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Schrodinger’s Cat Lady
August 20, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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Adding more observers give perspective on this ancient riddle

To test his one of his theories of quantum physics, Erwin Schrodinger [German: Schrödinger] devises an experiment. He believes that atomic radiation (for instance, from radioactive uranium or radium) is random, a result of the quantum randomness of nuclear particles. He also wonders if quantum states, normally confined to sub-atomic particles, can become entangled with larger masses, perhaps even up to the masses of everyday things.

He has a sample of radioactive material that he knows, on average decays once every 24 hours. But it is truly random within that envelope; it might decay twice in a second, or not decay for weeks at a time. So he can’t know for sure when it will first decay.

He plans to take a cat and implant a device in its brain that will explode when it detects the radioactive decay. He plans to put the cat in a box that prevents observers, including himself, from peering in. In twenty four hours he will open the box and see if the cat is dead yet.

The weird thing about this experiment is that it doesn’t prove anything, no matter what the outcome. The whole point is that you either believe the cat is in one of two states, dead or alive, but you just don’t know which; or you believe the cat is in a quantum probability function, sort of quasi-dead, until the door is opened and Schrödinger looks in.

The whole experiment is so embarrassingly stupid that Schrödinger wants to just call it a “thought experiment” and not to actually do it. But he learns he needs some experimental results to justify his grant money, so he goes ahead with it.  He sets up the experiment and grabs an alley cat. Unfortunately, just as he is about to do the experiment, the local cat lady rushes in and gets in the box with the cat. Not wanting to lose his grant, the scientist closes the door anyway. Perhaps, he thinks, if the lady is close enough to the cat head when it explodes, she will be killed too, and the experiment won’t be ruined by the unsolicited extra observer.

Now the cat lady is entangled in the quantum uncertainty of the experiment. Unbeknownst to the scientists, she has a watch, a pad of paper, and a pencil with her.

When the scientists open the door twenty four hours later, both the cat and the woman are dead. This, of course, neither proves nor disproves Schrödinger’s theory. However, when the forensic scientists are called by the coroner come to determine the cause of death of the cat lady, they find a note written by her saying the cat died exactly 14 hours, 7 minutes, and 3 seconds into the experiment. Apparently the cat lady was so distraught she had a heart attack about 15 hours into the experiment.

Did the quantum uncertainty end when the cat lady saw the cat explode? Or when Schrödinger opened the box? Or when the forensic guys found the note?

According to Schrödinger’s interpretation of quantum physics (known as the Copenhagen interpretation), the cat and the lady were neither alive nor dead until Schrödinger opened the door. The note was neither written nor not written, nor was it written at any particular time, until the note was found.

Accepting that interpretation, however, turns the whole concept of science to mush. The woman herself was just as good of an observer as Schrödinger. And for that matter, so was the cat. And so was the otherwise inert device that accepted the radioactive decay.

The whole concept of requiring an observer for reality to be determined quickly turns into the philosophy known as solipsism, in which it is posed that a person can only know what is perceived by his or her own senses, and should make no extrapolations from that.

Consider the possibility that the grant giving organization was actually performing an experiment. They wanted to see the effects of a random event on the thinking of the physicist.

Perform the experiment 100 times and likely about 50 times they are dead and 50 times they are alive. Or perhaps 50 times the cat is dead, and of those 25 times the cat lady is dead. They don’t exist in some quasi life-death state just because Schrödinger has not looked at them.

That still leaves us with the question of how probability works at the quantum level and interacts with the Newtonian level. And how quantum entanglement works at the quantum level.

The Many Worlds hypothesis is just a grandiose extension of the Schrödinger Cat Experiment. It is a cop out by people who are supposed to be doing science and philosophy. But I suppose they would say they may be copping out in this world, but are doing real science on some other world-line.




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