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Schrodinger Killed His Cat

Ben
classifications: Science-Fiction / Humourous

I had a philosophy test today that I had to study for; consequentially, I did a lot of surfing the net. In the recesses of everything2.com, I found a nodeshell (that's a title for an entry without any actual writups attatched to it) named "Schrodinger killed his cat" and was immediately inspired to extreme silliness. (The three hours of sleep the night before probably had something to do with it.)

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I was there.

It was late summer at the time, high summer, in those weeks just before the first brush of fall air finds its way in, and we were on the patio drinking, watching the trees. Scotch for me; blue kool-aid and vodka for him. He'd had a lot of it. His face was red.

"Albert," he said, smiling roundly and leaning into his chair, hands clasped about the back of his head, "did I ever tell you about my cat?"

"About your cat, Erwin?" There was a bit of kool-aid on his chin; I brushed at my own in an attempt at tactful notification but he paid no heed.

"Rumsfeld." He seemed to draw the word across his tongue. "Rummy. Did I ever tell you about him?"

"I don't believe you did, 'Win."

"Well," he said. "Well." And seemed to leave it at that. I went inside to get some Oreos.

By the time I came back out with the package he was scribbling furiously, tiny equations scrawled across almost an entire page (he was using his sippy cup for a paperweight) ignoring me as I sat. The sun had finished setting and the western sky was an airy prism, dividing white into orange and purple and blue. I leaned back for awhile, watching, scraping the Oreo centers off with my front teeth, as the prism shifted across the face of the globe and orange turned purple and purple turned blue and blue turned black.

"Done!" Shouted Erwin. I managed not to jump.

"So? What have you got?"

He slid the page across at me, smirking.

It was a proof. I had to stare for awhile. Oh, I got it immediately, but I had to stare.

It was great stuff, great stuff. Physics, but melded seamlessly with biology in a way I'd never seen done -- in particular, that area of the brain (what was it called, again?) that collapses the wave function (he'd found it serendipitously, in neurophysiological study a decade and a half earlier at Johns Hopkins, hadn't he?).

I traced the lingering tendrils of the equations a few seconds more, then looked at him. "You've done it. You've really done it."

Faint smile. "I have, Alby, I have."

"So why don't you bloody publish? This is Nobel Prize material, at the least! How long have you been keeping this stuff to yourself, 'Win?"

Lower lip trembling. "F-fifteen years."

I stared at him.

"Oh, it was stupid, Alby, it was so fucking stupid. We were graduate students, and we were stoned, and..." He broke off, staring at the tabletop, sniffing. "We took Rummy, and we put him in this box, you know? This airtight box? And we put a little vial of, I dunno, something -- something, you know, in with him? And there was a geiger counter and a tiny tiny bit of uranium, just a tiny bit, and...oh, Alby, I meant to collapse the wave function in the right direction!" Tears were streaming from his eyes now, down his cheeks and mixing with the blue on his chin. "But Bob Oppenheimer had this glow stick in his mouth and it shone a tiny bit green through his cheeks when, you know, at just the wrong time, and I lost my concentration, I lost, I lost..."

Chocking sobs. His head was on the table. His tears were running into the Oreos. "Oh, 'Win," I said, patting his shoulder. "Come on, now." I couldn't quite bring myself to say, "it was a long time ago"; I didn't think it would help.

"Alby?" he said after awhile, sniffing.

"Yes?"

"You won't let this get out, will you? You won't tell anyone? At least, not 'till I'm dead or something." He managed a laugh.

"No, 'Win. I won't tell."

"And Alby?"

"Yeah?"

"You've got some oreo on your lip."

Woah

Darkmoogle (December 11th, 2002, 2:49 am)

To be perfectly honest, I'm widely considered as smart. I read a thing on the Cat Paradox about... three years ago and it confused the SHIT out of me. I haven't looked at it since, maybe I should. Still, it's a great take on it. =)

sorry about the inaccessability :)

Ben (December 11th, 2002, 6:25 am)

It's only fair to have some sort of explanation to go with a story like this; here's something I wrote up when I first submitted it to the site:

Schrodinger's cat is a thought experiment that could never really be performed in real life, named as it is becuase it was first proposed by Erwin Schrodinger, who at the time was trying to disprove some of the tenets of quantum mechanics. His hypothetical situation was this: A cat is placed in a sealed container with a single molecule of uranium, a geiger counter, and a vial of poison gas. It's all connected such that if the molecule decays, it'll activate the geiger counter, which will break the vial, killing the cat. However: quantum physics states that until it observed, any particle governed by subatomic laws is simultaneously in every possible state -- thus, until the box is opened, the uranium molecule is simultaneously decayed and not-decayed, and the cat is both alive and dead. It is said that the act of observation "collapses the wave function" of something into a normal, non-superimposed state.

The premise of the story is that 15 years before, Schrodinger discovered that there was actually a specific part of the brain that acts to collapse the wave function and that with that knowledge he was able to master a technique for influencing which direction the wave function collapsed, whether into the particle decaying or it not decaying (I stole this concept from Greg Egan), and that he and a bunch of other graduate students actually performed the Schrodinger's cat experiment on Schrodinger's actual cat. Schrodinger was distracted at a crucial moment and messed up, and the particle of uranium decayed (which is to say, its waveform was collapsed upon observation into the wrong state), and the cat died, and now he's haunted with guilt and can't ever publish the part about learning how to manipulate the wave functions in his head.

Ahhhh...utter ridiculousness. =)

about the inaccessibility

Siedhr (January 19th, 2003, 10:11 pm)

my knowledge of physics is limited at best and while your explanation shed some light it wasn't enough (or maybe I'm too tired). I didn't quite get it, the whole wave thingy. the idea would be to incorporate all the data somehow in the story, to make it more accessible for readers like me. otherwise, the pun is lost.

as for the literary part, this is well written, funny (the Oreos are a master touch), flows really well, no breaks and it's captivating. good stuff.

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