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Foundations o f Physics, Vol. 18, No.

3, 1988

The Philosophy of Erwin Schriidinger:

A Diachronic View of SchriJdinger's Thoughts
Miguel Ferrero Melgar 1
Received April 29, 1987
There is no agreement within the scientific community about the philosophy o f
SchrOdinger. Some people think that he was a realist, while others defend him as
an idealist. In this paper we study a number o f Sehr6dinger's works and we show
that the epithets of realist and idealist do not do him justice. Toward the end we
conclude that it would be more adequate to place him in the trend known as the
philosophy o f immanence.

1. I N T R O D U C T I O N
One thing that has always caught one's attention when reading papers and
books about q u a n t u m physics, its history and philosophical meaning, is the
contradictory situation in which E. Schr6dinger is presented. There are
m o d e r n writers for w h o m the m a n whose centenary we are now celebrating
was without any d o u b t a r e a l i s t - - t o mind comes now, for example, the
names of F. Selleri, (~) K. R. Popper, (2) E. Bitsakis, (3) and N. Herbert, ( 4 ) while there are others for w h o m he was certainly an idealist. It is easy to
remember here K. R. Popper, (5~ A. Shimony, (6),2 and B. d'Espagnat. (7) To
us this was a mystery. H o w is it possible that so m a n y people, b o t h
philosophers and scientists, n o w and twenty years ago, support so strongly
these opposed views a b o u t the same person? Where is the origin of this
confusion? Have the previous questions a clear answer? That is, is it

1Departamento de Fisica, Universidad de Oviedo, 33007 Oviedo, Spain.

2 Shirnony does not say exactly that Schr6dinger was an idealist. In fact, if we understand him
correctly, Shimony's interpretation of Schr6dinger is close to the one we give here when he
states that: "d'une part, il [Schr6dinger] d6fend le r6alism physique.., d'autre part, il
propose une m6taphysique id~aliste...." (in book quoted in Ref. 6, p. 90).
0015-9018/88/0300-0357506.00/0 1988 Plenum Publishing Corporation


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possible to say plainly that Schr6dinger was in fact a realist, an idealist, or

neither of them? Our aim in this paper is to attempt to answer these
questions by studying a number of scientific and philosophical writings of
E. Schr6dinger in chronological order. ~8~ We must confess at the outset
that we are not a hermeneutist by vocation, but only after going through
these writings will we endeavor to reach a conclusion that would be bold in
any other way.
There are--at the very least--two main difficulties in this work, and
we ought to identify them before continuing. The first one is that we didn't
use all the works Schr6dinger wrote, but a few, Of course, this is not usual
in this kind of work and, as a consequence, someone could say that our
conclusion is not reliable because our sources have been biased. Against
this idea, we have only two things to say. The first is that the works used
are enough in number and sufficiently widespread in time as to cover the
essential aspects of Schr6dinger's thought. We thus hope that our choices
are not tendentious. The second one is that we refrained from making use
of secondary sources, that is, of all that others had said about
Schr6dinger's philosophy. The reason is that, in spite of how useful that
would be, the length of our paper would be greatly increased.

2. T H R E E A L T E R N A T I V E S

This is not a treatise on basic philosophy (the person who most

recently intended to write one, Mario Bunge, is now in this seventh
volume, and, naturally, he has not been able to finish it) and, indeed, we
know it would be very pretentious even to attempt one (even more, we
want this work to come to a close), so we will state briefly what we understand by the two key words: realist and idealist.
For the purposes of this paper, the word realist must be understood in
the following sense: Things have a real existence whether they are perceived
or not. The most fundamental feature of the realist position is then to put
at the beginning of its reflections the outer world and not the self, the consciousness, or the mind. Of course, the problem of realism is a very old
one, and we are not daring enough to try to solve and clarify it here in a
few pages in, at least, these three aspects: psychological, philosophical, and
physical. We only need a clear criterion in order to understand
Schr6dinger's thought, and that can be achieved by considering only the
physical side of the question. In this context realists are those who think, to
use a well-known sentence, that the moon is there when nobody looks at it;
and not only the moon: also the fireplace, electrons, trees, neutrons, and so
on. For a realist all these things are real, whether observed or not. They

