Schrödinger and the genesis of wave mechanics

  • Jürgen Renn

    Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin, Germany
Schrödinger and the genesis of wave mechanics cover

A subscription is required to access this book chapter.


In the context of a new analysis of the notebooks of Erwin Schrödinger, the paper deals with the question of the relation between Schrödinger's creation of wave mechanics and the contemporary efforts by Werner Heisenberg and his colleagues to establish a new quantum mechanics. How can one explain, from a broader historical and epistemological perspective, the astonishing simultaneity and complementarity of these discoveries? The paper argues that neither the physical problems with which both approaches deal nor what ultimately turned out to be their common mathematical ground are sufficient to explain their complementarity. Instead, their closeness is explained by analyzing their common roots in classical mechanics and its transformation in the light of the most fundamental new quantum law, the relation between energy and frequency found by Planck. It is shown, in particular, that for both approaches a bridge between quantum and classical aspects involving this relation was crucial. In the case of Heisenberg, this bridge was given by Bohr’s correspondence principle. In the case of Schrödinger it was constituted by Hamilton’s optical-mechanical analogy.