Exactly 84 years ago today, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger published his famous thought experiment ‘Schrödinger’s cat.’
You may have heard about the theory on the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory, but what you may not know is that Schrödinger developed it to counter the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, according to IFLScience.com.
According to the site, the Copenhagen interpretation states “that an object in a physical system can simultaneously exist in all possible configurations, but observing the system forces the system to collapse and forces the object into just one of those possible states.”
Schrödinger, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics just two years before this, disagreed with this premise and thus came up with an analogy, or thought experiment, about a cat being trapped in a box with a vial of poison, a hammer, radioactive material and a Geiger counter.
The idea is that there would only be a minuscule amount of radioactive material in the box, so there is a 50 per cent chance the Geiger counter would detect it within one hour as it decays.
The system would be rigged so that if the Geiger counter detected radioactive material, it would release the hammer which would smash the poison vial, killing the cat.
When you apply the Copenhagen interpretation to this scenario, the cat would be considered both alive and dead until someone opened the box to confirm.
“Of course, Schrödinger claimed, that was ridiculous. Quantum superposition (Copenhagen interpretation) could not work with large objects such as cats, because it is impossible for an organism to be simultaneously alive and dead,” states the IFLScience website. “While many people incorrectly assume Schrödinger supported the Copenhagen interpretation behind the thought experiment, he didn’t. His entire point was that it was impossible.”
It was later proved that quantum superposition does work, but only for tiny things, like electrons.
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