A New Quantum Species

About eighty years ago, Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment. At that time, one school of ideas about quantum physics held that things could exist in a “quantum superposition” of two different states. However, as soon as someone observed the things in a quantum superposition, the superposition “collapsed” into just one state or the other. Hey, it’s physics, and the universe is assuredly industrial-strength weird …

Schrödinger’s thought experiment was designed to show the problems when such a superposition is applied to real objects.

In his thought experiment, there is a sealed box containing a bit of radioactive material, a device to detect radioactive decay, a container of poison gas, a mechanical hammer … and a cat.

Schrödinger’s cat, to be precise, a mythical species of quantum being.

I show the experimental setup below. IF the bit of radioactivity decays, the hammer falls and releases the deadly gas, and the cat dies.

murphy schrodingers cat i

But if there is no decay, then the hammer doesn’t fall, and the cat continues to dream of fish.

Now according to the ideas of superposition, until we unseal the box and actually observe the outcome, the cat exists in a superposition of the two states. In other words, it is both alive and dead. BUT as soon as the experimenter opens the box, the superposition collapses into one state or the other. The mondo strange part is that until the box is opened, it is supposed to be neither alive nor dead …

schrodingers cat iii

However, like Schrödinger, I’d never seen an example of this in real life.

I got to thinking about Schrödinger yesterday when I got in the car to spend the day in town, with the gorgeous ex-fiancee behind the wheel. We’d gone a ways when she said: “Is the cat inside the house or out?”

Yikes!

Now, earlier that day I had emptied the cat box, but the box was outside drying and hadn’t been replaced in the house and refilled with cat litter.

So if the cat was in the house, he was in the house with no cat box. Very bad, we should go back now.

But if he was outside, no problemo … the world is his cat-box.

When that good lady asked whether the cat was inside the house or out, I laughed out loud, because I was reminded of Schrödinger’s Cat. I realized that as far as I was concerned, I’d finally found the real world example—to me, the cat was in a superposition of states. Until I observed him, for me he was neither inside nor outside the house.

But then, I thought further about the situation. I contemplated the tragic fact that Murphy’s law says that when you take your umbrella it never rains. I pondered the sad truth that if you want it to rain, just wash your car … and somewhere in there, I realized that I’d discovered a new quantum species, which as the discoverer I have named “Murphy Schrödinger’s Cat”.

What is Murphy Schrödinger’s Cat? Well, it’s a quantum superposition phenomenon, just like Schrodinger’s Cat. The only difference is that with Murphy Schrodinger’s Cat, when the superposition collapses … it never collapses in your favor.

Below is an unretouched photograph of Murphy Schrödinger’s Cat taking part in the Schrödinger thought experiment …

Murphy schrodingers cat

We turned around and drove all the way back home. I was laughing all the way about Murphy Schrödinger’s Cat.

When we arrived, our cat ran up to the car to greet us …

Summer sunshine to all,

w.

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55 thoughts on “A New Quantum Species

  1. “The map is NOT the territory”
    As a physics person, I am disgusted by folk who claim the “map IS the territory”.
    The mathematics to describe superposition of states is useful, to a degree, in calculating future “possibilities”.
    It does not, however, tell anything about “the territory of here and now”.

    If someone “claims” the cat is “dead and alive”,
    I know they are clueless wonders.
    Very smart, intelligent, educated, but still clueless,
    and I have a bridge in NYC to sell them, cheap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And a GCM is not the Climate….

      You nailed it. Heisenberg was influenced by (and largely misunderstood) the ideas of Ernst Mach. So too was Einstein. Schrodinger’s Cat was an attempt to show the flaws in the “Positivist” thought that was running rampant at the time in QM.

      The physicists Carlo Rovelli call’s it, “Dragging ontology into the equations.”

      Here’s a link to an article you might like.
      http://nautil.us/issue/43/Heroes/when-einstein-tilted-at-windmills

      Like

    • Susan Corwin July 15, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      If someone “claims” the cat is “dead and alive”,
      I know they are clueless wonders.
      Very smart, intelligent, educated, but still clueless,
      and I have a bridge in NYC to sell them, cheap.

