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What is Schrodinger's Cat Paradox?

Schrodinger's Cat (in his own words)

"One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following diabolical device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it. The Psi function for the entire system would express this by having in it the living and the dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts. It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks." -- Erwin Schrodinger
Translation by John D. Trimmer

Basically what Schrodinger is saying is that because of the way the experiment is set up, the cat has a 50% chance of being alive, and a 50% chance of being dead. It is just as likely that the cat is alive as that it is dead, so Schrodinger said that until the box is opened, the cat is both alive and dead. This is obviously false, the cat cannot be both alive and dead at the same time. This problem is meant to illustrate a theory of quantum mechanics called "indeterminacy." Indeterminacy says that there can be more than one correct answer to a problem which physically can only have one answer. Schrodinger came up with this illustration to demonstrate that there was a problem with this theory of quantum mechanics.



Submitted by Sean (Michigan, USA)
(May 6, 1998)



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