If You See Schrödinger’s Cat, I Want It… Dead or Alive!

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CC By Apionid

My passion has always been taking complex concepts (ones that have been written with lots of technical jargon), and sitting for hours with a “physics, to common English”, dictionary while explaining it all to myself so a 9th grader might understand it.

I want it so basic that it is dumber than one of those Dummy books.

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By Shiny Things

I first started this exercise of simplifying complex ideas with the 370 pages of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and never looked back. I have been doing this with Game Theory for a decade, and I often publish that work on Medium.com.

My most recent attempt at this has been to simplify the theory of Schrödinger’s Cat. I’ll get to who Schrödinger’s is (or was) and why we need care about his cat in just a minute or so (I only have 7 1/2 minutes left to explain the whole thing anyway).

This Schrödinger’s Cat story had so many layers to it that it kept my brain at high speed, my mind in delight, and the pages of my dictionary frayed! Keep in mind I only have about 7 minutes to explain the whole thing.

The foundation of this has to do with the fact that I teach seminars and write about the connection between Eastern Mysticism and Western Physics. Most of my students are scientists of one type or another who live in Agnosticland but are nonetheless afflicted with the pain of spiritual hunger.

I don’t get many New Age people to my programs. No healers, chakra balancers, “Channels”, psychics, and the like. I have nothing against them and they may be on to something, but most of them think what I am doing is too heady and “granular”. Thus I end up with mathematicians, architects, and computer scientists. Most of these students are a little tortured and are floating or stuck somewhere between the left and right brain sections of the universe.

One day, a computer-scientist in my class asked me how I could make any sense out of what I was exploring and teaching. All this Zen stuff mixed with mathematical algorithms and analytics?

My response was: “It is essential that you understand that you cannot use a dualistic way of thinking to understand the absurdity of thinking dualistically concerning spiritual inquiry. To attempt to do so is simultaneously absurd and completely logical”.

At that very moment, he gently pushed his index finger into my chest and demand that I explain the -pseudo-theological scientific garble I had just assaulted him with.

Of course, I meekly accommodated his request. Here is a pathetically feeble and attempt to explain how there is a point where consciousness and human potential can no longer be pushed into a mental prison of Binary thinking -– right/wrong, yes/no, good/bad, start/finish. 2. Directional thinking — moving forward, a step closer, lighter grey/darker grey, an experiment, an opportunity to learn, smart-ish, safer, right-ish, wrong-ish, finished-ish. Binary thinking feels safe, though the thought experiment called “Schrödinger’s cat, makes us question all concepts of what is a fact, what makes sense, and what is actually “reality”.

Let’s begin. Any thought experiment can be designed to explore many possibilities including the limitations of binary thinking in certain situations. This thought experiment was invented by Schrödinger to demonstrate the foolishness of thinking about quantum states for large objects. It has also been referenced many times in pop culture. A thought experiment considers a hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences. Another way of putting it is an experiment carried out only in the imagination. For example “the far-sighted practitioner of Harrison’ Applied Game Theory must do a thought experiment to map out what would likely happen in a specific situation considering all of the known relevant variables.”

Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian-Irish physicist who was already well known for developing a number of fundamental results in quantum theory. In addition, he was the author of many works on various and important aspects of physics. He also paid great attention to the philosophical aspects of science, ancient and oriental philosophical concepts, ethics, and religion. But what he is most famous for in the public mind is his “Schrödinger’s cat” thought-experiment.

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Quantum Physics By KMYC89

Just to remind you, quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory in physics that provides a description of the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It is the foundation of all quantum physics including quantum chemistry, quantum field theory, quantum technology, and quantum information science. Essentially “things” at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles do not behave the same way as larger “things” which seem to be ruled by the laws of mechanical physics.

So what exactly is the “ Schrödinger’s Cat “ thought-experiment? Like any recipe, this experiment begins with some ingredients.

· One cat

· One flask of poison,

· a radioactive source

· A box that can be sealed

· an internal monitor (e.g. Geiger counter)

By Sclar

Creating the experiment:

Imagine we were to place the cat, the flask of poison, and the radioactive source and place them all in a box that we then sealed?

Now the experiment is set-up so should the internal monitor (e.g. Geiger counter). detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask would shatter, releasing the poison, and thus killing the cat.

Now there is something called The Copenhagen interpretation. This interpretation of the “mechanics” of quantum physics was developed by Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein in Copenhagen in 1927. Remember the rules of behavior concerning “things” in the quantum world are different than in mechanical physics. Quantum mechanics says that after a while, the cat is both alive and dead. A person looking into the box will either find the cat alive or dead, however, it is assumed to be both alive and dead before you look into the box.

This way of thinking, which seems totally irrational, is based on an idea called Born’s law of Wave function, developed by the Nobel Prize Laureate Max Born. It was one of the first usable models of quantum mechanics.

Let’s review where we are so far.

In this thought experiment, the assumption would be that in a rational world the cat is either alive or dead, but it could not be both alive and dead simultaneously. However, this would not be the case in the world of quantum.

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In this experiment, it is implied that after a while, with the box still sealed there is a point where the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when something physicists called quantum superposition ends and reality resolves into one possibility or the other.

Superposition is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured. Superposition is obviously the kind of event we are presented with all the time on Star Trek.

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J.D. Hancock

Because the concept of quantum superposition is difficult to understand, this essential principle of quantum mechanics is often illustrated by an experiment carried out in 1801 by the English physicist, Thomas Young. It is known as the Double Slit experiment. Rather than try and explain it with a physicist and a blackboard let’s use an animated graphic presentation (a cartoon) to explain it.

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One of the key points here concerning that dead or alive cat is that by a human observing the experiment of that cat in the box the person has already influenced the experiment, and therefore influenced the result. Thus it may not give us the correct answer.

Is the Cat Alive? Yes, No, Both, Neither.

So, as you ponder this total mental Olympic Games level mental-back-flip, consider this? If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

I’m the author: I am a game theorist and self-improvement coach offering advice for innovators of all levels who are dealing with obstacles and constraints in their work (and play).

Learn More about Applied Game Theory and the merging of Eastern and Western Thought

Most of my Medium stories, when related to self-improvement, life lessons, mental health, and Eastern Philosophy are anchored into the concept of Applied Game Theory. This idea explores how and why people make certain choices. Researchers into game theory have won over twenty Noble Prizes. The movie “A Beautiful Mind” is about the life of John Nash, one of the pioneers in game theory. Of course, the most sophisticated competitive and strategic game in existence is the Chinese game of Go. Learn more about the powerful tool, game theory, for self-improvement. I explain it in the Medium.com article below.

The article was written so that a 12-year-old can easily understand and apply the simple 3 step system. The article also includes a short video interview of me with Jim Selman a pioneer and thought leader in leadership, business success, and innovation.

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By L. Harrison
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If you want to read more of my stories on innovation I recommend the following:


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I offer advice on the arts, innovation, self-improvement, life lessons, mental health, game theory strategies, and love. LewisCoaches.Medium.com

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