Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What does it actually mean that Schrödinger's cat is both alive and dead?

Here's my answer to the question as posted on the Quora forum:

Schrödinger's thought experiment about the cat was indeed meant to draw attention to the absurdity discovered in quantum physics, quanta being the particles that make up atoms and particles of energy such as electrons and photons (particles of light).

Physicists were saying that until a quantum is observed and measured it exists in a quasi state of realty. It is only our observation and measurement of quanta that causes them to condensate out of all their possible locations into a single location in time and space and take their place in our world as either matter or energy. This notion was being accepted by scientists but Schrödinger thought we ought to be looking for an explanation that made more sense. Things either are or aren't, exist or don't, are here or are there--just like his cat has to be either dead or alive, whether or not we can see it.


To this day, however, physicists believe in and follow the Copenhagen interpretation of the nature of quanta and all experiments seem to prove that it is true-- at the subatomic level, matter and energy do not exist in a tangible state until we observe them. In an effort to make sense of this, physicist Hugh Everett came up with his Many Worlds Theory that hypothesizes that everything that can possibly happen, does happen--in a universe somewhere. Each quantum exists in every possible state in every possible location at every possible moment in time although we can only observe a single state.

What does this mean for Schrödinger's Cat? It means that reality splits in two the moment the scientist opens the box to observe the state of the cat. In one universe the scientist finds the cat alive and in another universe, he finds the cat dead. This supposedly makes more sense than having a cat that is neither dead or alive until it is observed.

This also means in a universe somewhere I won the lottery, and in many others, I don't even exist. Do we get to choose which universe we observe and inhabit? Can we communicate with alternate universes? Is fate, choice or circumstance creating our lives, our worlds, our universe?

Here's the link to the original question, my answer and others' answers on Quora

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SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT "I loved it from the first word!"

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Schrödinger's Cat

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