theoretical controversy is on a different plane. Physics has nothing to do with it. Physics takes its start from everyday experience, which it continues by more subtle means. It remains akin to it, does not transcend it generically, it cannot enter into another realm. Discoveries in physics cannot in themselves – so I believe – have the authority of forcing us to put an end to the habit of picturing the physical world as a reality.’[vi]

We have seen therefore that modern quantum mechanics consists of three elements, the photon, the positivist principle, and the mathematics, most valuably in the formulation of Schrödinger. We have seen that the evidence for the photon as particle is at best ambiguous, and that its acceptance has caused conceptual confusion at least as great as the problems it was intended to alleviate. And further that the positivist principle has been repudiated by several of the greatest physicists of the time, for example Planck who, as we saw in chapter 7, was from the day of his formula’s origination ‘occupied with the task of giving it a real physical meaning’[vii].

In physics, ‘logical positivism’ has become ‘illogical negativism’ in the rejection of determinism and a range of other important scientific ideas without offering any coherent replacement.

When a football team (Association, American, Gaelic, Australian Rules) gets into a habit of losing, it loses confidence in its methodology and players start to freelance, making the situation a whole lot worse. This is what has happened in physics over the whole of the past century. When it failed so thoroughly in its attempts to elucidate the nature of light, to resolve contradictions elsewhere, to determine a physical mechanism for gravity, it lost confidence in the scientific process and started to make it up as it went along, with the dire and frankly disgraceful consequences that we have seen.

If the Reader will permit a brief excursion into mathematics, we will attempt to rectify one key part of this failure.


[i] Science and Humanism: Physics in our Time – Erwin Schrödinger, CUP 1952, page 40

[ii] Science Theory and Man – Erwin Schrödinger (Allen & Unwin, 1957), page 160

[iii] Erwin Schrödinger, Inaugural Address at the University of Zurich, December 9th, 1922. It was published in an anthology, ‘Science Theory and Man’ in 1957 (Allen & Unwin), page 142.

[iv] Nobel Address delivered in Stockholm on December 12th, 1933

[v] H Poincaré – The Dynamics of the Electron, Rend. Del Circ. Mat. Di Palermo 21 (1906) 129; in Special Theory of Relativity – CW Kilmister  (Pergamon Press, 1970), page 145

[vi] Science Theory and Man, pages 203 to 204.

[vii] 1919 Nobel Prize address, “The Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory”.

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