A Diachronic View of Schr/idinger's Thoughts


exist independently, before and after the existence of knowing mind

(known things are not products of the relation of knowing and they don't
depend essentially, in its existence or behavior, on such a relation).
Within the realist doctrine, one can find mainly two different trends:
the metaphysical and the gnosiotogical. The first one puts its accent on
what the real is, while the second emphasizes how one knows it. As we
have said above and from the point of view of physics, we are interested
here mainly in the gnosiological aspect. This has in its turn two faces:
(1) So-called naive realism maintains that the outer physical world is what
it seems to be--knowledge is merely a mirror of reality. (2) Critical realism,
as stated by Einstein, among others, in his celebrated paper with
B. Podolsky and N. Rosen, claims that the outer world is sometimes
different from what it seems to be: Our perception is constructive not
specular, so we must take into account the distinction between the objective reality, which is independent of any theory, and the theory which tries
to capture it in a complete ("every element of the physical reality must have
a counterpart in the theory") and correct form (through conjectures and
refutations--to say something). For the naive realist physics is only a
description of things; for the critical realist physics is the dynamical
adequacy to the external world, to concrete things. Theories are representations of reality, images of the real world; they put the facts together in an
intelligible and objective frame, roughly speaking. A critical realist is not
satisfied only with a mathematical structure that allows a predictive
calculation of the outcomes of the experiments--what can be observed by a
measuring device. He wants to understand what is going on; in short, he
wants also explanations of what is actually happening.
The word idealist must be understood in the sense that the mind, the
consciousness, or the self is the first reality and that the outer world is
determined by consciousness. That does not mean that mind is the only
reality, but that one begins by dealing with the representation of the world,
not with the world itself. Within the idealist tendency one can also find a
number of different schools, ranging from pantheism (we are all parts of
one Mind [-there is only one mind called God or Brahman]) to the
solipsism (my self, my mind is the only thing I can know to exist).
It is very common among some physicists, (9~ when speaking about
realism and idealism, to use a different approach to explain this matter:
They employ the words monism (reality consists only of one basic element,
mind or matter), dualism (reality consists of two basic principles, mind and
matter), and pluralism (reality consists of several basic elements, for
example K. Popper's theory of the three worlds). Nevertheless, we think
that this approach is inadequate for characterizing properly a philosophical
trend such as realism or idealism (for example, it is possible to be monist



and idealist or monist and realist or dualist and idealist or dualist and
realist, and so on), so we will not deal further with this practice.
The two different positions we have seen up to now have one thing in
common: According to them it is possible to speak about the nature of
reality. Whether this nature is, in the final resort, mind or matter is not
very important for us now, because from the point of view of physics one
can always assume that, whether mind or matter, it is subject to physical
laws. This explains also why people may contribute from both sides, realist
or idealist, to the evolution of physics.
But, naturally, these are not the only possibilities. Another alternative
is the following: All things, including our own body, are a set of relations;
objects are nothing more than that. Therefore we cannot say that there are
some physical realities and some, perhaps, "psychic" realities, because all of
them, mind and matter, are different aspects of one "reality," namely those
sets of relations. In this approach one refrains from speaking about the
nature of reality: The only thing one can accept is the phenomenon
(phenomenalism). Even more, given that everything is a set of relations, it is
not clear anymore what the distinction between "subject" and "object"
Of course, the previous paragraph is only the beginning. All depends
on what we understand by "relations." In fact, it is possible to use these
ideas to recover and justify some kind of realism] 1~ but in general this
scheme has been used by the phenomenalist substituting perceptions by
relations. In this way it is easy to reach the "esse est percipi" (idealism/l la
Berkeley) or, as it is said today, "no elementary phenomenon is a
phenomenon until it is a registered (observed) phenomenon. ''ml Here
nothing has a meaning until it is observed.
The last conclusion is extremely important to physics because it is well
known that the principle of indeterminacy imposes restrictions on observables canonically conjugated to one another and that means, following the
above ideas, that he corresponding physical quantities cannot have
simultaneous meaning (not to mention reality): If the things are a set of
perceptions, the unobservables have no significance, whether or not one
may be able to make significant statements about them like the following
by EPR: "If, without in any way disturbing a system, we can predict with
certainty [or almost with certainty] (i.e., with probability equal to unity)
[very close to unity] the value of a physical quantity, then there exist an
element of physical reality corresponding to this physical quantity. ''(12)
To the extent that the phenomenalists avoid speaking about reality,
they become obliged to forgo any world picture (or image as we refer to it
above): The only task of physics would be to give "definite prescritions for
successfully foretelling the results of previous observations. ''(131 The key