      Susan, thanks for your thoughts. What would you say about someone making the following claim about a dead cat and a live cat mixed together?

      w.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Willis,

        from Wiki Schrodinger’s Cat”

        Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility; on the contrary, he intended the example to illustrate the absurdity of the existing view of quantum mechanics.[1] However, since Schrödinger’s time, other interpretations of the mathematics of quantum mechanics have been advanced by physicists, some of which regard the “alive and dead” cat superposition as quite real.[8][5] Intended as a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation (the prevailing orthodoxy in 1935), the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment remains a defining touchstone for modern interpretations of quantum mechanics.

        To believe that superposition is “real” is to commit a reification fallacy, i.e. to confuse the map for the territory, or the equations for reality.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification_(fallacy)

        All of this touches on a much bigger problem wrt to the relationship of science and philosophy – a relationship that has all but disintegrated in the last 50 years, and can explain much that is wrong with AGW….

        Like

        • Thanks for the interesting insights, jmarshs. You say:

          Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility; on the contrary, he intended the example to illustrate the absurdity of the existing view of quantum mechanics.

          Indeed. This is why I said in the head post that “Schrödinger’s thought experiment was designed to show the problems when such a superposition is applied to real objects”.

          Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

          You go on to say:

          However, since Schrödinger’s time, other interpretations of the mathematics of quantum mechanics have been advanced by physicists, some of which regard the “alive and dead” cat superposition as quite real.

          Please point that out to Susan above … she says anyone making that claim is clueless and is not a scientist.

          To believe that superposition is “real” is to commit a reification fallacy, i.e. to confuse the map for the territory, or the equations for reality.

          Here we start getting into some rough waters, where it is not clear what the meaning of “is” is. Let me ask you this:

              Is quantum entanglement real?

              Is quantum tunneling real?

          We’re getting into the range regarding which the man said “The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao” …

          That is not a mystical statement.

          It is a statement about mutual incommensurability …

          Best regards,

          w.

          Like

      • With respect to the quote.
        Yes, the Ψ function does give a “map” of what the “future” could look like.
        It is still a “map”, a math function useful in calculations.

        The state of the “cat” is “unknown”
        with probability function Ψ as to the binary hypothesized possible state…
        except there are other states such as the cat being alive but paralyzed, broke out of the box, etc
        all with a probability, however small.

        It was difficult to get the people (especially guys), I hired into my research lab to be able to discuss the boundaries of the limits on their knowledge. If it didn’t fit their “religiously believed” view of the universe, it must me unimportant or the “she didn’t understand”.

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        • Willis asked, “Is quantum entanglement real?”

          This opens the door to locality and non-locality. The question should be framed not as, “Is quantum entanglement real?”, but rather, what information can we acquire about a given system.

          Below is wonderful video that addresses this within the framework of the physicist Carlo Rovelli’s Relational Quantum Mechanics.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relational_quantum_mechanics

          Video.

          Like

          • jmarshs July 15, 2017 at 7:18 pm

            Willis asked, “Is quantum entanglement real?”

            This opens the door to locality and non-locality. The question should be framed not as, “Is quantum entanglement real?”, but rather, what information can we acquire about a given system.

            Thanks for the link. As I said, we’re in the region where it depends on what “is” is …

            However, I brought this up because you were vehement that quantum superposition was not “real”. I asked those questions to try to find out what you mean by “real” … but you still have not given a clear definition of “real”, a word that you used.

            In short, you say quantum superposition is not real, but quantum entanglement has nothing to do with reality, and instead is concerned with locality and non-locality. Sorry, but I’m not following your explanation.

            And what about quantum tunneling? Is it real?

            I ask because it’s now totally unclear what you mean by the word “real”.

            Regards,

            w.

            Like

        • Susan Corwin July 15, 2017, at 6:46 pm

          With respect to the quote.
          Yes, the Ψ function does give a “map” of what the “future” could look like.
          It is still a “map”, a math function useful in calculations.

          Yes, but what does the quote mean about the Ψ function having in it “the living and the dead cat … mixed or smeared out in equal parts”. You claimed that anyone talking about a cat being both living and dead was “clueless”. Is this author clueless?

          w.

