Wednesday, April 6, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 22

Here's the problem.

You (and everyone else) think that

1) the world and the universe and nature and everything are just the way that you think they are, and that

2) they would be that way whether or not you are here, because

3) the Copernican Principle. Which says that humans are not special and have no special role to play in the universe. Because

4) we are just one more in a very very long series of accidents happening. And

5) the universe could give a rat's patootie whether or not humans are here. That's the Official Cosmological Term, btw. " Rat's Patootie."

So. Schroedinger's Cat.

Two guys, a Dane and a German, walk into a bar.

OK, not really.

I mean, they may have walked into a bar. Probably did. But it's no joke.

They were Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

No, no, not the Heisenberg from Breaking Bad. The real one.

He came up with something that has his name on it. It's called the (go ahead, guess) Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. What, you weren't sure? There you go.

It says that you can't know both the momentum and location of any particle.

And then they both came up with something that ought to have Bohr's name on it, but that would be dull. Uninteresting. Um. Boring.

Sorry. Bad physics joke.

It's called the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Physics.

(There are 11 different interpretations of Quantum Physics.

That's not really supposed to happen. It just shows what a 1] totally fascinating field of scientific inquiry Quantum physics is, or 2] mess it is. Or 3]. Both.

It's not really a mess, of course. It's perfect, it's never wrong, it's always right, and it's brilliant.

But nobody agrees how it works.

That's not really supposed to happen. Scientists should automatically just like something that works all the time. I mean, it ought to be their BFF, except BSF, S being Science.)

Anyway. I digress. Bohr. Heisenberg. Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Interpretation of QM (Quantum Mechanics which is the same as Quantum Physics and Quantum Theory) says that ...

That a particle has neither a momentum nor a location until you look at it.

That is, it is your interaction with the particle that causes it to, I don't know, exist at all.

So two other guys didn't like that at all. A Wuerttembergian /stateless/Swiss/Austrian/not Austrian/German/not German /American guy and a German/Irish guy went into a bar. Yeah, not really. It was Albert Einstein and Erwin Schroedinger, who was named after a famous cat. Quantum Time being what it is, that might be true.

Anyway. They didn't like the whole observer thing, so they sat down and came up with a thought experiment to show why it was all wrong. Of course, Quantum Theory being what it is, they just showed it was all right, instead. Curse you, Quantum Theory. They just might have been in a bar, after all.

So. Here it is. They said, OK, you Copenhageners, what if we take an alpha particle and put it in a box, like this:

This Alpha Particle will eventually decay. Because it's all by itself and not in a big lump of Alpha Particles, we don't know when it will decay and can't predict it:

But here's what you're trying to tell us. You're trying to tell us that if we close the box and we're not looking inside, if it's completely cut off from the outside world (sound, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, and any old measuring type device), then ...

The Alpha Particle is in a state of Quantum Uncertainty (like, the Uncertainty Principle). And THAT means that ... 

It has both decayed and not decayed. Both at the same time.



Which is, Einstein and Schroedinger said, ridiculous.

So we're gonna put a bunch of other stuff in the box, all connected to the particle. What, you might ask, could that be? It will be a Geiger counter, a hammer, some poison, and a cat, like this:

So if the particle decays, the Geiger counter will detect it, let the hammer fall on the poison, which will spill and kill the cat. The cat was Einstein's idea. I don't know why.

So, now, you will be telling us, not only is the particle in two states at the same time, but so is everything else in the box.

And thus ...

The cat will be both dead and alive. At the same time.


And that's ridiculous. Said Albert and Erwin to Niels and Werner.

And Niels and Werner said, ah, we don't wanna make you guys feel all bad and offended, but, um,

That's the way it is.

And they were right. And Einstein and Schroedinger were wrong.

And then, what's more, is you open the box and look inside.

And then what happens is that you, um, ah, cause reality to come into being. As in, the particle was in two states at the same time, which means that reality didn't exist yet, and then you 


with it, and voila! Reality!

It's like this. When you look inside or make a measurement or whatever, you do what's called ...

... "collapsing the probability wave function" ...

which means (Copenhagenishly) that, where before the cat was both alive and dead, or neither alive nor dead, or whatever, now ...

... the cat is one or the other. But not both.

And this happens only when you look inside the box. Before, dead and alive. After, dead or alive. You did this. You yourself.

You need to know that you don't get to choose whether the cat is alive or dead. The particle does that for you. Because this is a story about a particle.

As in. The particle notices (whatever the heck THAT means) that you have looked in the box, and sort of runs through its options.

Option one - the particle decays sometime in the future.

Option two - the particle decays right now, when you look in the box.

Option three - are you sure you want me to tell you? Your life will be much much easier if you just stick with Options One and Two.

Really? OK, then. No pain, no reality.

Option three - the particle decays sometime in the past. Like, yesterday. Or last week.

But it doesn't decay last week until you look in the box.

Which means that the cat isn't dead until you look in the box.

Which means that when you look in the box, THEN the cat will have been dead for a week.

But not until you look in the box. Which means that 1) the wave function collapsed backwards in time and therefore 2) your interaction with the particle right now affected things that happened in the past

Of course, technically they didn't happen in the past until your interaction. That's just confusing.

Interaction killed the cat. Of course, you were curious about what would happen if you looked in the box, so then, of course, like a force of nature ...

... curiosity killed the cat.

Ha. Hysterical.

Anyway. What THIS means is that ...

... without interaction, there is no reality in the universe. 

Do I need to repeat that really loudly so that you'll get it?

I didn't think so.

And reality can come into being ... backwards in time.

I think I have a headache. 


Ha. Hysterical.

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