Schrödinger’s cat

Schrödinger’s cat: a thought experiment devised by Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) to point up
the irrationality of the strange notions about reality which quantum mechanics makes possible.
Imagine a cat in a closed, soundproof box. Also in the box, imagine a device that can release
a poisonous gas that would kill the cat instantly. The release mechanism for the gas is hooked
up to a radioactive material and will be triggered by the decay of that material. After one hour,
there is a fifty-fifty chance that the radioactive material has decayed. That means there’s also a
fifty-fifty chance that the cat is still alive.
Or at least that’s what it would mean in a world governed by the certainties of classical physics.
Because the box is designed to totally prevent your being able to hear or see any evidence of
the cat’s presence, the only way to know for sure if the cat is dead or alive is to open the box
and take a look. Intuition and life-experience suggest that the unseen cat in the box must be
either one or the other.
According to the quantum mechanics of the Copenhagen Interpretation, however, the cat in
the box doesn’t exist until the moment someone opens the box and observes it! If we
understand what we can know about the cat’s condition in the same way quantum mechanics
explains what we can know about subatomic particles, our act of observation actually causes
reality to manifest in the form we observe, as opposed to any other possible form. So, just as
wave-particle duality is resolved in quantum mechanics by suggesting that only when the
scientist’s gaze “collapses the wavefunction” is the Universe forced to choose between a
particle or a wave, Schrödinger’s cat-in-a-box will be in limbo, both alive and dead, until an act
of observation calls one possibility into being instead of the other.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License