A Diachronic View of Schr~inger's Thoughts


word here is success, the agreement between the predictions and observations (with or without understanding) (pragmatism). We can make this
point even clearer by writing the following quote: If you were asked why
the apple falls, you would say, for example, that it is because there is a
gravitational field and the Earth is acting on the apple. An upholder of the
position we are discussing now would say:
"The explanation has gone, we have an apple here, we have another apple on
the ground, we have no notion of how one would connect up with the other, we
don't even know whether it is going to happen, but we have a calculus which
gives the statistics of the number of apples arriving in certain places. "tin

Here there is not a conceptual representation of reality at all (being it mind

or matter, it doesn't matter now), there is only a set of operations to be
performed in determining the validity of predictions (operationalism). This
particular combination of phenomenalism, pragmatism, and operationalism is our third alternative.



Schr6dinger was always, perhaps with the only exception of the period
of time from 1928 to 1935, 3 in favor of one idea of science which was com-

3 Certainly the bibliographical sources we have used corresponding to this period of time are
not too many. However, it does not seem very risky to venture the opinion that during this
short period Schr6dinger agrees with the dominant tendency in the scientific community. We
will summarize here, only as an example, the main content of two conferences he gave in
1930 and 1933. In the first one (see IV in the references) he maintains the idea that we
localize "the real" within a finite discontinuity of possibilities. For example, when we are
studying the motion of a material point, we read first a clock and then the divisions of a
graduate rule with which the material point coincides, always in succession but discontinuously. With these data and through interpolation we construct the continuous representation in a curve, the trajectory. And he adds: This could be justified in the case of a grain of
dust, a riffle bali, or a planet but not with the constituents themselves of matter.... We must
not be amazed if the concept of trajectory fails flatly .... This is the physical frame of nature
that classical theories attempt to draw, but this frame has expired, it belongs to the past. The
observations and results of concrete measurements are the answer nature gives to our
inquiry, and we cannot hope that this continuum obtained by interpolation represents
nature's objects in themselves, but they represent the relation between subject and object.
The wave functions do not describe nature.., but the knowledge we have about it on the
basis of observations really made. "This obligatory renunciation of a purely objective
descrition of nature is considered today by the majority as a profound transformation of the


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pletely against any position related to the phenomenatist, pragmatist, or

operationalist attitude. For him, our sciences are inside the Greek tradition
origin of the western thought and they are characterized essentially by two

the idea that it is possible to understand natural happenings

(hypothesis of intelligibility);

second, the elimination of the subject who knows (the hypothesis of

objectivity or the hypothesis of the external world).
Given that the second assumption affects m o r e the alternative
idealism-realism than the epistemological aspect of the question, we will
postpone its discussion to the next point and we will focus chiefly on the
first one now.
W h a t is the meaning of the intelligibility hypothesis for Schr6dinger?
F o r him only the perfect knowledge of its origins and history could release
us from its excessive influence (VIII, p. 40). The intelligibility hypothesis
goes back to the Ionic naturalist philosophers of the sixth century B.C.,
Tales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, without forgetting also Jenofanes,
Heraclitus, Democritus, Leucippus, etc. The essential step they made was
to replace any transcendent interpretation of natural things by the supposition that the world is an understandable mechanism, that is, that
nature is understandable by itself without the intervention of any
s u p e r h u m a n personality. F o r the first time it was possible to conceive that
all manifold appearances could refer to some fundamental principles later
called "laws of nature." T h a t was, Schr6dinger says, an immense
anticipation: that was the basis of natural sciences (VIII, p. 50).
This concept of intelligibility has continued to impregnate Western
thought up to our day. Nevertheless, there still exist in physics some
remains of the primitive (animist) thought, and one could see it behind the
idea that we formulate with the concepts of cause and effect. The criticism
of the inductive m e t h o d as the scientificity criterion made by H u m e did not
remove the causality concept; in its place it led to a new criticism: the
critique of pure reason (Kant), and the determinism, founded on the sucphysical concept of the world. It seems a painful resignation to our aim toward clarity and
truth, but in the end, is it not this relation the only reliable reality we know?"
The Nobel conference, in its turn (see V in the references), ends with the following comment: "We never could say what is really going on, but only what is observable in each concrete case. Must we be satisfied with this as something permanent? In principle, yes."
These two quotes are fairly in contradiction to what we are going to say in the text, i.e.,
with Schr6dinger's philosophical point of view outside this period. This could suggest that at
that time Schr6dinger took on, perhaps with some reservations, the views of the ruling tendency.

