Friday, October 12, 2012

Schrödinger's Cat: Wanted - Dead and Alive!

Schrödinger's Cat

Schrödinger's Cat has finally been located -- in the studio of Hiroshi Sugimoto, a Japanese photographer who lives and works in New York City. Or at least I perceive it to be there, based on the description provided by Randy Kennedy, "'Fossilizing' With a Camera" (New York TImes, October 8, 2012):
[T]here is a small manmade object that Mr. Sugimoto fetched from a cabinet on a recent afternoon: an Egyptian cat sarcophagus from around 200 B.C., with the elegantly cast form of the memorialized feline perched atop the sealed rectangular bronze box.

He handed it to a visitor and told him to shake it. Something dry rattled around inside, making a sad, ancient maraca sound.

"It's in there but we'll never be able to see it," he said, smiling placidly.

Like many contemporary photographers, Mr. Sugimoto's work grapples with questions of perception and photography's claims to truth.
From Mr. Sugimoto's own words, "It's in there but we'll never be able to see it," we can see that he has Schrödinger's Cat in mind, for when he says we will never be able to see it, he's deferring to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which holds that a quantum state can exist as a combination of two states simultaneously, neither state being definite until the combination is measured, whereupon the combination collapses into a definite state, either the one or the other.

Schrödinger suggested that if we consider a cat in a sealed box within which the cat's life or death depends on a subatomic particle's state, then by the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat will be in a combined state, namely, both alive and dead at the same time. But we would never be able to see it alive and dead simultaneously, for opening the box would reveal a collapsed state of either alive or dead.

Until now.

In an article by Dennis Overbye, "A Nobel for Teasing Out the Secret Life of Atoms" (New York TImes, October 9, 2012), we are introduced to the two physicists -- Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland -- who have just won this year's Nobel Prize in physics for their mindboggling achievements:
Their work, the academy said, enables scientists to directly observe some of the most bizarre effects -- like the subatomic analogue of cats that are alive and dead at the same time -- predicted by the quantum laws that prevail in the microcosm.
I therefore suggest that we bring Mr. Haroche and Mr. Wineland together with Mr. Sugimoto and take a peek at the cat in that sarcophagus "ma"-cavity to see what a dead-alive kitty looks like!

Perhaps a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity . . .

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