Oh my God! I’m in coronavirus lockdown! Not allowed to visit the Electric Solar Powered Catamaran. Can only dream about her from afar. I can’t even see Borderline so I must rely on this image of her by David Barker.*
So I’m amusing myself by reading a biography of physicist Erwin Schrodinger by John Gribbin. Now you might possibly ask the question “who could possibly give a shit about some long dead physicist?” Well you might be surprised to discover that Schrodinger has some very interesting things to say about life and I will tell you why.
Schrodinger was one of the very most important fathers of quantum mechanics and inventor of the Schrodinger Equation. Gribbin’s biography of Schrodinger is my favorite type of biography in that it isn’t just a list of everything Schrodinger did but rather an insight into his life and the way he thought and how he made his discoveries. Gribbin explains that Schrodinger was a womanizer and lived with his wife and mistress in the same house in Scotland. Schrodinger was quite a dude but let me tell you about his big discovery.
When I did my master’s degree at California State University I studied quantum mechanics and the Schrodinger Equation. Unfortunately it wasn’t until about 30 years later that I even began to understand it. The Schrodinger Equation describes the behavior of electrons relative to the nucleus of an atom. I was taught, and many still are, that an atom looks like this:**
We were told there was a nucleus in the center and a bunch of electrons orbiting around it like planets orbiting around the sun. If you knew the position, speed and direction of every electron in every atom of the universe you could predict every event that follows; forever! We assumed that God knew the position etc. of every electron so God had a big plan for the future. It turns out that the atom isn’t much like that picture we were taught. Schrodinger, who died in 1961, knew the atom wasn’t like that.
Don’t despair, I’m getting to the good part. The Schrodinger Equation is actually a set of simultaneous differential equations that describe the wave properties of the electrons. These equations tell us the probability of an electron lying in a certain region but not its exact position. In fact, the equations tell us that it is impossible to know the exact position of an electron and by extension, that we can’t know anything exactly.
Let me just repeat that, “WE CAN’T KNOW ANYTHING EXACTLY”. It furthermore means that one thing does not follow on to the next. If you had two identical twins and raised them in identical environments with identical experiences, they would end up different from each other. God does not have a plan and she isn’t quite sure what is going to happen next!
So if you believe in fate or astrology, you are barking up the wrong tree. Shrodinger showed us that the universe is not like a giant clockwork machine with a predetermined future. Every tiny part of every atom in the entire universe is blurred with a patina of uncertainty. The screen in front of you may look solid but it isn’t; it’s a goddamned wave function full of probabilities and uncertainties!
The world is a bit like a digital photograph. If you expand the view enough times, it starts to get pixelated. So if you think our future is all mapped out for us, think again. Anything is possible.
See what happens when your’re in lockdown for too long!