Notes on “Schrödinger: life and thought”

Tuesday, 20th January, 2015

book details

Schrödinger: life and thought
Walter Moore
1989
Cambridge University Press

summary

This was a great book. Schrödinger had such a crazy love life!

I’m interested in Schrödinger because, naively, I like the feel of wave mechanics much more than I do that of quantum mechanics. I don’t like what I think of as the particle fetishism. However, the maths is hard, so I’m easing myself around the subject, looking for ways in.

This book was a thorough and enjoyable portrait of the man and his work. There are three main points of interest for me:

Space-Time Structure (1950)

Described as a “lovely little book” (p. 426) on “the geometry of space-time and its affine and metric connections” (p. 450). Grew out of extended correspondence with Einstein.

Weyl

Hermann Weyl was Schrödinger’s best friend in Zürich during the twenties, and helped S with some of the maths for his breakthrough wave mechanics paper (1926). (Weyl was also a longtime lover of Schrödinger’s wife Anny.)

Weyl’s 1918 book on general relativity, “Space-Time-Matter” is described as “a complete account of relativity theory including all the necessary mathematical background” (p. 146). Its table of contents is accessible on the book’s Amazon page. This might be more accessible than Space-Time Structure.

Weyl also “became the strongest supporter of the intuitionist theory of mathematics, founded by Luitzen Brouwer of Amsterdam”. I’ve been reading a lot about intuitionism and constructivism in maths recently (at least a lot of tweets LOL). I’ve even seen a reference linking it back to Hegel.

Colour

From 1918 to 1920 the focus of Schrödinger’s work was on colour theory (pp 120-129). Describing the colour space, S uses a three-dimensional affine geometry. This treatment develops and the affine geometry becomes Reimannian. His work on colour theory seems to use similar terminology and concepts as his later work on general relativity — manifolds, {affine,differential,Reimannian} geometry. His colour space is three-dimensional (e.g., red, green, blue), while relativistic space-time is four-dimensional.

I am thinking that colour theory along these lines might be an accessible introduction to the mathematics required for general relativity. I haven’t had much luck finding modern mathematical introductions to colour theory.

Schrodinger’s main paper on the subject was:

“Grundlinien einer Theorie der Farbenmetrik im Tagessehen”,
Annalen der Physik, (4), 63, (1920), 397–456; 481–520

available in English (according to Wikipedia) as “Outline of a Theory of Colour Measurement for Daylight Vision” in Sources of Colour Science, Ed. David L. MacAdam, The MIT Press (1970), 134–82.

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3 Responses to “Notes on “Schrödinger: life and thought””


  1. […] from last year. In particular, Hegel (I’m finally tackling his Phenomenology of Spirit) and Schrödinger (his book and Weyl’s book both look worth a try; and Schrödinger’s paper on colour […]


  2. […] think I first heard about Brouwer — especially the Brouwer-Weyl connection — when I was reading Schrödinger’s biography late last year. Weyl was Schrodinger’s best friend in Zurich, and helped S with some of the […]


  3. […] the mathematical side, I am reminded of my interest in Riemann’s non-Euclidian geometry (for Schrödinger‘s wave mechanics). I don’t think reading this history has been a mathematical […]


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