By Bob Groeneveld
We’ve all become Schrodinger’s cats.
As you will no doubt recall from your high school physics classes, Erwin Schrodinger didn’t like cats very much, and so he sealed Fluffy in a box with a fragile vial of poison, thereby establishing one of the basic principles of modern physics.
Your science teacher may not remember it exactly the way I do, but here’s the quantum rundown.
If you hate cats, you are allowed to gleefully believe that the vial released its poison soon after Fluffy was put in the box in 1935, and she has long since entered a state of eternal bliss.
However, if you’re fond of cats (and you’re an eternal optimist), you can convince yourself that the poison vial didn’t break, and Fluffy has been patiently waiting all these years for Erwin to bring her a can of tuna.
And now the profound conclusion: Erwin can’t be charged with cruelty to animals until someone actually looks inside the box and sees whether or not the poison killed Fluffy. That’s because Erwin’s physically quantum lawyers will argue that Fluffy remains both alive and dead – or conversely, neither alive nor dead – until there is a witness to the alleged crime.
That, of course, also underlines some basic differences between theoretical physics and real life.
In reality, Erwin could be charged with cruelty whether or not Fluffy died in that box – because of the likelihood of dire consequences for Fluffy.
However, in real life, Schrodinger’s cat was the subject of a “thought experiment,” which means Erwin did not actually seal Fluffy in a box with a vial of poison… he just thought about it. And without someone actually seeing him stuff Fluffy in the box, that only makes Erwin a potentially despicable human being, and not necessarily a criminal.
In a way, it’s very much like drinking and driving: if you’re caught driving while drunk, you can face severe legal penalties, whether or not you’ve actually killed or maimed anyone… because there is a very real possibility that turning the key in your ignition is akin to breaking a vial of poison that could destroy someone’s life.
Another way to break that vial of poison is to pick up your cell phone and start texting while you’re driving. In fact, the odds of getting into a fatal “accident” while using your cell phone are exactly the same as if you were to drive while drunk.
And that’s just talking on your phone – texting is even deadlier than drinking.
Right now, you can’t be charged with distracted driving unless a police officer happens to look inside your box while you’re breaking that vial of poison.
But there’s an app for that.
Police may soon have the means to check a driver’s cell phone to see if he or she tried to break that vial of poison before the box was opened. They will be able to tell if the phone was used while the car was in motion, so it won’t do any good to quickly toss your cell phone into a cup holder and claim you were only charging your phone.
The possibility that police may be equipped with that app is sparking outrage. How dare they look inside the box before it’s physically opened!
Apparently, people believe they have the right to bang away at the vial of poison until the cat actually dies.