Schrödinger’s Lost Proposal

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I have his book. The one that was missing. Don’t ask me how, but I have it. And he wrote everything down, afraid that one day he’d be old and not remember. The covers of the book are black leather and the pages have yellowed with age and the writing on each page looks like scratches in ink.
 
And he speaks in the book of his wife, Annie, calling her ugly and detestable. And she was always talking, in hiss-spit whispers, and sniffing like she had a cold, and the dry rustle of her skirts as she fidgeted in her chair was an irritation to him. A hellish distraction, he said she was, and he could not ever work if she was by him. And he must work, he said. So, he paid an assistant to take his wife to dinner in order that he might concentrate on other business.
 
Erwin Schrödinger, and he sits in his study and he is not alone. A girl that he had taken a fancy to sits beside him. Her name is Lena. And he wrote of her in the book, pages and pages describing her beauty, and everything measured and noted in neat tables. And he reported the effect she had on him, the increase in his pulse and his vision a little blurred, and how she excited him and he heard music when she was near, and his thoughts in those Lena-beside-him moments reached towards a new clarity. And Schrödinger took scientific papers to bed and a sharpened pencil and between kisses and caresses he made notes on this theory or that, seeing through everything to a newer truth.
 
And Lena was only seventeen, a student of his, and she wanted to know how things were and how they would be. And Schrödinger’s cat lay curled up at the foot of the bed and he held one finger in the air, calling Lena to quiet. She could hear the purring of the sleeping cat, and Schrödinger’s pen scritch-scratching the paper, and finally some small triumph: a solution arrived at.
 
And he leapt from his bed to unlock and open a drawer in his desk, and he lifted a small velvet box from the drawer and held it out for Lena to see.
 
She was excited, lit up like the young can be, and she shook and was lost for words, almost she was.
 
‘Are you serious?’ she asked him. ‘Do you mean it? Really? And Annie?’
 
It is all there in his little black book. The one that is lost, except it is also found. And in the book Erwin Schrödinger does not open the box and he does not let Lena open it either. Instead he offers up a paradox and leaves it as a puzzle for her to play with.
 
‘In this box,’ he says, ‘there may be a ring and there may not be a ring. It might be made of gold and studded with blue and white diamonds, or it might not be anything at all. Indeed, inside the box there is at the same time a ring and not a ring. So long as the box remains closed, we can hold both statements to be true.’
 
Lena in his bed and she laughed. She thought it was a game he was playing and so like him to be gently teasing her.
 
‘Why don’t I just open the box?’ she said. ‘Then we would know for certain.’
 
The cat’s tail twitched and Schrödinger thought she might be dreaming or she might not be. And if she was dreaming, he did not know what shape those cat-dreams could be, if a cat dreamed in pictures or words or smells.
 
‘If you open the box,’ said Schrödinger, ‘then it will only be one thing and not the other.  And we should all be the poorer for that. Keep the lid of the box closed and we can have all possibilities at once.’
 
Lena was not a bright student, and Schrödinger was so serious and spoke in earnest, and so she nodded and did not attempt to open it, but kept looking over her shoulder to see that there was at least a box.
 
And Schrödinger kissed her and touched her neck with his fingers and he said, here and now, that she was everything to him, and he read over a difficult scientific proof and thought he could see a sudden way through it.
 
There the book ends. And it is only one of a whole life in little black books that he wrote, but this one was mislaid until now. And the detestable Annie remained Schrödinger’s wife, outliving him by four years; and Lena was just one possibility - there were other students after her and maybe they slept with their teacher or maybe they did not; or they did and they didn’t, both at the same time. Just so long as the bedroom door was kept shut, and Annie out to dinner, and the covers of the lost and found book closed, then all possibilities could exist.

 

About the Author: 
Lindsay Fisher has work published in 'Stories For Homes' an anthology produced for the UK charity Shelter. Lindsay also has a cat; sometimes the cat is in a box and then it both exists and doesn't exist... but Lindsay always opens the box again.

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Quantum Theories

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

G is for ... Gluon

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N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

A is for ... Alice and Bob

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M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

F is for ... Free Will

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L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

I is for ... Information

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R is for ... Radioactivity

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H is for ... Hidden Variables

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Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

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E is for ... Entanglement

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Q is for ... Quantum biology

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L is for ... Light

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A is for ... Atom

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W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

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B is for ... Bell's Theorem

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P is for ... Planck's Constant

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