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The Schrödinger Schism

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It started with a cat.

Possibly.

 

"I didn't come here - " Schrödinger started, and Heisenberg thought four words, this might be a new record and then berated himself for turning this whole affair into some sort of entertainment - a boxing match, perhaps, Bohr versus Schrödinger.

Thus far, Bohr seemed to be winning on pure ferocity, which was so almost completely unlike him that it didn't seem entirely real. Perhaps that was the problem: slow, patient, gentle Bohr tearing into another man like he'd gone mad? It didn't seem possible.

It had been proven not to be impossible, though. "You can't expect - " Bohr said and went all in, all out. A braver, ruder man than Schrödinger might have interrupted him.

Heisenberg looked at Margrethe. She wasn't smiling.

Bohr stopped to draw breath, and Heisenberg stepped forwards, close enough to reach out a hand and touch Bohr, draw him back into the more normal world a little. "Dinner's ready, I think."

Schrödinger looked like a mouse spotting a chance to escape the cat. There was a hint of wariness to his expression, too, though, as if he expected a trap.

"You must stay, of course," Margrethe said. Her warmth rang slightly false. Heisenberg wondered if Schrödinger would realize the forcedness was caused by her husband, not by her guest.

Probably not. "Of course," Bohr echoed. He didn't look like a man just come to the realization he's behaved less than civilly towards a colleague.

"Did you have a good journey?" Heisenberg asked brightly.

 

"A slight feverish cold," Bohr said stubbornly. "Nothing to do with me."

"You kept coming at him like a - like a boxer!" Put like that, it sounded ridiculous. "Like this were a war, and he the enemy." Hostile, yes. Not actually malicious though, Heisenberg thought, for all that regrettable things might be said in the heat of an argument. Schrödinger would know that, surely.

"Well, he is wrong. His theory is wrong."

"I believe you've made that particular opinion of yours abundantly clear these past days." Clear enough to make him either actually ill, or to make him pretend to be, just to get some peace and quiet.

Bohr glared. "It's not an opinion; it's a fact."

"I agree with every word you've said." It's just your delivery I find fault with.

"Obviously," Bohr said, but some of the tension went out of his shoulders, and his lips pressed together a little less firmly. "So why can't he - "

"Let's all just get a good night's sleep. Things will look better in the morning."

"Stay," Bohr said, and it sounded like something in between a question and an order.

Heisenberg shook his head. "Some other time."

 

Things didn't look better in the morning, unless you counted Schrödinger declaring his intention to return home, to Zurich, as quickly as possible 'better'.

"At least things should get quieter again," Heisenberg said to Margrethe, who was putting together another tray with tea and cake for her guest-slash-patient. She looked weary.

"Perhaps."

 

Heisenberg found Bohr at the door to the sickroom, about to go in. (About to go in again, possibly, although that seemed unlikely. Nothing short of an utter capitulation on the side of Schrödinger could have made him leave, and in that case, what reason would he have to return?)

"No. No, no, no, a thousand times no."

Bohr looked utterly guiltless. "What are you talking about?"

Probably, Bohr felt utterly guiltless. It was like he'd said the other night (and Heisenberg had agreed with him): he was right and Schrödinger was wrong, and what else could there possibly be to things? "You're not going in there."

"He's got a cold. Hardly life-threatening."

So you'd leave him alone if he were on his deathbed? More likely Bohr would argue with him twice as vehemently then. "Nevertheless."

"And he'll be departing soon. I must speak with him again before he does. If only I can make him see - "

"One hour." He could have said ten minutes and the end result would have been the same.

Bohr smiled at him confidently. "I'm sure I won't need that long."

I'm sure twice that long wouldn't be enough to make you change his mind. But then, that was why they all loved Bohr, surely. The way he never gave up on anyone, no matter how slow or stubborn or proud, and never mind that when push came to shove, Bohr was the slowest, most stubborn, proudest of all of them.

He'd taken aside a young upstart who'd called his mathematics into questions (during a lecture, no less) and ended up making him his assistant. Made him part of his family.

 

"Two hours," Margrethe sighed.

"I told him one hour," Heisenberg said defensively, which earned him the scornful look that remark deserved.

"You get in there and make him leave my patient alone."

Me and what army? "I don't think - "

"You know how," Margrethe said. "Just do it. You think I mind? You think it's different now that I'm right here?"

I think you mind as much as I do when it's you and him. And how did one measure emotions? Feelings? He loved her because Bohr loved her. He disliked her because he wasn't sure if Bohr loved her equally to himself. "I'm still not sure if - "

"I am." Margrethe said.

 

Margrethe had been right, and Heisenberg had been right, and Bohr was still right, and Schrödinger was still wrong, but also safely en route to Zurich by now, none the worse for wear.

No doubt, he would speak fondly of Bohr in days to come; they had failed to reconcile their theories, yes, which was regrettable, yet they had had a good, frank discussion and what more could one ask for?

Only that Bohr could have convinced him. Only that.

"This idea of Schrödinger's - " Bohr said, and Heisenberg sighed, said: "Yes?". Looked to Margrethe to find her smiling at him as if she knew something he didn't, which she probably did.

"I think there might be something to it after all. Not the underlying principle, I'll grant you, but the basic premise ... well. It's simply a different way of looking at the same thing. As long as the end result is the same, though, what does it matter how one gets to it?"

A great deal, or so you claimed yesterday. And the day before. "If the principle is unsound, then so is the rest."

" 'If it works, it works,' " Bohr quoted, adding insult to injury.

"That's always been my philosophy. Never yours." Bohr wanted explanations, reasons, all the steps in a process. Heisenberg would come up with an idea, and Bohr would come up with why it was a sensible one.

Bohr shrugged. "No harm in sharing, is there? I shall write to Schrödinger. Perhaps I was slightly abrupt - he did feel a bit under the weather, after all."

"You said he was an idiot."

"I did nothing of the sort."

"You called his theory sheer stupidity."

Bohr looked pained. "I expressed myself with perfect politeness."

"So you admit you did say those things. With perfect politeness."

"And now I unsay them."

Un-say them? How? "You mean that you were wrong?"

"People can change their minds," Margrethe said.

"It's not that I was wrong," Bohr said. "It's that I found a different way to look at the theorem."