What is Schrodinger’s Cat?

by on January 19th, 2011
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When most people hear the term “quantum physics” their eyes instantly glaze over and they lose interest. If there is one topic that is mostly defined by how complex and confusing it is, it would seem to be quantum physics. Never the less, there are some ideas that have made it into the mainstream consciousness, even if the more complex aspects still elude them. One such concept is an idea referred to as Schrodinger’s Cat.

This was a thought experiment devised by an Austrian physicist named Erwin Schrodinger in 1935. It was meant as a way to point out the follies in a particular theory regarding something called superposition, an idea that posits that a physical system exists in all of its possible forms simultaneously.

Schrodinger took the idea and expanded it to a larger sample, in this case, a cat to illustrate how this would work. He presented a scenario where a cat was placed in a box with a device that had a 50/50 chance of either releasing a deadly poison or not based on the decay of a small radioactive sample. The theory puts forth the idea that, until the box is opened and an external observer can determine what state the cat is in, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

It’s a fairly ridiculous concept, and while Schrodinger may have intended it to be used as a way to point out inconsistencies in other theories, there are some who take it at face value. To wit, they go to great lengths to try and solve the paradox.

It doesn’t seem worth the effort. Just because you don’t know what happened inside the box, that doesn’t mean that you’ve created some sort of quantum flux where reality isn’t as concrete as it normally is. Despite the advanced jargon behind the ideas, it really doesn’t hold up under simple logic.

Hard as it may be to believe, there are some work arounds. If this idea is mixed with the idea that there are an infinite number of parallel universes, it is possible that such an experiment would create a split in the timeline, resulting in one where the cat lived and another where the cat died. In this instance, I suppose you could say that the cat is both dead and alive at the same time, but that’s stretching it considering we’re now talking about two separate timelines.

While Schrodinger’s Cat may’ve been an intentional example of the flaws in certain elements of quantum theory, it has been adapted by many as an example of how quantum theory works. This, of course, leads to it being posited as both simultaneously. Considering the nature of the theory, one has to admit that that is rather fitting.




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