A Diachronic View of Schriklinger'sThoughts


cess of mechanics, the more "exact" and "mathematical" branch of physics,

remain preeminent. This was the basis for maintaining the principle stating
that sciences must only confine themselves to making the most complete,
simple, and direct description of what was really discovered (Mach's
economy principle). For many this is in fact today the alpha and omega of
physical thought. According to this principle, a unitary description is
reached by the powerful method of mathematics, and all superfluous
features, all that is not required by the observable facts, must be ruled out.
The aim is to complete, as far as possible, the data we have and to infer
from them other data not given yet: That is what the physicist must look
for. "This position is what has been called Mach's positivism" (VIII, p. 56).
To Schr6dinger--untiring reader of Mach--this was a useful reaction
against the superficial and apparent explanations, but it was also a break
with the intelligibility hypothesis that closes the way to the progress of
knowledge and prevents the search of real explanations (VIII, p. 57). The
positivist position is whithout any doubt a strong one, given that the only
touchstone of a physical theory is that it allows us to foresee the
phenomena it studies. Nevertheless, this is a necessary condition to
Schr6dinger but not a sufficient one. To him it is the set of phenomena
which a theory studies, and it is its relations which give rise to a picture, a
frame in our imagination, in which it is possible to find formal internal
relations which are interesting and meaningful. The phenomenatists do not
say that these relations are not to be searched; what they forbid is "to look
behind the curtains," and this is what Schr6dinger does not accept. To him
the most important thing in the frame is the form of the relation: "To
foretell and predict the observations is for us the only way to test if the
picture we have made up matches." (VIII, p. 59.) This could be accepted by
the positivist with the condition of not including there unobservable
ingredients; to them all that does not have a direct relation with the sensorial perception has to be excluded. This view is criticized by Schr6dinger,
using the example of historical sciences, within which it is foreseen
backwards. Geologists, paleontologists, historians, philologists, etc., all of
them would avoid considering past evidence as useless and superfluous
weight although they are uncontrollable by direct experience. As a whole,
they make a mental complement with the purpose of putting order in the
material to which we have access (the vestiges in general, being ruins,
relics, inscriptions, traditions, and so on), to understand it, in spite of their
being things essentially unobservable. The historical sciences have in these
auxiliary constructions the real object of their researches. Actually, they
remain in our imagination, but not for that they must be left out and
restrict our study of the true remains. Of course, Schr6dinger knew Mach's
argument that in many branches of sciences the predictions are neither


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a priori nor a posteriori, but they refer to the present [notice that this same
argument is now also used by many people working in quantum
physics(15)]. According to Schr6dinger, it is not necessary to cling to those
examples; there are some situations in chemistry and physics in which the
mental auxiliary constructions are essential if what is desired is to grasp the
relations that exist between the phenomena. This is the reason why, for
those who are interested in them, they are the main object of their research.
By contrast, Mach rejected, on this basis, the atomist and molecular
"It is not a question of vilifying Mach now, Schr6dinger says, but of
remembering--given the fundamental role that the neomachian people want to
attribute to his principle in the actual quantum mechanics--that this mistaken
prediction was an outcome of his methodology."(VIII, p. 63.)
Schr6dinger wants to know how nature is really constructed (it does
not matter to him that he is called a metaphysicist, because he always
spoke in its favor), and he requires demonstrative frames. He does not
akccept a mathematical scheme, some hypothesis about observations carried
out, and a formula to deduce future observations. He sees in all that the
result of the combination of the principles of Heisenberg and Mach
together with the dilemma to which we have been led by the wave-particle
duality, but if we do accept that, we must renounce definitely the concept
of understandable world. Why, he asks, is it considered a heresy in physics
what in the historical sciences is the most natural thing, namely, to deal
with events and situations inaccessible to direct observation? We cannot do
without it in physics and all people accept it when speaking about the
depths of the Earth, the core of the sun or the stars, etc. Why does one
proceed here in a different way and attribute our failure to an
epistemological principle? (VIII, p. 66.)
Schr6dinger's opposition to the particular combination of
phenomenalism, pragmatism, and operationalism, which characterize the
ruling tendency in quantum physics, is thus clear, convincing, and founded
on solid grounds. We have taken his paper VIII as a basis, but completely
similar ideas can be read in Schr6dinger's cat paradox paper (VI), written
12 years previously, and almost in all his subsequent works, in particular in
IX-XII and XIV of Schr6dinger's bibliography quoted at the end of this
article. In all of them, Schr6dinger repeats the necessity of searching
connections and building up models--although reality resists imitation
through models--and he sees it as a compelling constriction and a hurried
way out of the difficulties plaguing physics to appeal to Mach's principle
[there is intrinsically only awareness, observation, and measurement], a
"philosophical principle which no sensible person can fail to esteem as the
supreme protector of empiricism." (VI, p. 157.) To accept it, as the

