The Quizzical Physical Cat

Average: 3 (2 votes)
Your rating: None

               If I am a cat who lives outside of time (as a rhetorical device, not a question of physics), a cat who lives as an idea and continues to be passed across the generations through writing and discussion, may I not become a discussant in my own state of being superposed between or above or within both life and death?
               You might say I am a cat of interpretation: I was proposed from within an interpretive move (a projected explanation); I gave rise to interpretations of my propositional predicament; and I have life only in a virtual state that relies on a continued interest in interpreting the significance of my state of being.
               I could go off here on tangential elements regarding consciousness, imagination, transmission among conscious beings, the nature of ideas, or just the quizzical state of mammals who write.  I should rather ask some questions to begin. Above all, I need to know: ‘Why a cat?’  Was the E.S. human fond of cats, owned a cat, was looking out the window and noticed a cat at the moment he was asking himself how to anecdotalize an intellectually frustrating unaccountability?
               I think I know some of the answer to this one, but I can hardly stop myself from asking the next one:  ‘Why the need to know which state? ‘ and its corollary: ‘Why the presumption of accountability within the oddly termed ‘real’ world, the world of the application of the laws of classical physics?’. 
               Did these men who needed a world that could conform to the limits of their intelligence and be ultimately describable (Can we here ask if a human brain can issue an ultimatum to the environment which spawned it?) so believe in the value of their description that the counter of further evidence required a whole different theory and one which would be a curiosity if not an anathema to those believers?
               Alas, here, I could diverge:  the evolution of metacognition, perhaps, within a critical theory of the history of science.  Alas, again, it is too presumptuous and ambitious for a cat serving my role of the observed. I pull back into my box, curl up, lick my paw and pull my ear down.  I must consider the apparatus with which I share my steel enclosure.
               You may find me a little resentful. While I respect the directed curiosity of these humans, I do questions (in the moral sense) their use of such a violent (albeit, thought) experiment. Inside with me is a vial of hydrocyanic acid (I invite you to climb into a box with a radioactive acid.)  If the stuff changes so much as by one atom, the vial will be smashed.  You can guess what will happen to me at that moment.  Since I have been sitting here for seventy-eight years with the box closed, you may think what you like.  Possibly, it is a question of ‘What you do not know cannot (or can) hurt you.’
               I have known events like that, when I was a lot happier not asking. However, this is, supposedly, not about me. Or it is about me in the sense that I am quantifiably disparate. I might be alive and dead. (Have you not had whole days like that?) The point is that since you cannot know my state inside the box, I am indeterminately something (either/both) until you open the box.
               Points to remember:  (1) This is your knowledge, not mine; (2) It is knowledge at a point in time; and (3) It is possible that I am neither or both until you look.  Because of this last point, I have been superpositioned and super interesting for all these years. 
               So, I might be already dead as soon as an (imagined) gieger counter detected the decayed atom and triggered the hammer to break the vial (In which case, do not open the box yourself.), or you opened the box, and , voilá, I am dead or not dead (Still be careful opening the box.), or you may open the box and assist in my burial, never realizing that you are no longer the you who is over there petting the live me and disposing of the vial in a safe manner (Unlike the person who put me in the box in the first place.), or you might see me alive and dead and take a sedative, or you might see that I swatted the whole thing to bits myself (In which case, please bury me and be careful.), or you might have many boxes of cats and throw me out on the radioactive recycle pile without another thought, or you and I may agree to disagree on my state, or you might find yourself in an alternate state yourself and never open my particular box.  Or you might just find more entertaining pastimes.
               Let us leave my predicament; after all, I am a cat. I am either blissfully dead or purring and hoping for dinner. Let us take the view, once again imaginative, of the experiment outside the box.  What can I posit?  What if there are many unstable vials in many rhetorical ‘boxes’ across the earth? If they begin to decay and are observed by conscious beings (or not) or they are swatted by someone with less dignity than me, who will be making the presumptively ultimate observation on the states within these boxes?  Indeed, I believe that you may be in one of these boxes with one or more of these vials.  I imagine that your box is better decorated than mine.  I imagine, in this box, the stiff gray bark of trees where I might climb, the leaved branches drooping to shade you, sipping lemonade.  Who is beside you, a child, a loved one, your parent or friend?  Perhaps a cat comes and rubs against your leg.  Perhaps it is I, who lived, come to be an observer in another experiment with vials, in a larger box.

About the Author: 
Mona Delavan is an instructional psychologist who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and two horses.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

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.

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!

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

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

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.

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.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

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.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

K is for ... Kaon

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

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

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.

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.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

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.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.