An Historical Downpour: Schrodinger's Tiger Monday December 14, 2009, 0 comments

An Historical Downpour is a feature of A Rain of Frogs. It isn’t common, but once in a while I feature something I wrote on a different website under a penname. Enjoy.

Originally posted as “Schrodinger’s Tiger” at 10:27AM on July 8, 2004.

Imagine a box. It is sitting on the scuffed, oxidized hardwood floor in the loft of an abandoned warehouse. Slow, ponderous shafts of sunlight thrust down from windows high above, yellow and viscous like shafts of honey through the dusty air. ?

It is not a small box. It is rather large in fact, and made of expensive wood; oak or perhaps hard maple, the sort of wood one might find a transcontinental shipping crate made of. This is not an ordinary box. It is a special box, the sort of box that can only have something important inside.

Until now the small table beside the box has gone unnoticed, unimportant beside its more interesting wooden companion. It is an ordinary table, with chrome pipe legs and a gold-flecked melamine top. On top of the table is a small iron pry-bar and  sheaf of papers, each filled with a handwritten scrawl. The first page contains only two words: Schrodinger’s Cat. Further reading reveals the following:?

“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.”

Suddenly the box becomes more fascinating. Not apparent before, but now visible from beside the table, are words written on the box. Tiger of a Different Stripe, they say. There is also an International Radiation Symbol stencilled in black ink beneath.??

A careful ear pressed against the box reveals nothing, not a sound, though it does reveal the smoothness of cool wood against the ear. No indication of the status inside the box.  Is the Tiger Dead? Alive? Both? Can a tiger really change its stripes?

There, on the table is the pry-bar. Using it will, as Schrodinger pointed out, reveal the status of the Tiger. With little effort, the edge of the pry-bar, deceptively sharp, slides into a seam in the corner of the box. With a little weight applied, the box opens. Inside…

??This is make-believe. The box never existed except in your mind. This is just a story, isn’t it?


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It is better to be wrong than to be vague.”
- Freeman Dyson


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