          Like

          • Willis Eschenbach July 15, 2017 at 7:38 pm

            function having in it “the living and the dead cat
            … mixed or smeared out in equal parts”

            The “function” produces results that are “interpreted like a map”
            as a probabilistic distribution within the boundaries of the conceptual structure.
            Very “graphic” blood, gore, guts, but so what?

            Using that to “win” arguments (and hide ignorance)
            ….requires a degree of cluelessness that is disappointing.
            One could call it “bullying”,
            but given that the author can’t describe the theoretical issue in a useful way,
            ……I call it “cluelessness”.

            So, the question they must really answer is: what is a proton?
            I see that they have now “decided” that it is a number of quarks, maybe.
            …and an “electron”?
            …and a photon? Data that says “particle and wave”?
            …..as they say “it is a mystery, brother George, a mystery!”
            ……..(from Xerox photocopy commercial)

            I note that the 58 minutes in the video was a big long.

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          • Thanks, Susan … but I fear you haven’t answered the question, so I’ll ask it again, highlighted:

            Yes, but what does the quote mean about the Ψ function having in it “the living and the dead cat … mixed or smeared out in equal parts”. You claimed that anyone talking about a cat being both living and dead was “clueless”. Is this author clueless?

            Regards,

            w.

            Like

      • I would agree with the Schrödinger

        One can even set up quite ridiculous cases.

        so, in the context of the cat,
        …..no, Schrödinger is not “clueless” to espouse that there are ridiculous cased.

        Exploring the consequences of a particular principle, is one thing.
        Trying to generalize and use it beyond “enlightenment”, is bullying, in my view.

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  2. I recall having long discussions on this conundrum as a freshman in college, with equally ignorant souls. Then, I got tired of the silly sophistry and decided there was a third state; unknown. If you want to know whether the cat is alive or dead, open the box, that is, eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge.

    There might even be a third answer. You open the box, the cat jumps out, tripping the hammer, which releases the poison gas killing you, the observer. That would be the Existentialist version.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What did Schrödinger have against cats? Did he even have a cat? He doesn’t seem to have known much about cats.

    “Until I observed him, for me he was neither inside nor outside the house.” Luckily, the cat didn’t see it that way, temporarily transported to some parallel universe or something, until you got back.

    Speaking of boxes and their contents, Pandora’s Box wasn’t really a box (poor translation).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora%27s_box
    So consider the option that it was a book (just a thought), and that book was called the Koran.
    Before you open it, it is either the religion of peace or it is evil (nobody ever claims it is both, but that is also a possibility).

    Like

    • YMMV July 15, 2017 at 7:32 pm

      So consider the option that [Pandora’s Box] was a book (just a thought), and that book was called the Koran.
      Before you open it, it is either the religion of peace or it is evil (nobody ever claims it is both, but that is also a possibility).

      Actually, I’ve claimed it is both, and I’m not the only one.

      The first part of the Koran, the part that Mohammed wrote in Mecca when he was poor and friendless, was all about peace and love.

      But when he moved to Medina and gathered a band of thugs and started raiding the local villages and making the captive women into sex slaves, suddenly the prophecies and the Koran got all harsh and cold. Go figure.

      See my post “The Problem With Islam” for further discussion.

      Regards,

      w.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Willis, I ran out of reply buttons!

    Willis said, “However, I brought this up because you were vehement that quantum superposition was not “real”. I asked those questions to try to find out what you mean by “real” … but you still have not given a clear definition of “real”, a word that you used.”

    To be fair, I did use “scare quotes” for “rea”, lol.

    Ontologically, the cat is either dead or alive. However, epistemically, we don’t know until we look. The fact that Quantum Mechanics employees probability does not mean – ontologically – that the cat is both “dead and alive” until we look (interact with it). The cat is both “dead and alive” in the equations only. This is what Rovelli means by “Dragging ontology into the equations,” and is a reification fallacy. To explain why this was such an issue of contention between Einstein and Bohr/Heisenberg would take a great deal of time and could best be done over several beers if I’m ever in your neck of the woods. But most of the QM hooey that we hear about (Deepak Chopra et al) or the use of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in fields such as Women’s Studies can be traced back to this dispute.