A Diaehronie View of Schr/klinger's Thoughts


dominant trend does, means to Schr6dinger a break with our Greek

tradition, the failure of the intelligibility and objectivity hypothesis; and
this is, gnosiologically speaking, a clear step backwards. Physics, as any
other science, must proceed on the basis of our intellectual tradition and
has to solve its difficulties within its own limits, without recurring to
philosophical principles. Physics and philosophy have problems in common but they are different. The recourse of the Copenhagen School to a
philosophical principle to solve the inner problems of physics is a
deliberate about-face of the epistemological viewpoint that Schr6dinger
cannot accept.


Schr6dinger always saw metaphysics as the support of knowledge.

Without it, art and sciences would be petrified frameworks, devoid of soul
and incapable of all further development. In spite of the fact that the spirit
of the time was contrary to metaphysics, Schr6dinger believed that the
post-Kantian task of philosophy was precisely to maintain metaphysics as
the essential base of our knowledge, limiting adequately its role under the
guide suggested by sciences.
What were in concrete the aspects of metaphysics that bothered
Schr6dinger more? We can say that basically those problems related to the
following questions:
Is there a Self? Is there an external world outside Myself?
Does the Self come to an end with physical death?
Does the world finish with My physical end?
If we reject from the start, as childish and naive, the idea of a soul that
lives inside the body, we have left two alternatives: to give precedence

to the self (our second alternative) or


to the outer world (our first alternative).

With the first one we are not going to get too far. If we give
precedence to the subject, all relevant facts of psychology guarantee a
linking between the subject's sensations and the material modifications of
his body so close and necessary that it must be admitted that the destruction of the human body would involve the dissolution of the subject. Now
then, that would imply--in the case of the precedence of the self--the
world's annihilation, and it is ridiculous to think that the destruction of
one tiny part can bring about that of the whole.
If, on the contrary, we admit first the outer world, we reach the


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following paradox: My own body differs from all the others, which can
only be explained on the basis of one tangible self having a soul situated
materially and spatially inside of it, a position that methodologically had
been rejected from the start because of its naivety.
It is possible to formulate also this problem, essential to philosophy,
using just any sensory perception, that of one tree, for example. Many
philosohers have told us that we must distinguish between the perception
of the tree and the tree in itself. But, as Mach, Avenarius, and Schuppe
have noticed already, if the thing in itself is inaccessible to our senses it has
no interest at all to us, and we must not take it into account. In the
universe we are interested in, the tree is given only once, and it is the same
to call it the tree as the percetion of the tree. This unique tree is the fact we
have, and it is at the same time the one of physics and the one of psychology (Avenarius). The elements which make up the self and the outer
world are the same, and we designate them as being either components of
the external world (the things) or as being components of the self
(sensations or perceptions) (II, pp. 33 and 34). To Schr6dinger, then, it is
impossible to have an object without a subject or a subject without an
object: "Subject and object are one and the same thing" (XV, p. 51)
(Schopenhauer). Thus, the first position we stated above is ruled out,
because it denies the object reducing it to the subject, and the second we
mentioned previously is excluded because it involves the reverse process
and denies the subject reducing it to the object. This is what Mach,
Avenarius, Schuppe, and Schr6dinger (of course, this does not mean that
their thoughts were identical) called the confirmation of naive realism.
However, this does not solve all the difficulties. In particular, what can
we say if some people are looking at the same tree? Must we admit that
one single system of elements is at the same time the component of too
many minds? The answer is yes. For them, and for Heraclitus 4 also, the
idea of common elements o f consciousness has nothing contradictory in itself
and restores the natural concept of the world (that of the naive realism).
Nevertheless, this raises a new problem: that of the multiplicity of minds.
How can we understand this fact? Which is the difference between myself
and the self of the others? To raise this question means that Schr6dinger
has not solved yet the essential problem he posed in the beginning, but he
has shifted from either the reduction of subject to object or the object to
4 In VIII, pp. 81-84, Schr6dinger does a "'free" interpretation of Heraclitus' thought and
attributes to him the origin of this idea. There he makes an epistemological analysis of a
number of Heraclitus' fragments and arrives at the conclusion that for him the reality
criterion is exclusively to be common. It is on the basis of this criterion that we build the
real world. The world c o m m o n to everyone is formed by the "intersection" of the consciousnesses.

