Schrodinger's Cat According to Usenet

This is adapted from an actual discussion on a engineering company's intranet newsgroup.

Regarding the well known experiment of Schrodingers Cat (Research topic: Was Schrodinger a cat hater? Was he bitten by one when he was young?). Many people believe Schrodinger made a fundamental error in his cat-in-a-box experiment. The experiment relies on the 50% probability that in one hour the Geiger counter is hit and releases the poison. But as is well known, cats have nine lives therefore the state of the cat (live/dead) will only be 50/50 if the cat had used up 8 of its lives before taking part in the experiment. Did Schrodinger have a source of cats that had used up 8 of their lives?

In fact, the cat would be dead for three very simple reasons:

1) Cats need air to breathe.
2) The box is sealed. Therefore no air can get in.
3) If the cat's in the box, it's going to use up the air.

1 + 2 + 3 = dead cat.

The poison is irrelevant. The cat is sealed in an airtight box with a limited oxygen supply. We have no evidence that Schrodinger thoughtfully attached an oxygen pipe to the box containing the cat, the Geiger counter and the poison). Whatever happens, the cat would be dead. Or in Schrodinger terms, it wouldn't exist any more.

In fact, this is a common misconception. What most people without a rigorous physics background don't realise about the experiment is that the "box" used by Schrodinger is not your common-or-garden variety. It is actually a BiOsphere eXperiment (BoX), and as such had a fully sustainable atmosphere contained within. These original experiments are now progressing along with technology and have culminated thus far into televised experiments known as "Big Brother" and "Jailbreak".

It is a difficult concept and Schrodinger has a lot to answer for. Maybe if Lucy didn't pester him so often when he was at his piano he wouldn't have given it up to invent physics.

Sorry, that was Schroder.

A modern application of the Schrodinger method could be a good way to liven up TV games shows. Each week the two leading contestants are put into two 'Schrodinger boxes'. There is a 50/50 chance that the poison will be released in either box. There would also be an interlock so that when one Geiger counter fires, the other is switched off.

So far, this paper has ignored the fact that all cats are 'Schrodinger Cats' with the innate ability to be on whichever side of door they aren't meant to be on. For example, if you definitely shut the cat out of the room, you will turn round and see cat sitting behind you in the middle of the room laughing its whiskers off. It can be in 2 states at once which also means it can be in 2 places at once and can decide which of those places it really wants to be. The cat you put out was simultaneously still in the room and it chose to pursue the 'in-the-room' state, not the 'outside-the-room' state. So any cat put into the box with poison and a Geiger counter won't really be in box. It will actually be pursuing an 'out-of-box' state and be in a neighbour's house eating tuna.

(Further reading: Pratchett & Joliffe book 'The Unadulterated Cat'. It explains the application of Schrodinger Cat stuff as applied to real life cats.)

It is well-known that only cats and spiders are able to be in two places simultaneously. Many people have forcibly ejected a neighbour's cat 3 times from their kitchen and turned round to see it sitting on top of fridge grinning at them. This suggests that Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat was also a Schrodinger Cat, when it vanished it was simply changing state to get to nicer location, but it did this slowly because it wanted to freak out Alice.

Some students of have suggested that this means that cats have access to matter transporter technology. The question is, did cats get the technology from the spiders, or did the spiders get it from the cats, or did they develop it independently in a form of convergent evolution? The students who made this suggestion had read a short SF about some chickens who developed transporter technology in order to cross a busy freeway. It's a good job these students didn't write the storyline for "Chicken Run" or it would have been a very short film.

However, let us return to the cat which isn't really in the sealed box (even though you were absolutely certain it was in there when you sellotaped the lid on), it is really in an 'out-of-box' state in a neighbour's house eating tuna and most likely watching a Jerry Springer show about people who put cats into small boxes with Geiger counters and vials of icky stuff labelled with a skull-and-crossbones logo.

So far, we have referred to the cat as a Schrodinger Cat. Does its ability to be in more than one place at any time make it a "Heisenberg Cat"? Currently, scientists are uncertain.

How can the layman differentiate between a stray and a Heisenberg Cat which has just popped in to visit for half an hour while its owner conducts a fiendishly clever experiment on a box containing a Geiger Counter, some poison and no cat? If you check the name tag of a supposed Heisenberg cat, the wave function will collapse leaving you with the official owner's name. The problem here is that cats like to explore all possibilities and often have more than one home. So what happens to the wave function?

Does the ownership remain uncertain for an infinite amount of time, regardless of the official ownership? Scientists and animal control officers have so far agreed on only two things:

  1. This theory could result in a legal minefield about cat ownership.
  2. What is the purpose of quarantine? One minute you lock kitty securely in a pen in case it turns into a mad, drooling rabid creature, but the minute your back is turned the cat has zapped into its out-the-box state and is living it up at the feline equivalent of an eat-all-you-like restaurant at number 23 Acacia Drive.