    Territory = Ontology. Map = Epistemology.

    Like

    • jmarshs, you said that quantum superposition was not “real”. Obviously, that statement has meaning to you. That means that the word “real” means something quite specific to you.

      In order to determine what you meant by “real”, I asked the following:

              1. Is quantum entanglement “real”, according to whatever your definition of “real” might be?

              2. Is quantum tunneling “real” under the same definition?

      To date, despite the expenditure of many electrons, you have not answered either question …

      Look, you are the one who made the claim. I don’t understand what you mean by “real”. You have not defined it in any sense. If you will answer the questions, perhaps I can get some idea of what you mean by the word.

      Thanks,

      w.

      Like

  5. I have always thought that Schrödinger’s Cat was a egghead way of describing what contingency planners have done for centuries. Since you do not know what the future will reveal to you, you must plan on various possibilities to be able to confront what you find when it is revealed. So you plan that the cat is dead and have a response to that and you plan that the cat is alive. Now if the cat is alive, you need several prepared responses. Is the cat mad and going to attack you, is the cat passive and just glad to see you, will the cat jump out of the box and run away or will the cat just be a cat and ignore you. In your brain you have visualized each possibility and planned to have yourself react accordingly, that is if you really care.

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  6. Every week I buy a Schrödinger’s lottery ticket. Unfortunately, experimental evidence shows that the chance of a fortune quantum tunneling into my bank account, when I open the box, is a lot less than 50/50.

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  7. Willis said, “Look, you are the one who made the claim. I don’t understand what you mean by “real”. You have not defined it in any sense. If you will answer the questions, perhaps I can get some idea of what you mean by the word.”

    Is a probability function real? Yes. It can be worked out on a sheet of paper with a pencil, talked about, photocopied, programmed into a computer, etc.

    Is the actual, physical, unobserved cat in the box a “probability function” smeared between 0 (dead) and alive (1) or 0.25 (alive) or 0.75 (alive)? No. The cat is either alive OR dead. The cat is no more spread between 0 and 1 than a tumbling dice is smeared between 1 and 6. Lubos Motl does a very good job of explaining some of the problems commonly associated with understanding the Copenhagen Interpretation.
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2011/05/copenhagen-interpretation-of-quantum.html

    Entanglement of two particles is every bit as real as a cat. However, it was introduced by Einstein to discuss locality (Relativity) and non-locality (QM) and superluminal communication (faster than light) or what Einstein called, “Spooky action at a distance.” Entanglement is not Superposition, it’s another thing entirely.

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    • jmarshs, I asked two questions. Rather than answer them both, you have embarked on some kind of college lecture about, well, not a whole lot.

      You said above that there are serious scientists who think that superposition is real … but you haven’t said why they are wrong.

      If I understand you, you are saying that quantum superposition is not real, quantum entanglement is real, and you haven’t answered about quantum tunneling.

      Look. You keep acting like all of this is simple and obvious. You say “The cat is either alive OR dead” as if that were verifiable fact. But in the real world, the “Copenhagen Interpretation” was and has been the subject of serious scientific debate. Serious scientists have seriously disagreed with your flat claim that it is alive OR dead.

      Me, I’m giving up. If that’s the best explanation you have for your use of real, I’m totally lost. This may just be the nature of the subject matter. However, when a man tells you something isn’t “real” and then won’t define what he means by “real”, it makes me nervous …

      w.

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      • From Lubos’s link above:

        Consider a cat. You will evolve a wave function and the final state is “0.6 alive + 0.8i dead.” (The fact that the actual state is not pure in any useful sense will be discussed later.) When you observe the cat, it’s – unexpectedly – alive. Once you know that the cat is alive, it becomes a fact. You have to use this new knowledge in all your subsequent predictions and retrodictions if they’re supposed to be any accurate. Or valid, for that matter. I think that the previous statement is totally obvious.

        However, people invent lots of nonsensical gibberish in order to obscure what’s actually going on even though it is fundamentally very clear.

