Schrödinger’s Cat, Randomness and Infinite Possibilities

 

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I expect many of us have heard of Schrödinger’s thought experiment concerning a cat, even if we don’t know exactly what it was about. At its most basic, the thought experiment consists of, to begin with a living cat, a radioactive source and poison linked to a radioactive detector, all encased in a box. If the radioactive detector detects any radiation the poison will be released and the cat will die. Radioactive decay is considered random so there is no knowing if and when the radiation will be released. The box is left for an hour, then you return. Before you open the box and look, or in some other way make a measurement, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics the cat is both alive and dead simultaneously.

My simple understanding of this is that if multiple states may exist, until one is definitively proven then all exist simultaneously in the same space. Once some measurement is taken this collapses the multiple existences into one definite state.

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I happened to be watching YouTube videos last night where people were undertaking the 3 marker challenge in which they attempt to create a piece of art work using only 3, randomly chosen (very versatile) marker pens for colouring. Naturally my thought process jumped straight to Schrödinger and his cat. You may be wondering why Schrödinger’s quantum mechanics thought experiment sprang to mind, and so I shall explain.

In one particular video the process of choosing markers was accomplished using the names on folded pieces of paper and selecting out of a bowl. I watched as the artist swooshed them about and dithered over a few papers before finally selecting one, then repeating over again for the other two markers. This took several minutes in which I pondered her rejection of all the other pieces of paper she could have chosen much quicker. Why not choose the very top piece, the first piece you make contact with?

'The computers are down, so we'll have to choose a fall guy the old-fashioned way...picking a name out of a hat.'

To my thinking the aim of the names in a bowl was to randomise the marker selection, so assuming it had been accomplished each piece of paper was equally likely to contain each marker name therefore there was no reason to choose one over another. In my mind it was much like the quantum mechanics theory of multiple realities existing in one space until some measurement establishes one reality. In this case, until the paper is unfolded and the marker name read, each piece of paper simultaneously has written on it all of the marker names.

Of course this isn’t exactly the same, I mentioned earlier that the randomisation of the pieces of paper is assumed, but that isn’t really a valid assumption. The locations of each piece of paper are dependent on where they started, their weight and size, how they were moved and a whole host of other physical properties. In an ideal world with a complicated enough model, some fluid mechanics and a lot of computer power their positions would be calculable.

Another scenario similar to this is the game Deal or no Deal. If no-one knows what number is in their box and they are randomly arranged then all boxes contain all the numbers until opened!

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Although it’s not exactly quantum mechanics and dual realities it does make you question the human minds approach to randomness. Think about the time and effort that goes into choosing lottery numbers, every combination is equally likely, but if you had a lucky dip ticket reading 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 I imagine you wouldn’t be overly chuffed. And yet somehow 14, 22, 27, 34, 42, 43 seem a far more valid selection.

What it comes down to is that the human brain does not like randomness. It is made for patterns and repetition. It is a highly advanced piece of modelling software that constantly updates its models as it learns. You watch the first part of a film, you can figure out how it’s going to end. You play a game of squash, you anticipate where the ball is going to bounce. You turn the oven on too high, you know you’re going to burn the food. We get better and better at each skill as we gain experience which guides our next moves. What we can’t seem to fathom is The idea that no matter how much time and thought you put into a decision, how much research and data you collect, what happens next in some cases will be truly random.randomness_happens

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