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So what do we really know about Schrodinger’s Cat? Most recently, this cat has been featured in memes on the Internet, depicting the cat as a zombie. I originally understood the term to reference an experiment where a cat was in a box and you couldn’t tell if it was alive or dead simply because you couldn’t hear or see it. Technically my understanding was true, however the reality, as it usually is, is much more complicated than I knew.
Erwin Schrodinger was an Austrian physicist who lived from 1887 to 1961. He was interested in the modern understanding of quantum mechanics and quantum theory. He wanted to discover more than the “Copenhagen interpretation” had unveiled, which was the modern conception of quantum theory. This theory is dependent on quantum entanglement, which is a feature of a quantum state that is a combination of the states of two systems that once interacted but were then separated, and are not each in a definite state. The Copenhagen interpretation says that the multiple answers will collapse into a single definite answer when the problem is observed.
Schrodinger then took this knowledge and created a thought experiment to try and understand more about it. This experiment is “Schrodinger’s cat”. The experiment goes like this: there is a box with a small bit of a radioactive substance, a Geiger Counter, a hammer, and a vial of poisonous gas. Over time the atoms that make up the radioactive substance may decay. When as much as a single atom decays, it gives off enough radioactive particles to trigger the Geiger Counter, which triggers the hammer to fall and shatter the vial, releasing the poisonous gas and killing the cat.
What this experiment yielded is the question of whether the cat is alive or not. The only way of finding that out is by opening the box, but by opening the box you end the experiment. From this conclusion scientists decided that since you have no idea whether it is alive or not, it is simultaneously alive and dead at the same time. The logic uses the theory of the multiverses; that there is one reality where the cat is alive while in a separate universe the reality is that the cat is dead. You have these two realities co-existing, therefore the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.
From these findings Schrodinger created the word “entanglement” to describe how something as big as a life can depend on something as small as an atom. This experiment also yields the question of exactly when quantum speculation ends and reality reconciles into one possibility or the other.
So what do we really know about Schrodinger’s cat? Yes, we know that it is a symbol of quantum theory, but where are the answers? This question still bothers scientists today, and can bring up many bigger discussions such as science’s assumptions of nature. But when scientists continue to work on these problems, as Schrodinger did when he expanded the knowledge of quantum mechanics, we understand more and more in the hope of finally figuring out the answer.
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