lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cruelty to cats

"It isn't supposed to be done, it is a thought experiment, Lali," the Resident Mathematician said, with a touch of weariness.

After some debate if experimentation and thinking things through are the same, I granted that you could contemplate, muse about or consider impossible things. After all, Lewis Carroll said, via the White Queen, "…Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…" But when it comes to actually believing them, like Alice said, there is no use trying.

"The idea behind the Schrödinger's Cat was to try and imagine a way in which the effects of probabilistic behaviour at a quantum level could be made discernable at a macroscopic level," he said. I rolled my eyes.

The Resident Mathematician was trying to educate me. He said that electrons are waves and particles, depending. On what, I demanded. That's silly, I argued. A thing is or isn't, look at Jain philosophy and the Saptabhangi argument, I said.

He said that depended on the observer, the very act of observation determining the thing observed. Then he mentioned the wretched thing.

"So you imagine that you take a cat and put it in a box that can be sealed completely. You add a small lump of radioactive material, and a vial of poison gas. You arrange it so that in a given period of time, there is a fifty-fifty chance that an atom in the lump will decay and release a neutron, which will trigger the release of the poison gas. Now, until you open the box and observe, the cat is in an indeterminate state, you see?"

"Really?" I said, appalled. "Who could think up such cruel and impossible things?" I had a good mind to take names and addresses and file complaints to local SPCA, and dash off a letter to Maneka Gandhi, too.

'Accord rightness' is an anagram of Schrödinger's cat. That ought to tell you, for pity's sake. Or 'groins scratched' or 'third snog scarce' too, for that matter.

I am one with Discworld's Death when it comes to thought-experiments that confine a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas and a lump of radioactive material. I don’t hold with cruelty to cats (mind you, in all caps and bold font), Death says, and I agree.

Besides, if you tell me that you put a cat in a box other than for trying to take it to the vet, apart from marvelling at your foolhardy nature and armour-plated limbs, I'd ask, what for?

And if I get an answer that the cat is simultaneously dead and alive and that it can only be determined by opening the box and observing, all I can say is, piffle. Ever tried putting a cat in a box? I rest my case.

The Resident Mathematician talked further. Probability waveforms and other big words flowed past me. When he finished expounding, he looked at me expectantly.

"A cat in a box is bad enough, honey, don't bet on its state if you value money; whether alive or dead, it's spitting hatred; Schrödinger's thoughts aren't remotely funny," I summarised.

The Resident Mathematician sighed.



Anonymous Ash said...

Lovely limerick, Lali. But the sansion limps.

11:01 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

Sorry, the scansion.

11:03 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

Hilarious! Sounds like the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, and the ensuing frustration of both parties concerned! I wish Schrodinger had specified some repugnant creature, instead of our beloved poocha!

11:05 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- Excuse me! It was off the cuff verse, no?

Dipali- I'd object to a hyena confined, too. On Principle. :-)

2:43 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

True- perhaps an imaginary repugnant 'thought creature', just to state his case!

5:34 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Dipali- The Jub-Jub Bird? The Frumious Bandersnatch?

8:16 pm  

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