June 29, 2008

The Cat is Out of The Box Now

How would you react if I told you that a cat were both alive and dead, that too at the same time? or for that matter, about a solitary electron in the famous double-slit experiment, that "it goes through both slits and it goes through neither, and it goes through just one and it goes through just the other"? You'd say I had gone out of my head, wouldn't you? Then you are in for surprise.

Strange things happen in the strange strange quantum world. The cat in question is the famous (or infamous) Schrodinger's cat. This feline creature resides in a box where a radioactive substance is kept. As the radioactive atoms decay, they emit alpha particles, which in turn is sensed by a Geiger counter, kept inside the same enclosure. If the counter detects a decay, it will activate a relay which will then break a container containing the deadly hydrocyanic acid (HCN) and the cat dies.
Before an observer opens the box the cat's life is a superposition of states: dead and alive. But when an observer opens the box, the wave function collapses: into one of these two states.

Likewise, an electron collapses its own wavefunction (changes its mind) , as the following video will show, when an observer is spying on its intention(s):

The above instances are quite in tune with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which says that you either calculated the position of an electron precisely or its momentum at a time. For when you measured one with precision, the value of the other will be more uncertain.

Does it mean we will never get to the bottom of the quantum world with our classical mind? Only time will tell.

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