Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More worthy of pity ...

I remember all the times I saw old, overweight guys in baggy shorts and bulging tee-shirts shuffling along pavements, at no more than a fast walking pace.

I laughed inside at such unfitness, thought to myself 'who are you trying to kid?' and 'why are you bothering?'. They never looked very happy, always seeming almost terminal.

As I shuffled along the street this morning, carefully pacing myself, I had a curious, holistic identification with those objects of contempt. Yes, I am now indeed one myself.

I console myself: as I get fitter, in careful stages of course, I will soon turn into a lean, mean athletic machine - purposefully advancing as a predator along rural pathways to the amusement of bucolic bunnies and wheezing lorry drivers.

That is, assuming my heart and lungs hold out.

I read "Schrodinger: life and thought" by Walter J. Moore and was impressed by the freshness of Moore's writing and his diligence in unearthing the daily life of Erwin over so many years. What do you make of a guy who spent his life falling in love easily with so many women and then seducing them? A man who in his forties suffers what Moore euphemistically calls a 'Lolita complex'. He ends up with three daughters, none by his wife, who he remains married to until the end. At least the girls got good intellectual genes.

Schrodinger was no friend to the concept of 'bourgeois marriage', and it might be argued in these enlightened times that he was doing nothing wrong. However, his lifelong self-centred and adolescent attitude to relationships led to collateral damage to many (not all) of the woman with whom he involved himself. Typically it was the younger or less well-educated who were left holding the baby, or worse.

His work was mostly blindingly competent in the spirit of mathematical physics. A strong visualiser, he was close in philosophy to Einstein and had little patience with the Bohr-Born interpretation of his wave equation. His culture, approach, techniques and beliefs all seem curiously dated now, but this was a first rate scientific biography.

The other book was Paul McAuley's "The Quiet War" which I finished but with limited enthusiasm. Stereotyped characters, massive sci-tech data dumps, clumsy writing: McAuley surely can do better than this? I commend to you Abigail Nussbaum's excellent review here.