A Diachronie View

of Schr/~inger's Thoughts


subject to the space and time multiplicity of the individuals. In order to get
out of the numerical dilemma, he sees two approaches: the multiplication
of the world, according, for example, to Leibniz's monads theory, or the
contrary, i.e., the unification of the consciousness. The first one, which to a
great extent takes us back to the position rejected at first of one soul
lodged in the body, seems frightening to Schr6dinger: "Each monad is a
world in itself, without windows to the outside; the fact that these worlds
were compatible is due to a preestablished harmony" (VIII, p. 99). He cannot accept this. If, on the other hand, we take the second approach, that is,
"if all happened in one single consciousness, the problem would be solved"
(II, p. 39; VII, p. 136). Schr6dinger thinks that this dilemma has no
solution in a logical way, i.e., arguing according to our possibilities, but it
can be solved assuming that the multiplication we perceive is simply
appearance, something that in fact does not exist: A l l consciousness is one in
essence (Schopenhauer, Upanishad) (II, p. 54, and XV, p. 61), but not one
part of one infinite and eternal being (Spinoza) but, more in the same line
as the ancient Hindu philosohy of the Vedanta and the Upanishad, the
whole in the whole. If we perceive a multiplicity of consciousness, that is due
to the fact that we built it up in plural from the space-time plurality of
individuals and not to the fact that consciousness could be multiplied or
divided. "That is ridiculous," he says (II, p. 58). And this construction
(completely equivalent to Avenarius' introjection) is false. It involves a clear
break of experience, and this is the reason why it is impossible to put it in
agreement with the facts. It breaks the unity of the world and divides it
into internal and external worlds, into subject and object, into mind and
matter. Thus we fall into the unsolvable conflict of having to agree with
Berkeley's idealism and at the same time with its insufficiency to make us
understand the real world. The essential problem is then for Schr6dinger
the embarrasing role played by the mind: On the one hand, it constitutes
the only scene in which the universal drama is performed, the recipient
which contains the whole on the whole, and, on the other hand, it gives the
impression, perhaps mistaken, that it is captive inside a body (VIII, p. 111,
and XV, p. 63). For Schr6dinger the way out of this dilemma is, as we said
above, in the line drawn by the orthodox dogma of the Upanishad [and by
the views of Mach, Avenarius, and Schuppe, very close to them without
recognizing it expressis verbis (II, p. 66)]: The consciousness of the Self of
each individual is identical to the consciousness of the other Selfs and identical to the superior Self that they make up; the outer world and the consciousness are one and the same thing to the extent that they consist of the
same primitif elements, and this is almost equivalent to say--in order to
state the common and essential character of these elements in all the
individuals--that there is only one external w o r m or that there is only one


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consciousness (doctrine of the identity) (II, p. 66). This is the meaning of

the only formula that Schr6dinger uses in What is life? (VII, p. 34):
Athman = Brahman
~kthman means the interior reality, he innermost self, while Brahman is
identical to the world, to what is. The identification of Athman and
Brahman gives rise to an absolute which is assumed to form both the
universe and the self. This identification involves, on the one hand, the
internalization of the Brahman and, on the other, the universalization of
the Athman. This produces a cosmic Self (in the internalization of the
Brahman) and a spiritual Cosmos (in the universalization of the Athman).
Athman = Brahman means then that there is only one thing, a supreme
reality from which all the other realities arise and that this reality has two
To sum up, answering the essential questions about whether there is a
Self and an outer world outside Myself reqires us to account for the
plurality of sells and the fact of agreement, that is, of our common world.
Schr6dinger thinks that this can be done in two different ways, both
"irrational and mystical" (but equivalent), namely:

the hypothesis of one real outer world,


the fact that we are different aspects of the One.

