Forget the cat, is Schrödinger alive or dead?

The latest Google Doodle may have gone over a lot of people’s heads, but it’s worth noting. What may look like some strange cat joke is in fact a clever image detailing a mind-boggling aspect of quantum mechanics.

CatThe cat is the famous moggie from Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment. It’s a baffling concept, but here’s my take on it: If the chances of two separate outcomes is equally likely to happen, then, without observing the outcome, both of these outcomes is true. In short, if the cat in the box is equally likely to be dead and alive, then before checking, it is both! If I’m muddling it for you, here’s Prof Schrödinger to clarify:

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

I hope that clears things up.

To answer this post’s title: the chances of Schrödinger being alive, even on a quantum level, are practically zero. So there’s no need to open that box!


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