Erwin Schrödinger, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, is widely known for the wave equation and the Schrödinger’s cat paradox. His contribution in various fields of physics include: statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, physics of dielectrics, color theory, electrodynamics, general relativity, and cosmology. He made several attempts to construct a unified field theory. He shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with Dirac for his work on wave mechanics.
Schrödinger was born on 12 August 1887 in Vienna, Austria, to Rudolf Schrödinger and Georgine Emilia Brenda. From an early age, Erwin was interested in astronomy; he would ask his aunt Minnie to stand representing the Earth while he ran around her like the Moon, and then make her walk in a circle around a light representing the Sun while he continued to run around her. Schrödinger was taught at home, by tutors and parents, until he was 11. In 1898, he began his education at Akademisches Gymnasium. He was an outstanding student, with mathematics and physics being his favorite subjects. He would always readily help the weaker students in these subjects. In 1906, he enrolled at the University of Vienna and obtained his doctorate in 1910, upon which he accepted a research post at the university’s Second Physics Institute. In 1914, Schrödinger’s first important paper developing ideas from Boltzmann was published. In 1920, he took up an academic position as assistant to Max Wien, followed by positions at Stuttgart, Breslau, and at the University of Zurich for six years. In 1926, he published his work, providing a theoretical basis for Niels Bohr’s atomic model. The equation later became known as Schrödinger’s wave equation. In 1927, Schrödinger moved to Berlin as Planck’s successor. In 1936, he accepted a position at the University of Graz, and in 1938 moved to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin, where he became Director of the School for Theoretical Physics. He remained in Dublin until his retirement in 1955.
His deep-seated interests other than physics and mathematics were philosophical aspects of science, ancient and oriental philosophical concepts, ethics, and religion. During his stay in Dublin, he pursued his lifelong interest in understanding life, philosophy and metaphysics. His publications along these lines include: What Is Life? (1944), Nature and the Greeks (1954), My View of the World (1961).
Although throughout his life he was actively engaged in a variety of subjects of theoretical physics, he was convinced that the scientific picture of the real world around was very deficient. He remarked, “It (scientific picture) is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity.” He opined that the answers to the metaphysical questions about life, freewill, mind, consciousness could be sought from the Vedic literature of India. From an early age, Schrödinger was strongly influenced by the philosophy and Eastern religion of the Austrian philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He was profoundly attracted to many of the Greek philosophers and to Vedanta, the ancient Indian Philosophy. His ideas about consciousness were greatly influenced by the Upanishads and Vedanta. He strongly believed in the non-dual aspect of Vedanta which propounds the existence of a single universal consciousness underlying the apparent variegatedness of the manifested world. Such a worldview, according to him, naturally facilitates a universal peace and harmony among all living beings. Schrödinger acknowledged that the answers for various metaphysical questions like mind-body problem, consciousness and the meaning of life can be sought in the Eastern philosophy, which he believed to be very much coherent with observations made in science. In the book titled “Erwin Schrödinger’s worldview”, Johann Götschel and Werner Leinfellner write, “Schrödinger became the father of all those scientists and philosophers who have tried to integrate Eastern holistic solutions into the ‘Lord’s quantum mechanics’ – as stated by himself in 1948. …” Thus his ideas anticipated the new paradigm of science incorporating Eastern philosophy.