Schrödinger’s Thoughts: Non-feline Philosophical Ponderings…

Schrödinger's Thoughts: on Life, Free Will, the Self, Oneness of Mind, Consciousness, Science, Objective Realism vs Monistic Idealism


This is the first part of a series of videos where I explore what the founders and main contributors to Quantum Physics thought about consciousness (mind), the nature of reality, and other related metaphysical or philosophical topics.

Schrödinger's Thoughts; non-feline philosophical ponderings…

Short extracts from:

–          What is Life?

–          The Principle of Objectivation

–          The Arithmetical Paradox: the Oneness of Mind

On life, the laws of physics, order and disorder:

[…] living matter, while not eluding the “laws of physics” as established up to date, is likely to involve “other laws of physics” hitherto unknown […]

[…] Life seems to be orderly and lawful behaviour of matter, not based exclusively on its tendency to go over from order to disorder, but based partly on existing order that is kept up. […]

[…] In biology we are faced with an entirely different situation. A single group of atoms existing only in one copy produces orderly events, marvellously tuned in with each other and with the environment according to most subtle laws. […]

[…]In the following stages of a higher organism the copies are multiplied […]

[…] Since we know the power this tiny central office has in the isolated cell, do they not resemble stations of local government dispersed through the body, communicating with each other with great ease, thanks to the code that is common to all of them?

Well, this is a fantastic description, perhaps less becoming a scientist than a poet. However, it needs no poetical imagination but only clear and sober scientific reflection to recognize that we are here obviously faced with events whose regular and lawful unfolding is guided by a 'mechanism' entirely different from the 'probability mechanism' of physics. […]

[…] Whether we find it astonishing or whether we find it quite plausible that a small but highly organized group of atoms be capable of acting in this manner, the situation is unprecedented, it is unknown anywhere else except in living matter. […]

On Determinism, Free Will, The Self and Universal Mind:

[…] According to the evidence put forward in the preceding pages the space-time events in the body of a living being which correspond to the activity of its mind, to its self-conscious or any other actions, are […] if not strictly deterministic at any rate statistico-deterministic. To the physicist I wish to emphasize that in my opinion, and contrary to the opinion upheld in some quarters, […]

[…] For the sake of argument, let me regard this as a fact, as I believe every unbiased biologist would, if there were not the well-known, unpleasant feeling about ‘declaring oneself to be a pure mechanism’. For it is deemed to contradict Free Will as warranted by direct introspection. […]

[…] let us see whether we cannot draw the correct, non-contradictory conclusion from the following two premises:

(i) My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.

(ii) Yet I know, by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, of which I foresee the effects, that may be fateful and all-important, in which case I feel and take full responsibility for them.

The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I — I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt 'I' — am the person, if any, who controls the 'motion of the atoms' according to the Laws of Nature. […]

[…] 'Hence I am God Almighty' sounds both blasphemous and lunatic. But please disregard these connotations for the moment and consider whether the above inference is not the closest a biologist can get to proving God and immortality at one stroke.

In itself, the insight is not new. The earliest records to my knowledge date back some 2,500 years or more. From the early great Upanishads the recognition ATHMAN = 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. Again, the mystics of many centuries, independently, yet in perfect harmony with each other (somewhat like the particles in an ideal gas) have described, each of them, the unique experience of his or her life in terms that can be condensed in the phrase: DEUS FACTUS SUM (I have become God).

To Western ideology the thought has remained a stranger, in spite of Schopenhauer and others who stood for it and in spite of those true lovers who, as they look into each other's eyes, become aware that their thought and their joy are numerically one […]

[…] Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. […]

[…] How does the idea of plurality (so emphatically opposed by the Upanishad writers) arise at all? Consciousness finds itself intimately connected with, and dependent on, the physical state of a limited region of matter, the body. […]

[…] Now, there is a great plurality of similar bodies. Hence the pluralization of consciousnesses or minds seems a very suggestive hypothesis. […]

[…] It leads almost immediately to the invention of souls, as many as there are bodies, and to the question whether they are mortal as the body is or whether they are immortal and capable of existing by themselves. The former alternative is distasteful, while the latter frankly forgets, ignores or disowns the facts upon which the plurality hypothesis rests. […]

[…] Such consequences, even if only tentative, must make us suspicious of the plurality hypothesis, which is common to all official Western creeds. Are we not inclining to much greater nonsense, if in discarding their gross superstitions we retain their naive idea of plurality of souls, but 'remedy' it by declaring the souls to be perishable, to be annihilated with the respective bodies?

The only possible alternative is simply to keep to the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian MAJA); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys. […]

[…] Yet each of us has the indisputable impression that the sum total of his own experience and memory forms a unit, quite distinct from that of any other person. He refers to it as 'I'. What is this 'I?

