Monday, August 12, 2013

Schrödinger's cat

Today's Google doodle remembers Erwin Schrödinger, one of the key figures in the development of quantum mechanics and winner of the 1933 physics Nobel. In my day job I'm a computational chemist, and my work largely depends on using computer models that approximate Schrödinger's equation that is used to describe the arrangement of electrons in molecules. In the popular eye he is remembered for his "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment. He was critical of a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics that says that for certain phenomena that could equally exist in two different states, say, for instance, the spin of an electron, the resolution of the two states is dependent on an observer - that is, until someone measures it, the electron equally exists in both states. In his argument, he asked us to imagine a cat in a box. Somehow, the release of a poison is rigged to the decay of a radioactive atom. Since it is impossible to predict whether the atom will decay or not until it is observed, under the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the cat is both dead and alive until you open the box. I think most people actually misinterpret his point. He wasn't actually saying the cat is both dead and alive simultaneously, instead it was a reductio ad absurdum argument, showing how the Copenhagen interpretation can to obviously ridiculous conclusions.

For our LEGO illustration, here is a two-sided scene by Sea Serpent. On one side the scientist (Schrödinger, presumably) opens the box to hug his cat, on the other side he is distressed to find his cat is dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment