Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Suitable Observers....

Sometimes you simply and inexplicably remember stuff from  from your student days 43 years ago.

One such, was  Schroedingers' Cat.  Erwin Schroedinger  won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, for his formulation of Wave Equation in quantum mechanics. Unlike classical mechanics which swears by Newton's equations, and comes up with specific definitive answers about position and speed/velocity, in wave mechanics you deal in probabilities of an event, and the possibilities of varying perceptions of the event , depending on the observer of the event.

In 1935, Schroedinger explained this by a "virtual" Cat experiment. 

A living cat is placed into a steel chamber, near a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. Also, in the chamber, is a very small amount of hydrocyanic acid, a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer outside, cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, according to quantum law, the cat is both dead and alive, in what is called a superposition of states. Only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat we realize that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive). This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that the outcome as such does not exist unless the measurement is made. (That is, there is no single outcome unless it is observed.)

Sometimes I think this is the age of quantum-mechanization of our country.  There were, earlier,  classical  constitutional rules and interpretations by which things happened. Then we got on to the wave aspect of things  and things became fuzzy.

So many suspect cats sitting in so many suspect chambers. So many courts waiting to hit  the hammer, once the  law-active particle is released. The cat here is never annihilated , but sits in splendorous anticipation in jails or house-arrests etc. 

But, at the end of the day, it simply depends on the perception of the "observer"  and defining this observer is what we are so excellent at. We also set up vague committees of observers who are supposed to investigate things.   These "observers" are multi talented and innovative and they can do several things like :

  •   Co-opt a stronger "powerfully connected" observer
  •   Recommend changing the hammer after suspecting it.
  •   Appoint a committee to study the cat.
  •   Have  the government labs check out the chemical in the vial, and find out if the vial was tampered with.  
  •   Organize study tours (with MP's likely to oppose you in Parliament) to  other western countries to see how other cultures analyse cats hit by hammers in important  areas.
  •   Find out why the CCTV in the chamber was not working although it was installed 4 years ago.
  •   Have someone produce tapes of someone else telling someone else to mess with the hammer attachment.
  •   Appoint another subcommittee to ascertain if there were other hidden cats also inside. 
  •   Declare the the report will go to a standing committee, composed of fellows standing outside the chambers set up by you. 
  •   Appoint a sub-committee to find out if the vials, if faulty, were manufactured in a facility owned by a relative of the cat, unless of course, it was owned by the cat himself in benami manner.
  •   Subsequent to getting an anonymous letter suggesting that the  cat must have weakened the chamber wall, by vigorously scratching it with its claws, the committee  can suggest that stuff happening inside was  known to some specific observers  standing outside with ears to the wall. .

The whole fuzzy  action plan is designed  to ensure, that the chamber, the court-hammer, the law-active  substance  stands discredited.

Actually, according to Schroedinger, the superposition of states (the ability of the cat to be in any of the two states, and the effects of the interference of the observer),  put a big question mark on what we are calling reality . Sometimes of cats, and in quantum mechanics , of electrons. 

Rumor has it, that with the variety of solutions and arguments that came up after he suggested this so called thought experiment, Schroedinger actually mentioned that he wished he had never met the cat.

What he forgot was what we already know.

Our cats have 9 lives. 

In the steel chambers or out of it.  Grinning, Cheshire style .

And observers be damned.  


  1. Oh my this is tooo intellectual to me, I am not that intelligent to have got all that you said.

    Although the points you have mentioned are good BUt do you think they will ever come into action ..

    Observers in our country are corrupted themselves , rather there is a Race to be in that TEAM of the observers for then they can earn more .. its basically the corrupt observing the corrupt so maybe in this case the observers will be able to give better ideas to the ones being observed as to how to save themselves from the observers ..


  2. You got me interested in the cat experiment though Physics was a bogie-man I was terrified of in school (the very last time I associated with Physics was in my 10th Std)!
    Sad isn't it about the real life cats and their nine!

    1. .. and their nine "lives"! *wonders where the 'lives' vanished* Better go and have my breakfast ;)

  3. It was nice to see how you co-relate.

    so finally Cat exist in two phase ,,, but how long?

  4. Never knew of this cat experiment... (I seem to have forgotten physics for sure.) But I love the metaphor you've used :-)

    1. I kind of passed over it in my student years, since Schroedinger then was all about equations and eigenvalues. Reading about it again was fun. And writing this post was even more fun...