Sum of all minds

I recall a talk given by Robert Anton Wilson, in which he quoted a line from Austrian-Irish quantum-physicist Erwin Schrödinger, to the effect that “the sum of all minds is one”. This quote also appeared at the beginning of chapter six of RAW’s The New Inquisition: “The sum total of all minds is one” – attributed by Wilson to Schrödinger’s Mind and Matter.

(I later acquired a copy of Mind and Matter – and the nearest I could find to the above quote is “the over-all number of minds is just one.” Well, close enough for me. Different transcripts from the original Schrödinger lectures, perhaps?).

When I first heard the quote, I was amazed, given that it came from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist – it seemed sort of intuitively right, somehow, and yet totally at odds with modern western definitions of a “mind” (noun) as a sort of personal container of thoughts and experiences. (More on the wide-ranging implications of the mind-as-container metaphor in a later post).

Schrödinger also writes the following in Mind and Matter:

“There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousnesses. Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads. And not only of the Upanishads. The mystically experienced union with God regularly entails this attitude unless it is opposed by strong existing prejudices; and this means that it is less easily accepted in the West than in the East.”
– Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter


The full quote for the “sum of all minds is one” type line is this:

“Mind is by its very nature a singulare tantum. I should say: the over-all number of minds is just one. I venture to call it indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now.”
– Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter


To me, this sounds similar to some contemporary western readings of Advaita Vedanta from fashionable ‘nondual’ circles (and from people like Eckhart Tolle). Schrödinger’s Mind and Matter was first published in 1958 – from lectures delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1956 (my copy is a later combined reprint with ‘What is Life?).

Talking of his ‘What is Life?’ (first published in 1944), here’s a quote from the epilogue of my edition:

“The only possible alternative is simply to keep to the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian MAJA); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys.”
– Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life?


I haven’t read Schrödinger’s later book My View of the World, but in it he revisits these themes. The following excerpt (copied and pasted from Google Books) is from the chapter titled, ‘More about non-plurality’:

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