When we get to quantum physics and quantum computing, we are so far beyond anything I learned in high school (my only physics class) or community college immediately thereafter (where I studied business data processing), it’s ridiculous. But the issue of Schrödinger’s cat sounds to me like an information problem: You don’t know if the cat is dead or alive because you haven’t looked in the box.
That’s not how anybody states it. They say, that until you look in the box, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Which seems to involve anthropocentric, epistemological, or other presumptions I really don’t follow. After all, the point of the thought experiment is that the release of the poison, killing the cat, is triggered by a random event, the decay of a radioactive atom.
In quantum physics, the act of observation is apparently significant and to a degree well beyond that of introducing a thermometer into the medium whose temperature you seek to measure—the thermometer itself presumably has a different temperature, so to some (hopefully) small degree, it changes the very temperature you seek to measure. How observation can be significant with radioactive decay is a mystery to me—you detect decay by what it emits and by the quantity of original material remaining. Quantum physics is weird in many ways, and this is one of them.
In a more conventional understanding, you can only estimate radioactive half-lives, not the fate of an individual atom at any given point. The idea here is that over a given period of time, the half life, half of a group of radioactive atoms will likely have decayed. It’s a statistical thing, meant to apply over numerous aggregates, not even to any one aggregate. Hence the question of Schrödinger’s cat: What we know about an aggregate of aggregates tells us nothing about the individual atom; its decay occurs randomly.
Now these scientists are saying that the decay of an atom can be detected and even reversed as it occurs, that the decay is not entirely instant. Which would be good news for the cat, but apparently also in preventing errors in quantum computing.
Nicola Davis, “Schrödinger’s cat could be saved, say scientists,” Guardian, June 3, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jun/03/feline-fine-fate-of-schrodingers-cat-can-be-reversed-study
David Shultz, “Have physicists found a way to save Schrödinger’s cat?” Science, June 3, 2019, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/06/have-physicists-found-way-save-schr-dinger-s-cat
Darren Samuelsohn, “Judge OK without public release of Flynn-Kislyak transcript,” Politico, June 4, 2019, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/06/04/flynn-kislyak-transcript-1353483
- Nicola Davis, “Schrödinger’s cat could be saved, say scientists,” Guardian, June 3, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jun/03/feline-fine-fate-of-schrodingers-cat-can-be-reversed-study; David Shultz, “Have physicists found a way to save Schrödinger’s cat?” Science, June 3, 2019, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/06/have-physicists-found-way-save-schr-dinger-s-cat↩