Cartoon Schrodinger's cat in box

What did Schrodinger’s Cat Experiment Prove?

Brief History of Erwin Schrodinger

Erwin Schrodinger was a theoretical physicist who made significant contributions to the wave theory of matter and other principles of quantum mechanics. He shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with British physicist Paul A.M. Dirac.

Schrodinger began his studies at the University of Vienna in 1906, receiving his PhD in 1910. After that, he took a research position at the University of Vienna’s Second Physics Institute for three years. In 1921, he moved to Switzerland and enrolled at the University of Zürich, where he stayed for the next six years.

He wrote the papers in which he established the foundations of quantum wave mechanics over a six-month period, at the age of 39. He presented his partial differential equation, which is the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics and has the same relationship to atom physics as Newton’s equations of motion have to planetary astronomy, in those works.

Schrodinger introduced a theory describing the behavior of such a system by a wave equation that is now known as the Schrodinger equation, based on Louis de Broglie’s proposal in 1924 that particles of matter have a dual nature and act sometimes like waves.

The solutions to Schrodinger’s equation, unlike the solutions to Newton’s equations, are wave functions that can only be connected with the potential occurrence of physical events. In quantum mechanics, rather than the more concrete notion of probability, we have the more abstract idea of possibility.

This aspect of the quantum theory prompted Schrodinger to become so irritated that he spent much of his later life developing philosophical arguments against the widely accepted interpretation of the theory that he had helped create.

His most famous criticism was the 1935 thought experiment, also known as Schrodinger’s cat, which he developed in response to this aspect of the quantum theory. This seemingly mind melting paradox is still be debated and unfortunately misunderstood today.

What is Schrodinger’s Cat Thought Experiment?

To show that simple misinterpretations of quantum theory might lead to absurd outcomes that do not correspond with reality, Schrodinger created his imaginary experiment with the cat.

A cat is locked in a steel box with a small amount of a radioactive substance such that after one hour there is an equal probability of one atom either decaying or not decaying. If the atom decays, a device smashes a vial of poisonous gas, killing the cat.

However, until the box is opened and the atom’s wave function collapses, the atom’s wave function is in a superposition of two states: decay and non-decay. Thus, the cat is in a superposition of two states: alive and dead.

Did Schrodinger Actually Put a Cat in a Box?

No Schrodinger did not actually put a cat in a box as an experiment. It’s was only ever meant to be a thought exercise with no intentions of being carried out in real life.

It is not known if he ever had a cat but it is safe to assume if that he had it died of natural causes but is now a immortal as this thought experiment continues through time.

How Can Schrodinger’s Cat be Both Dead and Alive?

The cat in Schrödinger’s thought experiment isn’t dead and alive at the same time. Much in the same way an electron can not simultaneously exist at every location in space.

In essence, it means that the cat is in a single state at all times (or, think of “quantum system”). Typically the case goes that after we open the box there’s an equal chance we’ll measure the cat to be alive or dead. As a result, the cat is in a superposition of our “life states” |alive⟩ and |dead⟩.

We can use this equation to calculate a probability of 0.5 for either the cat being alive or dead.

|⟨alive|cat⟩|2=0.5

|⟨dead|cat⟩|2=0.5

Once the box is opened, performing a “life state” analysis of the system, the cat’s state collapses to one of its life states. So, we either observe the cat as being alive or dead.

It’s crucial to realize that the cat is not both alive and dead before we open the box. The system can not be in different states at the same time. It exists in a single condition, which is known as a superposition of life states.

When we open the box, the cat is in a new single state, which is one of the two life states. We do not know which state the cat will end up in; rather, we know how probable it is that it will be in each particular state.

What did Schrodinger’s Cat Experiment Prove?

In quantum physics, particles may exist in a superposition of states simultaneously and collapse to a single state when they are combined with other particles. Some scientists strayed into the world of philosophy while developing quantum theory (1930s). They thought as the time that the conscious observer was the only way quantum particles would collapse to a single state.

Schrodinger proposed his thought experiment to demonstrate the absurd yet logical consequence of these assertions.

You place a cat in a box with a little amount of radioactive material, as we all now know from Schrodinger’s thought experiment. The decay of the radioactive substance is now governed by quantum mechanics’ laws. This implies that the atom exists in a “decaying” and “not decaying” mixed state at the start.

If we apply the observer-driven theory to this scenario, there is no conscious spectator (everything is in a sealed container), and the entire system remains a mix of both possibilities. The cat ends up being dead as well as alive at the same time.

Because a cat that is both dead and alive at the same time is ludicrous, this thought experiment demonstrates that wavefunction collapse are not just caused by human consciousness.

Conclusion

In 1935, Erwin Schrodinger created a famous thought experiment, now known as Schrodinger’s cat, to illustrate the paradoxical nature of quantum mechanics. The experiment imagines a cat that is both alive and dead inside a sealed box.

While Schrödinger’s experiment was never actually carried out, it has helped to shape our understanding of quantum mechanics and has been the subject of much debate among physicists. In the end, the experiment reveals that the true nature of reality is far stranger than we could have ever imagined.

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