Jun 21, 2008

Lessons from Two Geeks

I have been hearing how funny “Big Bang Theory” on CBS is and a while back started DVRing episodes. I finally started watching them now that summer programming has left me nothing to watch while Bucko WoWs. If you haven't seen this comedy ... what the heck is the matter with you? (Not that I can judge since I’ve only seen a few episodes!) You are missing out. I'm a huge fan of geek jokes and this has it in spades. Two theoretical physicists, a hot blonde neighbor and a theme song by Bare Naked Ladies ... what's not to love?

One episode in particular really got me thinking -- Schrodinger's Cat. Leonard (finally) asked out Penny (the hot neighbor) and now both are worried they are making a mistake. For goodness knows what reason, they both ask the socially awkward Sheldon for guidance. Sheldon tells a story about Schrodinger's cat. Schrodinger’s cat while often described as a paradox, is actually a thought experiment devised by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 toillustrate what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics being applied to everyday objects, because in the example of a cat, it may be either alive or dead, based on an earlier random event. Basically it is a thought experiment where you put a cat, a Geiger counter, and a vial of poison all in a sealed box. If the Geiger conuter detects radiation, the vial of posion shatters. As long as the box is closed, you don’t know if the cat is alive or dead, therefore either reality could be real. Therefore, in a quantum superposition, the cat is both alive AND dead. Until the box is opened at which point it is possible to determine while reality exists and the cat is either alive or dead. So Leonard decides that he has to open the box (meaning he is going to go for it) and give Penny a big ol’ kiss before the date. Penny decides that the cat’s still alive and they go out.


So taking this a step further, every decision is really just a 50/50 proposition. As long as you continue to take no action you have neither A or B (or perhaps you have both A and B?) So if you are worried about a bad thing and fretting over a decision you are allowing the bad outcome to remain a reality by postponing the decision making process through fretting. Once you have made a decision you have 50/50 chance of eliminating the bad outcome that existed until you opened the box!

The great thing about thought experiments is that they are open to interpretation by anyone who care to think about it (which, for the most part, means they are rarely interpreted at all!) I’d love to hear your interpretation of Schrodinger’s cat.

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