This neatly brings us to the determining factor in the Schrodinger/Heisenberg Cat discussion. The role of food.

Cats have an infinite number of potential homes of equal probability until the quantum state of any particular can of cat-food toggles from "shut" to "open", at which point the quantum state of the cat ownership also toggles into the vicinity of the opened food can. However, unlike quantum particles (where the process is irreversible) the ownership state of the cat reverts to the infinite-number-of probabilities state immediately after feeding, thus making cats the only entities able to defy the thermodynamic time arrow.

Also, cats have an infinite number of 'room states' which explains that when you put the cat out of the house and then turn round and look to check it hasn't come back in, you are changing the state of the cat to 'present' by the act of observing. If you look down and observe your cat, it will be
running towards its bowl demanding food. if you look up and walk, it will be underneath your feet shrieking at the injustice of being stepped on.

Let us return once again to Schrodinger's original experiment.  The whole point of the experiment with the cat was either to show that the uncertainty principle is a load of mumbo-jumbo or to illustrate how radically the quantum realm differs from our everyday, macroscopic perception. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is a fundamental part of Quantum Mechanics, as are Schrodinger's equations. If Schrodinger had thought Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle was mumbo-jumbo, he wouldn't have dedicated his life to a field which depends on it. Unless of course he just hated cats.

There is no evidence that Schrodinger hated cats. Had he elected to use a mouse, we currently would be discussing whether Schrodinger had an irrational fear of mice. The whole point was that the experiment was theoretical. No such experiment was ever done in reality. No actual cats were exposed to the 50/50 chance of being poisoned in closed boxes since Schrodinger wasn't investigating whether Brand X of shampoo was more toxic to cats than Brand Y. It was a Gedanken experiment i.e. a 'thought experiment'. However, in designing this thought experiment, Schrodinger obviously hadn't thought about the fact that cats have nine lives. Had he considered this, he might well have chosen to use a mouse instead.

But thought experiments are meant to reflect reality. Therefore if Schrodinger's "Thought Cat" (TC for short) was to follow the normal biological laws regarding mammals, it would require "Thought Oxygen" (TO) to survive. The TC would convert the TO2 into TCO2 (Thought Carbon Dioxide) and a few other thought substances. When the theoretical level of TCO2 gets high enough, the TC would theoretically suffocate. With regard to the nine lives issue, each of the new lives comes into existence within the TCO2-rich environment, and promptly, but theoretically, suffocates. Simple (thought) biology.

In short, the TC is dead, it is no more, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-TC.

TC? Top Cat? Doesn't he live in a trashcan, not a box? Or is TC's trashcan part of Schrodinger's experiment? What happens if someone opened the trashcan to empty their trash - would it ruin the experiment?

However, as part of the thought experiment, the box is designed to be large enough to allow the cat to breathe (without suffocating) for the duration of the experiment (one hour in Schrodingers orignal plan) until the box is either opened or the poison is released. This proves that Schrodinger had no experience of cats in boxes or of feline claustrophobia. For cats there is a simple equation:

Box = Trip to Vet's Clinic

It is hard enough to keep a cat in a box for five minutes on the way to the vet's clinic. Cat owners therefore do not use standard boxes, they use cat carriers with airholes and mesh grilles and carry-handles. None of these boxes are fitted with Geiger Counter or poison as standard. The presence of airholes would have rendered the experiment useless since the whole point is that the cat is not observed for the duration of the experiment. However, the average cat operating under the box = trip to vet's clinic rule can claw its way out of a cardboard box in under 5 minutes. A cat of above average intelligence will pee in the box and simply push through the saturated cardboard. Schrodinger did not account for the effect of feline urine on either the Geiger Counter or the poison.

It is therefore plain that the cat would not stay in the cardboard box for the full duration of the experiment. It has three potential courses of action.

  1. Claw its way out of the box and sit purring smugly at Schrodinger.
  2. If the box is of more robust construction e.g. metal, it will simple opt to enter an alternative state in more feline-friendly surroundings (peeing on Schrodinger's pillows for good measure).
  3. Stay in the box and risk losing all 9 lives through poisoning, suffocation or boredom.

Finally there is the question of the poison. What sort of poison was it? A gaseous poison would be useless if the theory that Thought Cats do not need to breathe is true. A cat which didn't need to breathe wouldn't inhale a poisonous gas. If the Thought Cat did need to breathe, it would already be dead of thought suffocation regardless of the poison. Schrodinger might have used an edible poison, but there is no guarantee that the cat will eat it. Since cats are capable of ignoring a plateful of gourmet cat food just to make an owner feel guilty, it stands to reason that Schrodinger's cat isn't going to eat poison, even gourmet poison. For a start, it will want to make Schrodinger feel guilty about locking it in a box for an hour. It's more likely that it's just Heisenberged itself out for a while because it doesn't like that flavour anyway.

I can't say that I completely understand "the cat thingy". Do cats exist if there's no poison gas and Geiger counters nearby to test with?


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