The hypothesis of the reality of the world is perhaps more simple, but
the doctrine of the identity has, for Schr6dinger, an ethical content which
makes it incomparably more sublime (XVI, p. 157).

5. C O N C L U S I O N
The previous discussion about Schr6dinger's epistemological and
ontological thought shows, at first sight, a certain divergence. On the one
hand, his gnosiological approach seems to be built on the basis of the
intelligibility idea with the explicit aim of upholding the realism, even the
naive realism (in this way it is possible to read a number of his writings, for
example Schr6dinger's cat paradox paper or the letter to Einstein quoted in
the references), against the operationalist, pragmatist, and phenomenalist
attack on science (he rejects, clearly, our third alternative). One may ask
whether this defence was itself naive. Our answer is no. Schr6dinger was an
extremely cultivated person who knew perfectly well both the philosophical
tradition and the different trends of thought that converged in his time. It
does not make much sense to think that a man who had interests so wide

A Diaehronic View of Schrfidinger's Thoughts


and deep in almost every area of human knowledge improvised his fundamental credo. All this seems to suggest rather that his epistemological
position was founded on some much more profound ontological commitents worked out rigorously in the first half of his life. Among them one
can see the influences of the Hindu philosophy (the Upanishad and
Vedanta in particular), Schopenhauer, Mach, Avenarius, Schuppe, and
other philosophers we have quoted in this paper. The revision of
Schr6dinger's work shows that his ontological comitments remain practically invariable though all his life, and from this point of view there is no
contradiction at all between his works of 1925, 1947, or 1960. What was
the essential nature of these fundamental ontological commitments we are
speaking of? To the extent that he identifies his basic thesis--the existence
of only one consciousness--with the hypothesis of the existence of a real
external world, we could say that he is supporting realism. At this level his
scientific writings become meaningful and the interpretation that a number
of people made considering Schr6dinger as a realist is justified.
Nevertheless, to the extent that he refuses to accept the transcendence of
reality in relation to that unique consciousness--appealing to the doctrine
of identity to account for the fact that we are all living in the same w o r l d - to that extent, we say, his metaphysics, essential at the moment of doing a
proper interpretation of his philosophy, places him in the idealist tradition.
This would justify the interpretation that a number of writers have given
h i m - m o r e correctly we think--as an idealist philosopher.
To do justice to a philosophical thought so rich and complex as
Schr6dinger's, one requires undoubtedly a fuller and more thorough study
than the one we have done here. We think that neither of the epithets
idealist or realist, as they were defined at the beginning, reflects entirely his
thought. It is true that Schr6dinger could state that "the world is in the
self," however, never in the sense of the subjective idealism (he rejected it
explicitly) but in the sense that there exists as object of One consciousness.
However, the object of consciousness is not itself consciousness (and this is
enough to guarantee the claim of realism) but a content of consciousness,
and therefore it is immanent to the consciousness itself. 5 This would justify
that, if we had to choose only one epithet to characterize the philosophy of
Schr6dinger, we would rather say that it is closer to the trend called
immanentist philosophy 6 than to the simple schemes of idealism or realism.

5In the ontological level he denies thus our first and second alternatives (identifyingthem),
and he is, contrary in appearance to his epistemologicalapproach to the problem, closer to
the one implicit in the third.
6The philosophy of immanence--Schupe, Rehmke, Schubert-Sotdern, Kaufmann, etc.--has



