Poor Old Schrodinger

I recently read the Wikipedia page on Schrodinger’s Cat, and was struck by the fact that despite understanding the theory and what happens in the box I had never before grasped what Schrodinger was saying, which was that theory is just theory. Of course a cat can’t be alive and dead at the same time, and sometimes it is healthy to open your eyes and try to understand the reality you are existing in.

The entry includes an extract from a letter written by Einstein where he applauds Schrodinger for his grasp on reality, which I will include at the end of this text because it warmed me.

Since it’s conception Schrodinger’s cat in a box scenario has been used as a basic structure to illustrate countless incantations of ideas about quantum mechanics, but it has also migrated to popular culture where it is used as a reference for all manner of everyday problems.

A lot of people are probably in my position and have referenced this thought experiment casually in conversation, not necessarily (just) because it is a helpful visualisation, but because it is neat and darkly humorous, because it references a cute kitty and assumes some academic rigour about the teller in the fact that they can nod to quantum physics and existential thought at the drop of a hat, rarely being asked to elaborate. It is a wonderfully useful metaphor.

It is meme-like in it’s endless reinvention and appropriation, and Schrodinger has lost all authority on what it stands for.

This resonates with me on a number of levels.

As an artist this loss of control over one’s ideas is something which we always need to be giving thought to. When our work is made public we can choose to make plain what it should be doing, or we can allow it to be read through the viewer’s lens. Relinquishing control to the viewer seems like the right thing to do, but do you trust them? Will anything be lost? If you are someone who deals in allegorical concepts or linear decision making then perhaps this does seem like a problem.

Everyone finds their own way to deal with this elephant, personally I am trying to make work which holds a mood or state of mind as opposed to anything knowledge-specific, but my concern is with inclusivity, your concerns are probably different.

On another level, Schrodinger’s loss illustrates rather deftly our current political environment and the media’s part in it, the problem of sound-bites. The right simply have better slogans, more succinct arguments, closer to what we are used to hearing and seemingly more achievable. Taking words out of their context and simplifying ideas beyond their substance are our favourite things. Corbyn is our Schrodinger. I think this goes beyond politics as well and reflects our patience levels in general, perhaps not as much in physical life but certainly online in the way that we seek out similar voices to ours and have very little time for difference of opinion or the nuances of other people’s shoes.

No matter what happens with this virus, the world that we trusted in has been shown to be fallible, and as our infrastructure is compromised our reality is more difficult to make assumptions about.

Perhaps this is a good time to put stock in our own judgements, take responsibility for the way we live and want to live, and as Schrodinger would do, open our eyes wide.

In a letter to Schrödinger dated 1950, Einstein wrote:

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality, if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.[12]

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