If you analyse it closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely the canvas upon which they are collected. And you will, on close introspection, find that what you really mean by 'I' is that ground-stuff upon which they are collected. […]

[…] The point of view taken here levels with what Aldous Huxley has recently — and very appropriately — called The Perennial Philosophy. His beautiful book […] is singularly fit to explain not only the state of affairs, but also why it is so difficult to grasp and so liable to meet with opposition. […]

The Principle of Objectivation. On how science has removed Mind from its model of reality

[the principle of objectivation] […] By this I mean the thing that is also frequently called the "hypothesis of the real world" around us. I maintain that it amounts to a certain simplification which we adopt in order to master the infinitely intricate problem of nature. Without being aware of it and without being rigorously systematic about it, we exclude the Subject of Cognizance from the domain of nature that we endeavor to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world.  This device is veiled by the following two circumstances. First, my own body (to which my mental activity is so very directly and intimately linked) forms part of the object (the real world around me) that I construct out of my sensations, perceptions and
memories. Secondly, the bodies of other people form part of this objective world. Now I have very good reasons for believing that these other bodies are also linked up with, or are, as it were, the seats of spheres of consciousness. I can have no reasonable doubt about the existence of some kind of actualness of these foreign spheres of consciousness, yet I have absolutely no direct subjective access to any of them. Hence I am inclined to take them as something objective, as forming part of the real world around me. Moreover, since there is no distinction between myself and others, but on the contrary full symmetry for all intents and purposes, I conclude that I myself also form part of this real material world around me. I so to speak put my own sentient self (which had constructed this world as a mental product) back into it – with the pandemonium of disastrous logical consequences that flow from the aforesaid chain of faulty conclusions. […]

[…] a moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of anon-concerned observer.

The first of these antinomies is the astonishment at finding our world picture 'colourless, cold, mute'. Colour and sound, hot and cold are our immediate sensations; small wonder that they are lacking in a world model from which we have removed our own mental person.

The second is our fruitless quest for the place where mind acts on matter or vice-versa […] The material world has only been constructed at the price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it, removing it; mind is not part of it; obviously, therefore, it can neither act on it nor be acted on by any of its parts. (This was stated in a very brief and clear sentence by Spinoza) […]

The Arithmetical Paradox. The Oneness of Mind:

[…] The reason why our sentient, percipient and thinking ego is met nowhere within our scientific world picture can easily be indicated in seven words: because it is itself that world picture. It is identical with the whole and therefore cannot be contained in it as a part of it. But, of course, here we knock against the arithmetical paradox; there appears to be a great multitude of these conscious egos, the world is however only one. This comes from the fashion in which the world concept produces itself. The several domains of 'private' consciousness partly overlap. The region common to all where they all overlap is the construct of the 'real world around us'. With all that an uncomfortable feeling remains, prompting such question as: is my world really the same as yours? Is there one real world to be distinguished from its pictures introjected by way of perception into every one of us? And if so, are these pictures like unto the real world or is the latter, the 'world in itself', perhaps very different from the one we perceive? […]

[…] There are two ways out of the number paradox, both appearing rather lunatic from the point of view of present scientific thought (based on ancient Greek thought and thus thoroughly 'Western'). One way out is the multiplication of the world in Leibniz's fearful doctrine of monads: every monad to be a world by itself, no communication between them; the monad 'has no windows', it is 'incommunicado'. That none the less they all agree with each other is called 'pre-established harmony'. I think there are few to whom this suggestion appeals, nay who would consider it as a mitigation at all of the numerical antinomy.

There is obviously one one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousness. Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads. […]

[…] Ten years ago Aldous Huxley published a precious volume which he called The Perennial Philosophy and which is an anthology from the mystics of the most various periods and the most various peoples. Open it where you will and you will find many beautiful utterances of a similar kind. You are struck by the miraculous agreement between humans of different race, different religion, knowing nothing about each other's existence, separated by centuries and millenia, and by the greatest distances that there are on our globe.

Still, it must be said that to Western thought this doctrine has little appeal, it is unpalatable, it is dubbed fantastic, unscientific. Well, it is so because our science – Greek science – is based on objectivation, whereby it has cut itself off from an adequate understanding of the Subject of Cognitanze, of the mind. But I do believe that this is precisely the point where our present way of thinking does need to be amended, perhaps by a bit of a blood-transfusion from Eastern thought. That will not be easy, we must beware of blunders – blood transfusion always needs great precaution to prevent clotting. We do not wish to lose the logical precision that our scientific thought has reached, and that is unparalleled anywhere at any epoch. […]

[…] Earlier I have commented on the fact that for this same reason the physical world picture lacks all the sensual qualities that go to make the Subject of Cognitanze. The model is colourless and soundless and unpalpable. In the same way and for the same reason the world of science lacks, or is deprived of, everything that has a meaning only in relation to the consciously contemplating, perceiving and feeling subject. I mean in the first place the ethical and aesthetical values, any values of any kind, anything related to the meaning and scope of the whole display. All this is not only absent but it cannot, from the purely scientific point of view, be inserted organically. If one tries to put it in or on, as a child puts colour on his uncoloured painting copies, it will not fit. For anything that is made to enter this world model willy-nilly takes the form of scientific assertion of facts; and as such it becomes wrong. […]