        For example, you will hear all the time that it is so difficult to get a “collapse” and there must be some complicated gadget or mechanism that does so. But if you realize that those things are probability amplitudes rather than potatoes, you must see that absolutely nothing has to be supplemented to “get” the collapse.

        The laws of physics predict that with the state above, there is a 36% probability that we will measure the cat to be alive and 64% probability that it is dead. Just to be sure, there is a 0% probability that there will be both an alive cat and a dead cat. The last sentence, while totally obvious, is once again being obscured and crippled pretty much by everyone who has every said that he sees a problem with the Copenhagen interpretation.

        Once decoherence eliminates the off-diagonal elements, the density matrix for the cat is
        rho = 0.36 |alive> <dead|
        The diagonal entries of the density matrix, 0.36 and 0.64, are the probabilities that we will get either of the results. But the result "we will have both types of a cat" isn't among the options with nonzero probabilities at all, so it will certainly not occur. Only one of the options with the nonzero entries, "dead" or "alive", will occur, and the probabilities are 64% and 36%, respectively.

        So one of them has to occur and the "symmetry" between them surely has to be broken. That's what the formulae imply. There is no possible answer of the form "half-dead, half-alive", so the latter result can't be observed.

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  8. Forgive me if I think that discussions of Schrödinger’s Cat tend to be boring, because most of the participants tend not to have enough background knowledge to make interesting arguments (present company excepted of course). Murphy Schrödinger’s Cat is definitely an improvement.

    But Schrödinger was clueless and does not deserve the fame his two-bit thought experiment gave him. It`s a Rube Goldberg thought experiment; it`s not clean, bare, and elegant like a good thought experiment should be. Here is a stripped down version of his experiment: Put a quarter (two bits, but not qubits) into a box. Shake the box. You don`t know until you open the box which state the quarter is in (heads or tails). You can philosophize as much as you want about it being neither heads or tails, or both heads and tails, but don`t bother. It is simply unknown until you open the box. No animals were harmed in this experiment. QM is math, not philosophy.

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2015/08/erwin-schrodinger-10000000th-birthday.html

    Even though almost all readers of popular books are led to totally misunderstand the correct answer to the gedanken experiment, Schrödinger’s cat (1935) became the canonical proof showing how totally deluded this guy was concerning the meaning of quantum mechanics. He correctly argued that a decaying particle that evolves into superpositions may force a measurement apparatus – and a cat whose fate depends on this apparatus – to evolve into complex linear superpositions. And that’s clearly nonsense, Schrödinger claimed, so quantum mechanics is ludicrous.

    Except that the superpositions are not nonsense. It is one of the most important and universal postulates of quantum mechanics, the superposition postulate, that for all pairs of allowed states |α⟩|α⟩ and |β⟩|β⟩, all of their complex superpositions a|α⟩+b|β⟩a|α⟩+b|β⟩ with a,b∈Ca,b∈C are equally allowed, too! The Hilbert space of allowed states is unavoidably a complex linear vector space. Nothing in quantum mechanics could work if this claim were not true.

    The superposition state
    a|alive⟩+b|dead⟩,|a|2+|b|2=1
    a|alive⟩+b|dead⟩,|a|2+|b|2=1
    does not describe two cats, a dead one and an alive one, overlapping each other in some way. As I have argued many times, it describes a cat that is known to the observer to be either alive, with probability |a|2|a|2, or dead, with probability |b|2|b|2. The word in between the two possibilities – the translation of the plus sign – is “or”, not “and”.

    Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics because the assumption that one of the answers (dead/alive, in this case) is “objectively” realized in between the measurement is simply impossible.

    The math symbols and superscripts are unlikely to appear properly, so go to the original site and get the full story.

    PS for any who missed it, “complex”, “real” and “imaginary” are math concepts.

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    • From Lubos’s quote: “Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics because the assumption that one of the answers (dead/alive, in this case) is “objectively” realized in between the measurement is simply impossible.”

      Part of the problem that Einstein had with QM is that he switched from being a Machean in his youth to a Kantian in his later years (see the link in my first post). In the parlance of this post, Einstein was so impressed with his “maps” that he quit looking at the “territory” altogether.

