by Graham B.
Thoughts on the mysteries of the universe, the human soul, and cats
Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment proposed by Austrian-Irish physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 to explore the uncertainty of the state of everyday objects when subject to the laws of quantum mechanics. In this problem, Schrödinger proposes that when a cat is placed in a box with a radioactive isotope and a vial of poison that will break when exposed to radioactive decay, the uncertainty inherent in predicting the state of a subatomic particle such as that emitted in radioactive decay will cause the cat to exist in the quantum state of being both alive and dead. This uncertain state will persist until someone looks into the box, collapses the quantum wave function holding the cat in both of these states, and sees the result. |
Sometimes I feel like the guy holding the box with the cat in it, afraid to look in the box, and in constant trepidation over what my investigation will uncover. Other times I feel like the cat, trapped between uncertain possible futures. This blog is an attempt to explore the constant mysteries of life where ever they may come from and try to put a friendly human face on a cold, uncaring, and chaotic universe.
What would you do? Would you open the box to uncover the mystery and risk your curiosity killing the cat? Or would you let the mystery endure and build a story upon it, secure in the knowledge that whatever we learn, life goes on, in one state or another?
|“Life can be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”
With the plague raging around us I find that I don’t have much in the way of personal activity to write about with everything being more or less in stasis. That said, I recently went to see “Tenet” in a more or less empty theater and tried not to cough. To say that Christopher Nolan’s latest offering was mind-bending would be an understatement of the highest order. I suspect that I will have to watch it again to understand it completely, a goal which still might not be achievable.
This movie played with the concept of time travel in a unique way, in which people and objects could be put through a machine that would cause them to start moving backward through time. I won’t leave any spoilers here in case anyone reading this plans to see it, but suffice to say that some very strange scenes were shot and I will definitely be buying the blue-ray just to see the behind-the-scenes material that will no doubt be included. This is not the first Christopher Nolan movie that used non-linear storytelling, but it is the first to actually have scenes running backwards.
But I was also fascinated by the existential question posed by the plot. What if you could see your own life running backwards and relive every moment, every decision you made in reverse-real time? Your own perspective will always be running forward in time, but of the rest of the world? It might be possible for us to remember things out of sequence or to attribute the wrong cause to a particular event, or to even get cause and effect out of sequence. Imagine actually being able to watch previous events happen.
The movie also touches on free will, implying the question as to whether we can choose to do something differently if we have knowledge of the future. While he doesn’t explore this in depth, Nolan seems to suggest that there is no free will, as the characters end up doing the exact things that they saw themselves doing in reverse. Paradoxically, this seems to conflict with another concept the movie addresses: the idea of faith.
The word “tenet” itself refers to a core value of any faith. The protagonist is Kierkegaard’s “knight of faith,” freed of worldly constraints by, oddly enough, technology. He is free in a moral sense to act in furtherance of his mission, secure in the knowledge that the moral scales are in his favor. In this case, he is already aware of victory. But he is not free in the metaphysical sense, because he has already seen the future and still can’t deviate from it. The outcome of the events cannot be changed because his inevitable actions cannot be changed. It is a weird pairing of concepts.
I don’t know if Nolan had Kierkegaard in mind when he wrote Tenet, but I’m certain that he will have many armchair philosophers (aren’t they all armchair philosophers?) tumbling down rabbit holes to pick apart the story.
I know that this is all rather heady stuff and will probably bore a lot of people, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and thought I would share those thoughts here. Congratulations if you made it this far, and if you find this subject matter to be a snoozer, know that Tenet is also an adrenaline-fueled action fest worthy of Christopher Nolan’s best efforts and will entertain, with or without any deep dives into the movie’s … er … tenets.
|Disclaimer: I am not a physicist, quantum or otherwise. I’m just an ordinary person with a modestly-endowed brain and an interest in scientific topics – the stranger the better.
This is my first entry into my blog, Saving Schrödinger’s Cat! I can’t imagine who, if anyone, would be interested in reading these thoughts, and I wait with bated breath to find out. In any case, if you are reading this, I invite you to respond with thoughts and perspectives of your own.
I came upon the idea for the title when I was musing over how to express the general theme for this blog in a concrete way. The theme, of course, is the weirdness and unpredictability of life and all that it throws at us mud-bound creatures who against all odds, reach for the stars, both figuratively and literally. I have always been fascinated by quantum mechanics, due to its own weirdness and unintuitive way of working. However, this is not a scientific blog. While considering a title, I thought, what better metaphor for the human condition than the most quirky and esoteric scientific subject there is!
And so, Saving Schrödinger’s Cat was born. My goal is to add to the richness and diversity of perspectives of this site with my own humble thoughts and hopefully receive some feedback. At worst, I make a fool of myself in front of ones or tens of WDC members who will read this. But I’m hoping for fascinating conversations with the weird and twisted minds that I know lurk beneath the surface of this site.
So please, let me have it with both barrels! I look forward to it.