… but, then again, nobody is perfect
Erwin Schrödinger (12 August 1887 – 4 January 1961)
a complex equation that still bears his name, wrote numerous works on various areas of physics, such as: statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, physics of dielectrics, colour theory, electrodynamics, general relativity, and cosmology and, in addition to all that, he also made several attempts to construct a unified field theory. And yet, despite such achievements, the very second his name gets mentioned, what happens? It’s as if a light comes on inside our heads, a bell rings and then, before you know it, those two familiar and oh-so-weary words have sprung instantaneously and unbidden into our minds. Come on now, admit it, you just did exactly the same yourself as soon as you saw his name, didn’t you? We all did, each and every one of us, just as if the imperious Pavlov himself was ringing the bell with all his main and might, because we just can’t help ourselves, can we? No sooner has the Schrödinger surname put in an appearance than there we are, thinking to ourselves in our smug and complacent fashion: oh yeah, Schrödinger’s Cat. Thus relegating the great man of physics and his lifetime’s career in scientific research and discovery to some goodly way below the status now enjoyed by his own moggie.
But, before we all start thinking, Poor Old Pavlov, what a bad deal the old duffer got, let’s remember that he “externalised” the saliva glands of his dogs (brought them onto the outside) so he could collect the saliva and see how much there was (as in the picture, from The Pavlov Museum, Ryazan), thus depriving the dogs of it, even though the enzymes in saliva are essential in the process of digestion. For all his attempts to base his image on that of an offduty Santa Claus, he carried out precisely the same surgical procedure on children too …
Actually, there is one essential difference between Pavlov and Schrödinger, which is that, in the case of Pavlov, his dogs were real ones, so much so that one of the poor devils ended up stuffed (rather unconvincingly, perhaps) in the museum of his hometown (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was from Ryazan also, though he evaded the taxidermist), whereas Schrödinger’s Cat was no more than a product of his own febrile imagination, an eidolon that would haunt him down through time. But he did have a cat, an actual one, called Merlin, though you’d suspect it had an innate fear of enclosed spaces and something approaching phobia when it came to sealed boxes. Of course, we should not be talking about the non-existent-and-never-did Schrödinger’s Cat at all but of The Schrödinger’s Cat Theory (or the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment), which was where the misunderstanding got started.
Copenhagen Interpretation. Sorry to keep banging on like a demented particle physicist (is there any other sort?) but, well, it makes you want to spit, really it does.
But let’s at least get the poor chap born first, shall we? Which happened on 12 August 1887 in Vienna, to a don’t really know, not quite sure, can’t make our minds up kind of a family, what we’d refer to nowadays as LibDems. His father, Rudolph, couldn’t choose between owning a lino factory and being a botanist and was Catholic too into the bargain; whilst his mother was the half Austrian, half English daughter of a Chemistry Professor and something of a Lutheran. This admixture of a little of everything may well explain why they decided to saddle him with the names of Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger, not that it matters much, seeing nobody ever remembers any of them, thanks to that Cat. Erwin himself turned out an atheist. Between 1906 and 1910, he was studying under pioneering and influential physicist, Franz S. Exner, and by 1911 had become his assistant, the first of a number of distinguished names in whose footsteps he would follow.
On 4 January 1961, Schrödinger died in Vienna at the age of 73 of the tuberculosis he had been afflicted with most of his life. Anny, his longsuffering wife, lived on until 3 October 1965. The fate of Milton the Cat is unknown, as is the name of his infamous mistress or what became of her. Schrödinger's quantum mechanical wave function is inscribed on his grave. As is always the way with scientists of high achievement, they bunged his image onto the money, in this case onto the Austrian 1000-Schilling banknote, the second-highest denomination. Bet it was that wretched Cat that got featured on the highest one …