Tuesday, March 27, 2007

schrödinger's kittens

Schrödinger's Cat is the name of a well-known illustration of the role of indeterminacy of the theory of quantum mechanics. Or something like that.

Important note for animal advocates: it's all purely hypothetical. No actual cats were harmed in the construction of this thought experiment.

Anyway, it goes like this (and, please, anyone who actually understands this stuff, correct me if I've got it wrong) A theoretical cat is placed in a theoretical box with a tiny amount of a theoretical radioactive substance. If even one atom of the substance decays, the cat will die.

However, the point is that we don't know if the substance will decay. We can calculate the probability, which, as time goes on, becomes closer and closer to 100%. But we can't be sure whether the cat is alive or dead until we end the experiment by opening the box.

I leave any potential further application as an exercise for the reader.


Aurelia said...

I look up a lot of stuff on Google because of you!

Niobe, in a real life experiment we could use an ultrasound to check on the "cat" and see through the steel walls. We could change the course of the experiment by giving drugs to help the health of the "cat" and the "box" and possibly change the outcome.

I hope someday you get to try.

Sara said...

Wow, Aurelia is perceptive. I like her version.

I hope you'll get to try as well.

Sam said...

I think (13 months after you post this) that one application of this is "is the cat dead if we do not know that it is dead?" where there is no way of knowing so therefore it cannot be-the cat is alive.