Schrodinger’s Cat is something that most of us are likely to have heard of at some point in our lives but how many of us actually know what it means? Well that is the subject of our little discussion for today.. Who (or what, more specifically) is Schrodinger’s Cat?
Now for all you cat lovers out there I should stress that there were no cats harmed during this thought experiment! It is not an experiment that ever actually took place so there were no cats harmed. As to why Schrodinger decided to use a cat as opposed to a dog or any other animal has long been a personal curiosity of mine 🙂
So then, what was Schrodinger’s Cat? Well the theory goes that if you were to put a cat into a sealed box with a substance that had a 50/50 chance of decaying within an hour and a vial of poisonous gas… If the substance decayed, triggering the vial to release the said gas, the cat would die. If the substance didn’t decay the cat would live. Ultimately then what we have is a cat in a box with a 50% chance of living. Pretty simple so far.
So, dead cats and living cats… What do they have to do with physics? Well what Schrodinger was trying to show was that after an hour the cat would be in a superposition where it would be both alive and dead at the same time to whoever is on the outside of the box because the actual outcome wouldn’t be decided until he checked inside the box. I mean, if we can’t see what’s happening inside the box we don’t know the fate of the cat right?
So what was the whole point to all of this? Well this is just the way that Erwin Schrodinger in 1935 wanted to try to explain the “Copenhagen interpretation” which is all to do with the fact that in Quantum Mechanics there is a lot of uncertainty and this is best described when peering at an electron.
Due to uncertainty we are not able to know both where an electron is and where it is going at any given point in time. The more accurate your results are as to the location of an electron the more uncertain you become of its movement. (This is a topic for further discussion at another time)
So to conclude, Schrodinger’s Cat is a way of trying to explain that while the cat is locked in the box its fate is uncertain, it’s in a superposition state of being both dead and alive. Looking into the box however requires that the cat either be dead or alive, so from our perspective it’s in a superposition state until we truly know the outcome.
The real question then is… What happens from the perspective of the cat before we look into the box? Zombie Cat!