August 12, 2009
Over his fecund scientific career, ERWIN SCHRÖDINGER (1887-1961) placed quantum wave mechanics on a firm mathematical basis, contributed to the theory of color measurement and perception, and, in the 1944 lecture “What Is Life?”, anticipated the molecular basis of genetic coding. Still, it’s that damned cat-in-a-box Gedankexperiment, proposed in 1930s correspondence with Einstein, that has kept his name alive among the non-labcoated set. Schrödinger meant to oppose the weird metaphysical implications of the “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum physics: even if we don’t know whether a bit of radioactive decay has killed an unobserved puss-puss (because of the probabilistic nature of the microphysical event), he argued that the macrophysical system (here, the cat) was determinately alive or dead. Nonetheless, the notion of spectral felines existing in some liminal/purgatorial/zombified state has inspired both science fiction (Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Anton Wilson), and all manner of pseudo-scientific speculations on consciousness and epistemology. At least Schrödinger hasn’t suffered his colleague Werner Heisenberg’s fate of becoming a character in a portentous “drama of ideas” (Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen), perhaps because his biography is insufficiently colorful. Except, you know, for the 40-year open marriage and fascination with Vedanta mysticism.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Buck Owens |
READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).