The following quote

"I have … no hesitation in declaring quite bluntly that the acceptance of a really existing material world, as the explanation of the fact that we all find in the end that we are empirically in the same environment, is mystical and metaphysical” –Erwin Schrödinger

is frequently met in the Net, for example here


I pray give me please a clue what does it mean? I flatter myself that I understand individual words and tokens like "... find in the end that we are empirically in the same environment...". The whole meaning of the sentence is wanting (doesn't sum up). Indeed our life is full of mystery, but where is it exactly in this sentence ? I read individual tokens in this sentence with clear meaning of each of them. Partial meanings doesn't naturally combine giving a new meaning of the whole sentence. Since it is cited in contexts like above I presume that no special scientific knowledge is necessary to understand. I have some wild guesses like 'acceptance of the earthly existence as explanation of the heaven'. They all of the kind that make me cringe when I read them.

  • It is insinuating that conciousness is "simply" an artifact of an aggregate of quantum effects, in the same way that matter is. He asserts that the fact that a conciousness can recognise itself as such is self-referential and therefore, in his terms, mystical.
    – Chenmunka
    Feb 1, 2017 at 15:52
  • The sentiment disagrees with Descartes' summary "I think therefore I am." The author questions how definitive that is. Note that the wording is deliberately wordy: "I have … no hesitation in declaring quite bluntly that" adds many extra words. If you want to declare something, just say it. If you want to be blunt, be brief. Feb 1, 2017 at 16:53
  • What he's saying is that it's really freaky that reality exists.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 1, 2017 at 20:47
  • @Chenmunka How do you figure that? The excerpt is from Schodinger's My View of the World, which as far as I can tell, doesn't mention quantum theory.
    – deadrat
    Feb 2, 2017 at 2:49
  • @YosefBaskin It might be better in the original Meine Weltansicht.
    – deadrat
    Feb 2, 2017 at 2:55

3 Answers 3


I will flatter myself by imagining that I have an insight as to what this quote might mean. Herr Schrödinger would be the beat to explain, but he is not available.
I do not believe any of this has much to do with English, but, here I might be in error. So I will answer.

Schrödinger seemed to me to be of the opinion that the world in which we live is imagined, and we are largely compelled by association with others to make sense of our imaginings. That is to say, there is a world, and, we imagine it in a certain way as we can not otherwise sense it. By our associations with others, we join our imaginings into something codified as the physical world around us. Even if that world does not really exist, we think it does, as we have codified it so. Intellectually, most of us believe that a wooden table is composed of atoms in which there is much empty space. However our conciousness tells us that the table is solid. That is the imagining that humans experience. The human mind has developed such that most of us agree on the imagining of a solid wooden table.
We do not know the true nature of atoms, or, really, that they exist. So, we cannot actually know what the physical world really is.But we do have a shared imagining.

that we are empirically in the same environment, is mystical and metaphysical

This statement is no intellectual stretch, if we allow ourselves to understand we do not know anything of a physical world for certain. Schrödinger seems to have believed our perception of this world is strictly of the mind and not of a true reality.

  • Yeah, as has been hypothesized several times in the past 15 years or so, it may well be that we are all just characters in some giant video game.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 1, 2017 at 20:50
  • And, some of us may be out of quarters to continue.
    – J. Taylor
    Feb 1, 2017 at 20:58
  • To my understanding Herr Schrödinger is saying : We all think we are in the same environment. Attempt to explain it by imagining a real world is mysterious. Feb 1, 2017 at 22:04
  • Or even better , the fact that we think we are in the same environment defies any scientific explanation. Feb 1, 2017 at 22:30
  • Yeah. I sure hope I am not the first person to define from certain knowledge what reality actually is. I'm not sure I'd like it.....
    – J. Taylor
    Feb 1, 2017 at 22:37

Although I am not a native speaker of English, I will try to answer your question from a language point of view.

All Schrödinger is saying here is: "I think we cannot be sure there is a material world."

The reason he thinks so is not mentioned in the quote. It is a beautiful piece of language, but to gain more insight you do have to examine its context. That will lead to the realm of physics, but, no fear, also to a story about a cat which may well be understood without special scientific knowledge.

  • Hello @Draakhond, welcome to ELU. Your answer is good, but would benefit from some research into why Schrödinger held this opinion re: the material world. Also, mentioning Schrödinger's cat without any explanatory detail—or even an informational link of some sort—makes for a half-formed response. Not saying you should delve deeply into quantum physics, but teasing the subject without further elaboration serves to frustrate, I'm afraid, rather than edify.
    – freeling10
    Feb 1, 2017 at 21:10
  • @freeling10 Is a link to Wikipedia or Schrödingers Cat at StackExchange not to obvious? Anyway, I was trying to avoid evoking the reaction that my answer, or even the question, should be moved to a site about (meta)physics.
    – Draakhond
    Feb 1, 2017 at 23:17
  • @gsmith: Poor mister Schrödinger to be misunderstood so badly. He dedicated his life to teaching us that everything we encounter certainly does have a scientific explanation! Don't ask me how, unfortunately my brain is to tiny.
    – Draakhond
    Feb 1, 2017 at 23:51

Seriously, we are talking about language here. I have got the impression that Schrödinger's quote is being misread, even by me in my previous answer!

This is how I understand it now:

  • Fact: we all find in the end that we are empirically in the same environment.

  • As the explanation of that fact we accept that there is a really existing material world.

  • That we do so, is mystical and metaphysical. (What is mystical and metaphysical is that we accept that explanation!)

  • I have no hesitation in declaring that quite bluntly.

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