Ferrero Meigar

1. F. Selleri, Die Debatte um die Quantentheorie (Vieweg, Braunschweig, 1983).
2. K. R. Popper, Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics (Hutchinson, London, 1982),
pp. 102, 106, and 174.
3. E. Bitsakis, A la recherche de la r~alitO microphysique (University of Ioannina, Greece),
p. 200; in Microfisica: Determinismo o Neo-misticismo (Paradigmi, Rivista di critica
filosofica, Anno IV, No. 10) (Schena Editore, Italy, 1986), pp. 37~47.
4. N. Herbert, Quantum Reality (Rider, London, 1985), pp. 23 and 120.
5. K. R. Popper, Autobiography (in The Library of Living Philosophers) (Open Court, La
Salle, Illinois, t974).
6. A. Shimony, "Reflexions sur la philosophie de Bohr, Heisenberg et Schr6dinger, ' in Les
Implications Conceptuelles de la Physique Quantique, J. Phys. 42, C-2 (Editions de Physique, Paris, 19813.
7. B. d'Espagnat, Conceptions de la physique contemporaine (Hermann, Paris, 1965).
8. The works of Schr6dinger we have used, are in chronological order,
1-1922. gQuO es una ley de la naturaleza? (F.C.E., Mrxico, 19753; Original in German:
Was ist ein Naturgesetz? (R. Oldenbourg, Munich, 1962). The number I in our
text makes reference to the paper that, with the same title, is contained in the
Spanish version, pp. 7-26.
II-1925. "La qu~te du chemin," in Ma Conception du Monde (Mercure de France,
Le Mail, 1982), pp. 15-95; Original in German: Meine Weltansicht (P.Z.
Verlag, Hamburg, 1961).
III-1927. "La Mrcanique des ondes," in Electrons et Photons: Rapports et Discussions du
Cinquikme Conseil de Physique Solvay (Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1928).
IV-1930. "La transformacirn del concepto fisico del mundo," see Ref. 8-I above,
Spanish version, pp. 27-38.
V-1933. "La idea fundamental de la mec~nica ondulatoria," Nobel Address, reprinted
in Ref. 8-I above, pp. 115-137.
VI-1935. "Die gegenw~irtige situation in der Quantenmechanik," Naturwissenschaften
23, 807-812, 823-828, and 844-849 (1935); English translation in Quantum
Theory and Measurement, J. Wheeler and W. Zurek, eds. (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1983).
VIt-1944. gQu~ es la vida? (Tusquets, Barcelona, 1983); original in English: What is
Life? (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1944).
VIII-1947. "La singularidad de la imagen del mundo de la ciencia actual," in the book
quoted in Ref. 8-I, pp. 39-115.
IX-1950. "Nuestro conceto de materia," see Ref. 8-1 above, pp. 138-163.
X-1950. Letter to Einstein, in Letters on Wave Mechanic's, K. Przibram, ed. (Vision
Press, London, 19673.
X1-1951. Science and Humanism (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1951).
XII-1952. "2Qu6 es una particula elemental?," in book quoted in Ref. 8-I, pp. 164-191.

been classified as realist by some historians of philosophy (N. Abbagnano, for example).
However, others think that this philosophical movement is clearly phenomenalist and
positivist (J. Hirschberger, for example), while, finally, others say that the immanentist
philosophers are idealist (Krzesinski, in Une nouvelle philosophie de l'immanence). We think
that the latter could be stated of some immanentist tendencies (for example, the one of
Blondel or the other of Gentile) but not of all.

A Diachronic View of SchrMinger's Thoughts



XIII-1952. "La signification de la m6canique ondulatoire," in Louis de Broglie, physieien

et penseur (A. Michel, Paris, 1953).
XIV-1952. "Are there Quantum Jumps?," Brit. J. Philos. Sci. III, 109-123, 233-242
XV-1956. Mind and Matter (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1956).
XVI-1960. "Qu'est-ce qui est r6el?," in book quoted in Ref. 8-II above, pp. 99-162.
P. S. Epstein, "The Reality Problem in Quantum Mechanics," Am. J. Phys. 13, 126-135
M. Ferrero, "What kind of realism?," in Determinism in Physics, E. Bitsakis and N. Tambakis, eds. (Gutenberg, Athens, 1985).
J. Wheeler, in the book quoted in Ref. 8-VI, p. 184.
A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, Phys. Rev. 4'7, 777 (1935).
E. Schr6dinger, in Ref. 8-XIV above, p. 237.
This passage has been taken from D. Bohm in The Ghost in the Atom, P. C. W. Davies
and J. R. Brown, eds. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, t986), p. I32.
R. Feynman, La Nature de ta Physique (Seuit, Paris, 1980), Chap. 5; original in English:
The Character o f Physical Law (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1965).
A comprehensive study of the scientific and philosophical works of Schr6dinger is Erwin
Schr6dinger: An Introduction to His Writings, William T. Scott, ed. (University of
Massachusetts Press, Amherst, Mass., 1967).