by Bob Schwartz
We begin with the physics concept of superposition, which is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured.
In 1935 Nobel Prize physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment to illustrate what he believed was a flaw in one interpretation of this concept. Schrödinger’s cat, also known as Schrödinger’s cat paradox, is one of the most referenced, debated and misunderstood thought experiments in modern science.
In simple form:
A cat, a bit of radioactive material, a Geiger counter, a hammer, and a glass flask of poison are in a sealed box. During the next hour, there is an equal chance that the radioactive substance might emit a particle and an equal chance it might not. If it is emitted, the Geiger counter will measure it, cause the connected hammer to shatter the flask, releasing the gas and killing the cat. During that hour, there is equal probability of the cat being alive or dead. Only when an observer opens the box is the cat alive or dead. Until then the cat is simultaneously alive and dead, according to quantum superposition. Schrödinger devised this “ridiculous case” to demonstrate its absurdity.
Easter is a powerful example of an alive or dead paradox, and not the only one in the Bible. Elijah, we are told, did not die, but was taken alive to heaven in a fiery chariot.
Billions of people live in a state of faith. Billions more (I hope) in a state of reason. It is an appropriate time to ask whether we can live in a simultaneous state of reason and a state of faith, or if we must choose between the two.
On Easter some ask whether and how it is possible that there is life after death. On Passover some ask whether the story of an impossible journey actually took place. I am one of those questioners.
Reason is powerful and has its limits. Faith is powerful and has its limits. Schrödinger was, from a certain perspective, wrong in thinking that his cat could not be both dead and alive, that it was a ridiculous absurdity.
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet). Don’t you think?
© 2023 by Bob Schwartz
I think the limits of faith and reason would be imposed by the observer (us humans), as in the thought experiment, where only opening the box would determine if the cat were truly alive or dead, wouldn’t it?
Thank you. Yes, the faith/reason dichotomy and the dead cat/live cat dichotomy are “determined” by us observers. We are uncomfortable and unsettled in an indeterminate universe, so we pick a side because both at once are impossible (faith + reason = impossible!).