Note (Cracking the Nutshell): I am not religious and have never been. However, I am respectful and open to all ideas, to all possibilities; no matter how unpalatable they currently may appear to mainstream science. Using a non-dogmatic, open-minded approach like Schrödinger or Huxley did can be very rewarding and help us look at reality in a different way. While I don't necessarily agree with all of Schrödinger's views, I think that the topics raised are fascinating and a great source of food for thought.

What do you think? Let's discuss! Comment and share! 🙂

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6 comments on “Schrödinger’s Thoughts: Non-feline Philosophical Ponderings…
  1. Zalmen Rosenfeld says:

    We have unmediated knowledge, not scientific conjecture, that we are conscious and that we are, at least to some degree, free to act according to conscious decisions. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to explain consciousness and freedom in terms of an unconscious and deterministic material world. What Schrödinger is saying is that given these two conflicting viewpoints of the world, the one reached by unmediated knowledge through introspection, the other by conjectures about measurements, a reasonable mind would choose the the unmediated knowledge over scientific conjecture. If we take this direct intuitive path to understanding consciousness, then we are behooved to change our scientific conjectures about the nature of reality.

    Lee Smolin, in his new book “Time Reborn”, takes a step in this direction by positing a commonality between different orders of organization. Smolin speculates that all structure in the universe is self-organizing in real time, even at the finest level, and that physical law is a self-imposition, or restriction born of habit, on unfettered freedom. We know this in ourselves. We build up habits to better function in a known environment, while at the same time we have freedom to make decisions when nature presents us with a novel challenge. Smolin’s startling hypothesis is that photons behave in a similar way, though their habits appear to us as deterministic law (albeit statistical). From this, he arrives at the indeterminacy of the future, not because of the mathematics of chaos, but because of genuine novelty in nature.

    Smolin’s approach suggests a way of reconciling consciousness and free will with physics. For by assuming that nature is both free and self-organizing at all levels, we can speculate on how it is that an electron in a prepared state of spin ‘decides’ to emit a photon in a magnetic field. One might say that it ‘knows’ the habit (represented by the probabilistic mathematics of quantum mechanics) while maintaining an interior freedom for each individual occurrence. If we assume that ‘knowing’ or ‘interiority’ or ‘sensation’ exist at all levels of (self-)organization, then it becomes unnecessary to make the difficult if not impossible jump from an insensate ‘lower’ form of organization to an arbitrary ‘higher’ level where consciousness suddenly appears. This commonality of consciousness and freedom is the ancient wisdom that Schrödinger speaks of.

  2. Bradford Bell says:

    I am eastern Orthodox Christian and here are my thoughts. Two oft repeated phrases from the jewish old testament are, “man is made in God’s image,” like the hall of mirrors metaphor and, “I said ye are gods.”
    God in our religion could as easily be called the primal source, or the creator. In fact ‘He’ has many names, including ‘I am,’ and Lord.
    We see Him as being outside of the time/space, energy/material creation, which brings us full circle back to the concept of ‘time.’

  3. William says:


    Are you still with us, my dear? Perhaps you have been distracted…if so, I hope wonderfully so. 🙂 If not, where, oh where, is the next video? It is months overdue! I hope you are alright personally. Sincerely, William.

    • Dolors says:

      Hi William,

      I am here! 🙂 Been working on the next video for the past 3 months (I know, my plan was to do it in about 4 weeks ¬¬ …). Yesterday I finished it and guess what, problems again when uploading it to Youtube. I have had probs with all the videos so far so I am not very lucky with that! Currently trying to find a way around the problem – hopefully I can sort it today so video should be available by the end of the day.


      • Benjamin says:

        Hi Dolars

        Loving the work you're doing! I think our perception of consciousness is being blown out of proportion. We are born with basic instincts which are part of our DNA, they are the same thing as our body being told to breathe and beat it's heart, they are built in and can be seen in other animals across the natural world. So basic instincts will dictate a large part of our lives. Our free will can only control the atoms in our body that evolution has granted. For instance you couldn't make your own heart stop. Our consciousness is just an evolutionary advance which we use to surrvive in our environment more effectively. There is nothing else to it. Our ability to observe the passage of time is meaningless. Consciousness is mechanistic, it seems like our free will makes this impossible because the ego part of our consciousness makes us believe we are in complete controll, to allow us to surrvive better. But we are not, we are tied by our social and physical confines and makes choices based on the mechanisms put in place by our body. Which are advanced and complicated, but still mechanisms. There is no such thing as free will.

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