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dreamwolf's avatar

Can you explain what "schrodinger's cat" conceptualizes?

Asked by dreamwolf (3142 points ) October 7th, 2011

I just watched this youtube video and I’m still lost. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOYyCHGWJq4 I do have the sports running and I’m chatting around and doing web stuff. So I don’t have the time to read in depth, but I do have time for a Fluther answer :D

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34 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I would but I am too busy being in two places at once, or, whoa, in neither place.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Yes and no.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I really don’t like that explanation. My understanding is that it was meant to be an outrageous situation satirizing the way the quantum physics field was at the time. The idea is that only observation creates action (ie only by observing the cat does the cat actually live or die, so clearly someone has to be observing you to make you go and check on the cat, and who’s observing them to make sure they observe you so you can check and the cat can live or die – it goes on and on my friend, it is the theory that never ends, some people started thinking it…).
However, in modern-day parlance, it simply refers to a state of indeterminacy, that you don’t know until you see. For instance, restaurants I haven’t tried could be termed “Schrödinger’s restaurant”, and only upon trying them could I find out if it was going to be a good experience or bad. I’ve heard of the idea that every new man a woman meets is in a state of rapist indeterminacy (because she does not know him, she does not know if he’s a rapist or not), thus all new men are at one point “Schrödinger’s rapist”.

XOIIO's avatar

Basically, as simply as I can explain it, until you know something for sure, every option is possible, and happening at once. The cat could be dead, or alive, so it is alive and dead until you know for sure.

CWOTUS's avatar

Firesign Theater had a good answer in one of their routines, I think:

How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All?

ETpro's avatar

Well it sure proves that Schrodinger shoould under no circumstances be allowed to won a cat.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

Yup…All of the above, and how things tend to behave differently when you watch them.

mattbrowne's avatar

To some animal rights activists it represents an animal abuse thought experiment.

(the name is Schrödinger or Schroedinger, by the way)

gailcalled's avatar

@mattbrowne: And is that missing “e” somewhere that can be measured or observed? As Descartes didn’t say, “I think not.”

dreamwolf's avatar

@mattbrowne the spelling of the name to me has nothing to do with it. as an abstract thinker all that would matter is that two would agree that a different name would mean the same thing. unless the rules are strictly Austrian then yes you are correct, but come on, schrodinger is an american way of saying it i guess?) i enjoyed your answer either way :)

mattbrowne's avatar

@gailcalled – Yes, there is a universe with plenty of Schrodingers thinking of dead-and-alive cats ;-)

mattbrowne's avatar

@dreamwolf – I was just trying to do you a favor. Like someone did years ago pointing out to me it’s Gandhi, not Ghandi.

dreamwolf's avatar

@mattbrowne oh ok, thank you :)

Joker94's avatar

It was conceived as a method of killing cats.

XOIIO's avatar

@mattbrowne I just pictured a universe with hundreds of half normal-half zombie cats XD

flutherother's avatar

Quantum theory is a very successful theory that explains and predicts in great detail how the world works. It appears to be true as far as we can tell. One of its features is that quantum systems are often in a state of indeterminacy where we don’t know whether particles are up or down or here or there. It is not that we don’t know the state of the particle; the particle has no definite state.

This is OK when the uncertainty is mostly out of sight in the quantum world but the effects can be projected into the classical world in which we live in and give rise to odd effects such as Schrodinger’s cat. This cat is both alive and dead at the same time in a state of quantum indeterminacy. When we open the box it either emerges alive and kicking or requiring burial. But before the box is opened the cat is neither alive nor dead.

ETpro's avatar

@flutherother GA. Very succinctly stated. But while we don’t know if the cat is alive or dead, it is always either one or the other. It’s just in a box and we can’t determine which state it’s in without opening the box. To my thinking, that seems different from the microscopic world of quanmtum mechanics, in which the state of a particle is truly both states and only when measured does it assume just one state.

flutherother's avatar

While in the box the cat is neither alive nor dead, that is the whole point of the thought experiment. It is in a third state that we are not familiar with but which is common in quantum mechanics. It is weird but that was the point of the thought experiment; to demonstrate the weirdness of the quantum world. As soon as the box is opened the cat will be found to be either alive or dead but up to that point it is in some sort of in between state that isn’t usually found in the classical world and which is very difficult, or impossible to imagine.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@flutherother I ♥ your brains!

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@mattbrowne People do actually know that the cat was a hypothetical instrument…

Right?

There never actually was a dead or not cat?

ETpro's avatar

@flutherother No, the cat is dead the moment the isotope decays. If it does not decay, the cat is alive. Animals that died in the distant past, beofre humans arrived to onserve those deaths, were still dead. And ones that die out in a forect somethere and aren’t onserved to be dead for decades were still dead the moment their life expoerd. Switching a forext to a box does nothing to change that.

flutherother's avatar

The cat dies as soon as the isotope decays, but because of quantum uncertainty, we don’t know when the isotope decays. The isotope is in a superposition of states where it is both decayed and not decayed until observed when it collapses into one state or the other. As the cat’s fate is linked to the decay of the isotope the cat is both dead and alive until the box is opened.

There is a difference between classical ignorance, where the box contains a cat that may be alive or may be dead, we don’t know which, and quantum superposition where it is alive and dead simultaneously.

ETpro's avatar

@flutherother I’m just being devil’s advocate here. I understand the paradox, but my final answer is that while we don’t know the cat’s state of life or death till we open the box, the cat damn well knows. Therefore, the measurement of the state of the radioactive isotope has already been made, and it’s state of superposition collapsed if it has decayed before the box is open and the poor cat is let out.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

http://hp.vector.co.jp/authors/VA011700/physics/catwww.htm

“Am I alive or dead? It is decided by your eyes.
Are you alive or dead? It is decided by my eyes.
If my eyes are closed, all the world would be dimmed.”

mattbrowne's avatar

@GabrielsLamb – I once became a victim in some other forum when explaining about Schroedinger’s cat. An animal rights activist considered the thought experiment to be unethical. It would encourage the abuse of real animals. He asked me to refrain from mentioning such cruel thought experiments.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@mattbrowne That’s rediculous! That’s like picketing a science lab for the hypothetical unethical treatment of non existant lab animals.

LOL

CWOTUS's avatar

No, it’s worse than that, @GabrielsLamb. It’s like being picketed for writing a story about thinking about possibly hurting non-existent lab animals.

mattbrowne's avatar

@mattbrowne – Well, I decided to leave that particular forum. I think it was on Myspace a couple of years ago. Still, it was an interesting experience. It’s something you don’t forget.

gailcalled's avatar

Milo here; I was shut in a bedroom overnight by mistake.

Gail thought I was somewhere else; I thought I was shut in a bedroom.

After the fact, I used macro-mechanics to prove my existence.

1) A pile of poop
2) a dead mouse, not discovered until it was infested with maggots.

flutherother's avatar

@ETpro That’s why a living creature is chosen for the experiment, to highlight the absurdities of the theory. However although it is absurd it also seems to be true and that is the paradox. Experiments can now be carried out that demonstrate quantum effects in the world we experience and it is on these effects that quantum computing, for example, depends.

ETpro's avatar

@flutherother EXACTLY. We have come to complete agreement—or to understanding that we agreed all along.

mattbrowne's avatar

@GabrielsLamb – Oops. Hit the wrong key after @ above

gailcalled's avatar

@mattbrowne: By writing to yourself, you have become an exemplar of Schroedinger’s cat.

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