Erwin Schrödinger : Vedantist and Father of Quantum Mechanics

Posted April 4, 2013 by Professor Subhash Kak in Historical Figures

There is a legend about a magic tree, kalpataru, that fulfills all wishes. Indian civilization is this tree of riches and wisdom. Kings and emperors sought to conquer India for its material wealth; the campaign of Alexander, the unceasing attacks of the Turks, the voyage of Columbus, the British empire—these had India as the focus. Indian sages, philosophers and mystics have held out a shining vision that has appealed to the world. Even Alexander took Indian yogis back to Greece with him. Indian thought influenced not only China and Southeast Asia, it may also have provided key impulses to Western thought. We find the Indic people in West Asia in the second millennium BC in the Kassite kingdom of Babylon and the Mitannis of Syria. The father of the famous Queen Kiya of Egypt was the Mitanni king Tushratha (or Dasharatha). The Indic element has been seen in the beginnings of Greek art. It is quite conceivable that the religious traditions of West Asia preserve a remembrance of their Indic past.The modern mind was shaped after adoption by the West of the twin beliefs of living in harmony with nature and search for a scientific basis to reality. In the past 300 years, these ideas of universality and a quest for knowledge have transformed European and American society. Many of the greatest writers and scientists of the past 100 years have taken inspiration from these Indic ideas.

Erwin Schrödinger

Perhaps the most remarkable intellectual achievement of the twentieth century was quantum theory, which is at the basis of our understanding of chemistry, biology, and physics and, consequently, it is at the basis of the century’s astonishing technological advances. One of the two creators of this theory was Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961). In an autobiographical essay, he explains that his discovery of quantum mechanics was an attempt to give form to central ideas of Vedanta which, in this indirect sense, has played a role in the birth of the subject. In 1925, before his revolutionary theory was complete,

Erwin Schrödinger wrote:

This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence,but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.”

Schrödinger’s influential What is Life? (1944) also used Vedic ideas.  The book became instantly famous although it was criticized by some for its emphasis on Indian ideas. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA code, credited this book for key insights that led him to his revolutionary discovery. According to his biographer Walter Moore, there is a clear continuity between Schrödinger’s understanding of Vedanta and his research: The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. In 1925, the world view of physics was a model of a great machine composed of separable interacting material particles.

During the next few years, Schrödinger and Heisenberg and their followers created a universe based on superimposed inseparable waves of probability amplitudes. This new view would be entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of All in One. He became a Vedantist, a Hindu, as a result of his studies in his search for truth. Schrödinger kept a copy of the Hindu scriptures at his bedside. He read books on Vedas, yoga, and Sankhya philosophy and he reworked them into his own words, and ultimately came to believe them. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita were his favourite scriptures.

According to his biographer Moore, “His system—or that of the Upanishads— is delightful and consistent: the self and the world are one and they are all. He rejected traditional western religious beliefs (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) not on the basis of any reasoned argument, nor even with an expression of emotional antipathy, for he loved to use religious expressions and metaphors, but simply by saying that they are naive.” Schrödinger was a professor at several universities in Europe. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1933. During the Hitler era he was dismissed from his position for his opposition to the Nazi ideas and he fled to England. For some years he was in Ireland, but after the conclusion of the World War II he returned to Vienna where he died in 1961.

Quantum mechanics goes beyond ordinary logic. According to it reality is a superposition of all possibilities which is very different from classical physics. It is quantum mechanics which explains the mysteries of chemical reactions and of
life. In recent years, it has been suggested that the secrets of consciousness have a quantum basis. In a famous essay on determinism and free will, Schrödinger expressed very clearly the sense that consciousness is a unity, arguing that this

“insight is not new From the early great Upanishads 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. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was, after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really to assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.”

He thought the idea of pluralization of consciousness and the notion of many souls to be naive. He considered the notion of plurality to be a result of deception (maya): “the same illusion is produced by a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys.

Schrödinger was a very complex person. But he had a sense of humor and paradox. He called his dog Atman. Perhaps he did this to honour Yudhishthira whose own dog, an incarnation of cosmic justice (Dharma), accompanied him on his last march to the Himalayas. More likely, he was calling attention to the unity that pervades the web of life.

Erwin Schrödinger Quotes

‘The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. In 1925, the world view of physics was a model of a great machine composed of separable interacting material particles. During the next few years, Schrodinger and Heisenberg and their followers created a universe based on super imposed inseparable waves of probability amplitudes. This new view would be entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of All in One’

Vedanta teaches that consciousness is singular, all happenings are played out in one universal consciousness and there is no multiplicity of selves.’

‘Nirvana is a state of pure blissful knowledge.. It has nothing to do with individual. The ego or its separation is an illusion. The goal of man is to preserve his Karma and to develop it further – when man dies his karma lives and creates for itself another carrier.’

‘There is no kind of framework within which we can find consciousness in the plural; this is simply something we construct because of the temporal plurality of individuals, but it is a false construction….The only solution to this conflict insofar as any is available to us at all lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishad.’

‘The multiplicity is only apparent. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads. And not of the Upanishads only. The mystical experience of the union with God regularly leads to this view, unless strong prejudices stand in the West.’

‘After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.’

“Some blood transfusion from the East to the West” to save Western science from spiritual anemia.”


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Dr Subhash Kak is an Indian American computer scientist.He is Regents Professor and Head of Computer Science Department at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater who has made contributions to cryptography , neural networks, and quantum information. He is also notable for his Indological publications on history, the philosophy of science, ancient astronomy, and the history of mathematics.His research in the fields of cryptography, random sequences, artificial intelligence, and information theory have been published in peer-reviewed journals. He proposed a test of algorithmic randomness and a type of instantaneously trained neural networks (INNs)
Kak’s writings concerning the astronomy of the Vedic period in his book The Astronomical Code of the Rigveda (1994) back “Indigenous Aryans” ideology, questioning conventional views on the Indo-Aryan migration and the nature of early Indian science.

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