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Explanations of Schrodinger’s Cat

     “To dramatize the problems of applying quantum theory to the classical world, the Austrian Physicist Erwin Schrodinger devised his famous thought experiment in which the fate of a cat is tied to that of a single subatomic particle.  In one version, a photon (a particle of light) is fired at a half-silvered mirror, giving it a 50-50 chance of reflecting back or sailing through. If the photon passes through the mirror, it strikes a photoelectric detector, activating a circuit that breaks a vial of poison and kills the cat.  If the photon is reflected away from the detector, the cat is spared.

     Schrodinger argued that until the box was opened and the outcome of the experiment was registered, the photon would linger in a superposition of the two possible paths it could take, leaving the cat in the uncomfortable position of being simultaneously dead and alive.”

-New York Times, Science Times.  “In Quantum Feat, Atom Is Seen in 2 Places at Once,” by George Johnson.  Feb. 15th.

     “The Cat problem presupposes a Cat, a device of lethal nature, such as a gun or a poison gas pellet, and a quantum process which will, eventually, trigger the weapon and kill the Cat.  Very simple.  An experimenter, if he wanted to find out when the device had fired and killed the Cat, would look into the laboratory where all this was transpiring and note what actually happened.  But—Schrodinger points out with some glee—modern physics, if it's all it's cracked up to be, should allow us to find out what is happening without our actually going into the laboratory to look.  All we have to do is write down the equations of the quantum process and calculate when the phase change leading to detonation will occur.  The trouble is that the equations yield, at minimum, two solutions.  At any given time—say one half hour—the equations give us two quantum eigenvalues, one of which means that the Cat is now definitely dead, kaput, spurlos versenkt, finished, and the other which tells us that the Cat is still alive as you and me.

I never died, said he;
I never die, said he.

Most physicists preferred to ignore Schrodinger's damned Cat; quantum mechanics worked, after all, and why make a big thing about something a little funny in the mathematics?

Einstein loved Schrodinger's Cat because it mathematically demonstrated his own conviction that subatomic events couldn't be as anarchistic as wave mechanics seemed to imply. Einstein was a Hidden Variable man. He claimed there must be a Hidden Variable—an Invisible Hand, as Adam Smith might have said—controlling the seemingly indeterminate quantum anarchy. Einstein was sure that the Hidden Variable was something quite deterministic and mechanical, which would be discovered eventually. "God does not play dice with the world," he liked to say.

Decade followed decade and the Hidden Variable remained elusive.

In the 1970s, Dr. Evan Harris Walker solved the Cat paradox (to his own satisfaction) and defined the Hidden Variable (to his own satisfaction). The Hidden Variable, he said, was consciousness. There was muttering in some quarters that walker was smuggling pantheism into physics disguised as quantum psychology, but many younger physicists—especially the acid-heads—accepted the Walker solution.

     Professor John Archibald Wheeler of Princeton found another way of dealing with the Cat; he took it literally.  Every quantum indeterminacy, he proposed, creates two universes; thus, the equations are literally true and in one universe the Cat lives and in another the cat dies.  We can only experience one universe at a time, of course, but if the math says the other universe is there, then by God it is there.  Furthermore, since .5 probabilities occur continually—every time you toss a coin, for instance—there are many, many such universes, perhaps an infinite number of them.  With two graduate students named Everett and Graham, Wheeler even worked up a model of where the other universes were.  They were on all sides of us, in superspace.”

-The Universe Next Door, Robert Anton Wilson.

Dear Doctor Science,

  If you put a cat in a sound-proof, non-transparent, cubic container that also housed a shotgun, and then you allowed a photon to pass through this container at a vertical vector, causing the shotgun to discharge, what would happen to the cat?

-- Jerry Goldstein from Charleston, SC

  She would disassociate, going into a mild sort of catatonic shock that characterizes much of the known world today. Only after you attempted to form an intimate relationship with the cat would you discover that there's really no one home. If the cat were a veteran, we might call it PTSD; if the cat were a female with literary ambition, we might say she possessed multiple personalities or 'alters'; if she were a psychic, we would say she was channeling. In any case, that will be one angry cat.

Go back to my Grimore.

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