Meow. This cat has been haunting a lot of people since a while. Let’s let the cat out of the bag…um box. This is a classic conundrum which has been around since way back in 1935 and there is still no unanimous agreed upon answer. There is a lot of confusion to what this thought experiment is, leave alone the answer to it.
How did it arise? There exists a concept in physics called quantum mechanics (fascinating but bewildering area). One of the interpretations of quantum mechanics is the Copenhagen interpretation which states that microscopic particles like electrons exist as a ‘superposition of states’ which means we can only know the probabilities of the state in which they exist. The act of measurement or observation causes the wave function to collapse and the electron then takes one of these states. In simpler terms say we are considering the position of an electron (we could also consider momentum etc) . The electron initially exists in a superposition of states which means we don’t know where it exists. The very act of measurement causes the electron to ‘collapse’ randomly into one of the positions which means observation or measurement affects outcome. Schrodinger who was one of the founding fathers of Quantum Mechanics argued this principle in a letter to Einstein through a thought experiment which came to be called Schrodinger’s cat:
Conceptually the idea of this experiment is this:
‘A cat exists in a closed box which contains a radioactive substance. The substance has a 50% chance of decaying. If it does the cat dies, if it does not the cat lives.‘
We don’t know if the cat is dead or alive until we open the box. Now according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory until the box is opened and a result confirmed, the cat lies in a superposition of states which means it is ‘both dead and alive’.
Schrodinger did not suggest that the cat was both dead and alive, he did this experiment to illustrate the absurdity of quantum theory since a cat cannot really be both dead and alive at the same time (like yeah, what does that even mean! Way to go Schrodinger!)
Still trying to digest this but a curious thought hit me when I was doing a popular yoga practice called observation of breath. So in this practice one needs to simply focus on his breath. When I try doing this I actually feel my breathing change…become faster or slower (not saying this is a rule…but what generally happens). The act of observation affects outcome! Now we could say that this is really a part of my body and by me observing I am somehow changing a part of my body. But in a way we are all a part of a single entity…the universe. So observation by us (a part of the universe) of a part of the universe affects the outcome (breath). We could extrapolate this to us observing the cat and thereby affecting the outcome! Hmm.
Love to hear your thoughts.