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.
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 …
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?”
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 …
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,