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 Jan 2023

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In particular Erwin Schrödinger is said (Wigner (1981)) to have spoken of the Gruppenpest (German for “plague of group theory”) which ought to be abandoned. In his autobiography John Slater, an MIT physicist, claimed: It was at this point that Wigner, Hund, Heitler, and Weyl entered the picture with their “Gruppenpest”: the pest of the group theory… The authors of the “Gruppenpest” wrote papers which were incomprehensible to those like me who had not studied group theory, in which they applied these theoretical results to the study of the many electron problem. The practical consequences appeared to be negligible, but everyone felt that to be in the mainstream one had to learn about it. Yet there were no good texts from which one could learn group theory. It was a frustrating experience, worthy of the name of a pest. I had what I can only describe as a feeling of outrage at the turn which the subject had taken… As soon as this [Slaters] paper became known, it was obvious that a great many other physicists were as disgusted as I had been with the grouptheoretical approach to the problem. As I heard later, there were remarks made such as “Slater has slain the ‘Gruppenpest’”. I believe that no other piece of work I have done was so universally popular.
Gruppenpest, a word of German origin, which has also entered into English to mean "the plague of group theory" and group theorists (mathematicians) who were applying abstract algebra to physics and quantum mechanics in the midtwentieth century.