      YMMV said, “PS for any who missed it, “complex”, “real” and “imaginary” are math concepts.”

      The history of science has serval similar examples of the trouble in adopting new “math concepts”. The idea of “fluxions,” “infinitesimals,” or “limits” in the Calculus; non-Euclidean Geometry; Statistical Mechanics/probability theory in modeling gases or entropy. All met with some resistance at first.

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      • jmarshs July 16, 2017 at 10:06 am

        YMMV said, “PS for any who missed it, “complex”, “real” and “imaginary” are math concepts.”

        That is indeed true … but unless I’m missing something, that’s not the meaning of “real” you are using.

        w.

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  9. So where is the position of QM if you arrive to your driveway and see a coyote swallow your cat and run away. Now the cat has morphed into a coyote and will be back in a day or so to see if you have another cat. Your cat has now morphed into a coyote and its physical make-up is now bonded with the coyote!

    Wow … I’m thinking like a liberal. I can’t shoot the coyote because it would kill my cat!

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  10. > Now according to the ideas of superposition, until we unseal the box and actually observe the outcome, the cat exists in a superposition of the two states.

    I’m no *quantum* physicist, but I’ve always thought that the solution was that the cat is either alive or dead in the box (so not in superposition like the particle), since the hammer and vial act as the “observation”. Basically, there are so many quantum states (all the molecules in the hammer, poison vial and cat) linked to the quantum state of the particle, that the particle can’t be in the 50-50 state anymore. For me, that’s all the “observation” is: a “fixing” of one of the possible states by linking other states (e.g. photons in our eyes, etc.) to it.

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  11. Seems to me any probabilistic equation expresses a not terribly mysterious “superposition” of outcomes .
    It’s done every time someone shakes a die in a cup or raffle tickets in a box . Until the “reveal” the probabilistic “state” is a superposition of all the possible outcomes . So what ?

    Same with Bell’s “spooky” action at a distance . ( I think all fields acting at a distance are spooky , electromagnetism being even spookier than gravity ( but the relation between gravity & heat being sorely unappreciated ) . )

    But as I understand Bell’s experiments , a pair of particles are created known to have opposite spin and sent flying off at sub-light speed in different directions . When one of them is observed later to be spin “up” , lo , the other is found to have spin “down” .

    What am I missing ?

    BTW : my current bathtub reading is Huseyin Yilmaz : https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-relativity-principles-Blaisdell-sciences/dp/B0006BM13M/ , 1965 . I’d be interested in any evaluations of his work .

    Finally , It’s wrong to say that Schrödinger is remembered for this gedankenexperiment . The experiment is remembered because he is rightly remembered for his fundamental differential wave equation .

    For anybody around Colorado , http://cosy.com/y17/CoSyMidSummerMela2017.html is coming up Sat.Aug,20170805 .

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    • Exactly. You can’t check the results without c speed communication. Cause and effect still restricted t c. But, particles don’t think or observe,so they can act with QT logic.

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      • sure you could check the results without C speed communication, you just setup the message to be a round trip over two channels (both QM links) and do the comparison on the ground

        But even without a second QM link, if you have one channel QM and the other channel c, you can see if you get the result back faster than you could if both channels were c. The latency of the c channel is easily measurable at orbital distances.

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  12. Willis: A very entertaining thread you’ve started here.

    I’ve always thought of it as an absurd thought experiment, and my response, when somebody brings it up is this:

    The cat’s observations on Schrödinger’s thought experiment: “If Erwin really wanted to know what happens in the damned box, he should seal himself inside, instead of me.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dave’s got it. It’s like the old problem about names. The name of a thing is not the thing. There’s even a painting of a pipe with the label “this is not a pipe”. The probabilities are not the thing. We can agree on some thing being real, but it doesn’t make sense to discuss whether the probabilities are real. Until we push the button and see what happens in our “real” world. In our thoughts, it’s easy to imagine impossible and incompatible things. Thoughts are not real

    The problem with the term “quantum superposition” is that it has nothing to do with quantum mechanics, it’s just superposition of probabilities. A useful concept for QM, but it is not QM. Ordinary real water waves superimpose (up to the point they become non-linear).

