18. Einstein to Schrödinger

22 XII 1950

Dear Schrödinger,

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality—if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. They somehow believe that the quantum theory provides a description of reality, and even a complete description; this interpretation is, however, refuted, most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + Geiger counter + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the ψ-function of the system contains the cat both alive and blown to bits. Is the state of the cat to be created only when a physicist investigates the situation at some definite time? Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation. But then the description by means of the ψ-function is certainly incomplete, and there must be a more complete description. If one wants to consider the quantum theory as final (in principle), then one must believe that a more complete description would be useless because there would be no laws for it. If that were so then physics could only claim the interest of shopkeepers and engineers; the whole thing would be a wretched bungle.

You are completely right to emphasize that the complete description cannot be built on the concept of acceleration, nor, it seems to me, can it be built on the particle concept. Only one of the tools of our trade remains—the field concept, but God knows whether this will stand firm. I think it is worthwhile to hold on to this, i.e. the continuum, as long as one has no really sound arguments against it.

But it seems certain to me that the fundamentally statistical character of the theory is simply a consequence of the incompleteness of the description. This says nothing about the deterministic character of the theory; that is a thoroughly nebulous concept anyway, so long as one does not know how much has to be given in order to determine the initial state (“cut”).

It is rather rough to see that we are still in the stage of our swaddling clothes, and it is not surprising that the fellows struggle against admitting it (even to themselves).

Best regards!


A. Einstein

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!