Schrödinger’s Theatre

Although it’s relatively old news in Ireland, a colleague recently sent me a story from Physics World about Trinity College Dublin’s decision to change the name of its Schrödinger Lecture Theatre (to the Physics Lecture Theatre). The Provost, Fellows, Foundation Scholars and the other members of Board, of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin (to give it its proper title) took this decision in the light of revelations about Erwin Schrödinger‘s predatory sexual conduct towards very young girls.

According to my careful research carried out by reading his Wikipedia page, Schrödinger never actually worked at Trinity College Dublin; the Theatre in question was named in his honour after he delivered his famous lectures on What is Life there in 1943.

Reactions to the decision to rename the Theatre have generated a wide range of reactions from physicists and non-physicists alike. For my part I think it is the right decision. As the Physics World article states:

As an educational institute, we cannot condone or glorify someone who abused the trust between teacher and student.

Jonathan Coleman, Head of School Physics TCD

To me this is quite different from attaching Schrödinger’s name to his equation or even his cat. His unsavoury conduct should not mean that his scientific achievements should be “cancelled” . These are and should continue to be recognized through terms like Schrödinger’s Equation. As far as I am aware, however, Schrödinger did not build any lecture theatres.

It’s up to Trinity to decide what to call its rooms, of course, but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to have opinions about the decision. I’d therefore invite you to express yours through the following poll:

Of course if you wish to expand on your opinion you may do so through the box below.

17 Responses to “Schrödinger’s Theatre”

  1. I would like to see more evidence on this topic. As far as I know, lalmost all of the accusations of grooming and inappropriate relations with underage girls stem from Walther Moore’s readings of Schroedinger’s diaries. However, Moore wasn’t a native German speaker and one wonders if, as claimed by Ruth Schroedinger, he misunderstood much of the stuff in the diaries…I’d like to see some work done on this by a native German speaker familiar with Austrian dialect

  2. Licia Verde Says:

    how about naming the theater after a local physicist from an underrepresented minority? For example I can’t believe the University can’t name a single female physicist with strong ties to Ireland or Dublin. But this is just an example.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    The trouble wtih this kind of thing is where to stop. Nobody is spotless in every part of life and nobody knows what sin will be next decade’s Unforgiveable. Also, different people draw the line in different places, making it impossible to draw up criteria. But I agree with Trinity’s decision in this case.

    • telescoper Says:

      Indeed. I can fully understand people thinking it was wrong to rename the lecture theatre without in any way condoning Schrodinger’s conduct. I can’t understand however those (few) people who think he didn’t do anything wrong.

      • Alessandro Melchiorri Says:

        Peter can you please clarify what is the crime he committed? date and victim please, thanks

      • telescoper Says:

        As you know very well he was never convicted of any crimes. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything wrong.

  4. Yes, on balance it seems very likely that Sch groomed quite young girls for future relationships. But it is frustratingly hard to prove, i.e., to show how much was a facination with young girls and how much became reality. I note for example that all of all of the references on the wiki page referred to above are derivative, i.e., can be traced back either directly or indirectly to Moore’s biography…not very satisfying from a historian’s perspective

  5. telescoper Says:

    I gave a public talk in the Lecture Theatre in question a few years ago. I probably shouldn’t say this but it was a bit shabby. Perhaps it has been renovated in the intervening time.

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