    Say you buy a loto ticket for $1 with a chance of winning $1 million. What’s that ticket worth? The expected value is some combination of amounts of winning versus probabilities of winning. What’s QM got to do with it? And when they push the button and declare a winning ticket, it gets real (no scare quotes needed).

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  14. When I was studying for my doctorate in physics, there were 5 or 6 of us who agreed we could not understand the Coopenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (which Schrodinger illustrated with his cat). So we went to our physics instructor, who got quite angry with us and said it was not our job to think; it was our job to calculate. And indeed, the calculations always come out, sometimes to the 10th or 11th decimal, making QM the most secure theory ever. Nonetheless, most of us continued to try to square our knowledge with the Schrodinger Cat problem.

    This was in the 1960s. Unbeknownst to us, a separate interpretation had been advanced, and universally ridiculed, in the 50s by a student of John Wheeler (another of whose students was Richard Feynman, by the way). The student was Hugh Everett. He advanced the idea that if the odds were 50-50 that the cat was alive or dead, when the experimenter opens the box, the universe splits into two. In one, the cat is dead, in the other it is alive. And each time a quantum measurement is made, the universe splits into just as many universes as will accommodate the QM odds–if 99:1, then 99 new universes will appear with the more favored outcome, and one universe appears with the less favored one.

    Crazy, huh?. Everett could not get a job in physics with that kind of craziness, he became disheartened, and left physics, although I understand he did some good work in another field.

    Time passed. More physicists began having problems with the Copenhagen interpretation, which states that the Schrodinger equation rules everything up until the point that the experimenter looks in the box, at which time the wave function collapses and the cat is found to be in a pure state (alive or dead). Eugene Wigner early on asked us to think about the experimenter’s friend. The experimenter looks in the box, finds the cat dead or alive and turns to tell his friend what he saw. But the friend knows that the Schrodinger equation, which rules both the cat and the experimenter, is still showing the cat in a 50-50 alive-dead mix. It is only when the experimenter tells him the result that the experimenter-cat wave equation collapses and the result is known. This is what led Einstein to ask, “Do you really think the moon does not exist until you have looked at it?”

    Or you can create a particle with a known energy, but an unknown direction of movement, and surrounded by a hemipherical detector. Because you know the energy (to within the Heisenberg uncertainty relation) you know how long it will take to reach the detector. You note that a few seconds after it should have reached the detector, the detector did not detect, so you know now that it headed off into the other direction. So the wave function has now collapsed to represent the new reality. But no measurement was made! How did you manage to collapse the wave function without making a physical measurement.

    Gradually, Everett’s approach began to make headway. The great beauty of it is that there is no collapse of the wave function. The Schrodinger wave function rules throughout all the universes. Everett was asked what would disprove his theory. He said that if ever quantum mechanics was disproved, his theory would also go belly-up, because it simply follows the quantum mechanics rules. People said, “I don’t feel the universe splitting”. He responded, “Do you feel our passage at hundreds (thousands?) of km/sec around the Sun?”

    Max Tegmark at MIT has a fine book on the various ideas of parallel universes: http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/mathematical.html

    I believe it might have been Max who said that in his lectures to physicists, at conferences, he would ask how many believed the Copenhagen interpretation, and how many went with Everett. Over the years, more and more physicists swung over to the Everett interpretation.

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      • “Clueless” not of “lesser intelligence”.

        The “map is not the territory”
        …but folk get paid by clueless (bright, intelligent, insightful) wonders
        …..who don’t have a clue (but have “laser-focused tunnel vision”)
        and couldn’t catch one if they were
        …… doused in clue musk, and
        ….. wandering in a herd of clues.
        since the “pursuit of money” is the root of all evil.

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  15. The latest news about a paired particle sent 140 miles into space is interesting. Transportation seems to be some long time into the future. The problem still seems to be that to send the photon to its position away from its pair has to be at the usual speed of light (c) and to check whether the instant change from one to the other has worked the information has to be carried at c too.

    I have been fascinated by QM and gravitation for ages and suggested a theory that instead of the graviton, the theoretical mediating particle with zero mass and traveling at c, gravity could be transmitted by uncertainty allowing a fog of virtual gluons to escape from quarks and gluons within them. This would reduce with the square of distance but travel would be instantaneous.The problem is in working out an interaction with EM acting particles. This might account for the missing mass which would come from beyond the observable limit of the universe at 13.8 billion light years. The universe beyond the limit has been calculated at billions of times the already massive size.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/07/12/first-particle-successfully-quantum-teleported-into-space-are-transporters-next/#13377af4596e

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  16. Fascinating discussion of mathematics and the universe. I really can’t follow it since I fell out of love with science and math when the claim that mathematics describes reality came into vogue. Mathematics appears to at least “simulate” reality, but I won’t pretend that it predicts reality. this is a real world I live in, not a matrix, not a hologram. So if I had to take a position on the map and the territory, I would say that mathematics simulates the territory, but it is not the territory. Worse, it seems to have taken the same approach to reality – or the territory – as western medicine has to wellness. Keeping us alive is not the same as living is, whereas eastern medicine appears to believe in giving us back the ability to live life as it was intended. With western medicine, like mathematics, and like climate crisis, the simulation is sufficient, “we don’t need no stinking reality.”

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  17. More on Everett’s many-world interpretation here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation

    The real question is “are the alt-universes real?”. If not, it’s just a fanciful way of stating the probability space interpretation.

    In a 1983 interview, Hawking also said he regarded the MWI as “self-evidently correct” but was dismissive towards questions about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, saying, “When I hear of Schrödinger’s cat, I reach for my gun.” In the same interview, he also said, “But, look: All that one does, really, is to calculate conditional probabilities—in other words, the probability of A happening, given B. I think that that’s all the many worlds interpretation is. Some people overlay it with a lot of mysticism about the wave function splitting into different parts. But all that you’re calculating is conditional probabilities.”

    It’s all shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. Next up: determinism and free will!

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    • There was a time (long ago) when I was required to study LaPlace transforms (forgive the spelling) and as very analytical of the mathematics concept I decided that was going too far from what I wanted to know. Introducing a second or third unrelated element into the equation to create an apples to pumpkins comparison to something else wasn’t over my head, I just wasn’t interested. LaPlace rest in peace.

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      • In my comment I believe I may have inappropriately laid the blame on LaPlace whereas perhaps if was some other theory in differential equations or later/advanced math that I was thinking about. Sorry LaPlace.

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    • Further expanding my thoughts on ever expanding open mindedness of QM theories has led me to ‘logical’ conclusions supported by recent ‘research’. With QM being ‘frozen’ if being observed and remembering the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie” starring the ‘hot’ Barbara Eden now I know why Jeannie would blink her eyes to make things happen! So to continue with Willis’ cat inside/outside thought exercise he would only need to shut his eyes while shooting the coyote to bring his cat back after the coyote ate his cat! I’m still pondering whether he would have to keep his eyes shut until some other observer would need to make that observation first before he could open his eyes. Anyway, I’m happy and all smiles while entertaining the thought.

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  18. I once sought a professional’s explanation of these matters from a close relative, a very accomplished senior physicist. He sputtered for a while, becoming ever more frustrated and, ultimately, angry. No explanation.
    This left me even more puzzled than before, but about two weeks later I read the answer which has remained satisfactory: reviewing (in Science IIRC) a higher level general text on physics, the reviewer noted he had become increasingly apprehensive that the author was attempting to deliver an intuitively coherent description of (see above), but was quite relieved to find that, in the end, the author was making no such attempt.

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  19. I am not a physicist but I do like a puzzle. Assuming the universe divides and opening the box reveals which universe we inhabit, what about the third possibility? Slot A, slot B or wave. If we destroy the cat box using high explosives so there is no possibility of ever knowing the status of the mechanism or the cat, do the 2 universes recombine?

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  20. The future is nothing but the smoke of probabilities. The past is but ashes. We only exist within the fire of the moment we call “now”.

    My belief is that what we call “now” is like a shockwave moving through the firmament of what we call time. There may be many possibilities for what the future will bring, but they all must collapse into something that we are all a part of in the instant we call now.

    Call me crazy if you wish, but that’s what I believe.

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