At the end of last week’s quasi-theory, I made the mistake of mentioning Schrödinger’s cat. I have been told by a higher authority, i. e., the Reverend Jeff, that I should somehow expand on Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment, even though I specifically said that, and I quote, “I refuse to explain Schrödinger’s cat.”
Erwin Schrödinger devised his thought experiment in 1935 to illustrate a problem in applying a quantum mechanics idea to larger, complex systems. The idea was, that at the atomic and smaller level, quantum systems, like electrons, atoms, protons and such, the actual state of the system is a sort of superposition of all possible states that that system could possibly have. It isn’t until an outside observation is made that the superposition of all possible states collapse into one specific state. The observer can be anything from another quantum system getting close enough to interact with the system under consideration, to a real experimental physicist, who does real things, and doesn’t just play around with mathematics all day. Schrödinger named this weird ass connection between the observer and the observed, “entanglement”, although, being Austrian, he actually named it “verschränkung”, which means, oddly enough, entanglement.
So, Schrödinger thought that this whole entanglement thingy was absurd, especially since it surely didn’t seem to be happening to anything in the normal world. He took, purely in thought, his cat and stuck it in a box. He put a mechanism in the box with the cat, presumably in way that the cat couldn’t play with it and thereby muck up the thought experiment. The mechanism had a bit of radioactive material, a Geiger counter, a trip hammer, and a vial of hydrocyanic acid. When the Geiger counter detects the decay of an atom of the radioactive material, it triggers the trip hammer to smash the vial, the hydrocyanic acid evaporates and becomes cyanide, and presto change-o, the cat is dead. There’s only a teensy bit of the radioactive stuff, so there’s only a small chance at any moment that The cat will be killed.
Now, if the whole quantum entanglement theory works on big things, too, the radioactive decay, will, or won’t, happen, until we open the box. The cat is therefore both dead and alive until we take a peek in the box.
Here’s where it gets weird. Quantum entanglement has been experimentally shown to be real. It has been shown to be real in experiments using around ten million electrons, as well as ten million photons.
And here’s where the trousers of time enter the scene.
We have all become familiar with the idea that, at any given instant, when we make a decision to do one thing or another, our timeline splits, like the legs of a pair of pants, thereby producing an alternate universe. There’s a timeline where we had chocolate instead of vanilla. There’s a timeline where we chose strawberry instead. If we are picking from amongst Ben and Jerry flavors, with Baskin-Robbins thrown in, the legs of the trousers of time become more like pants for a millepede.
Schrödinger’s cat had only two choices: alive or dead. I ask you, is that poor kitty therefore a zombie?
My thanks to the late Terry Pratchett for the beautiful trousers of time metaphor.
First shared on the Squatcher’s Lounge Podcast: