CAT IN THE CAGE
By W. Bruce Cameron
I was leafing through a copy of Quantum Physics Monthly the other day (it was the bathing-suit issue) and came across a reference to a perplexing
question posed by Erwin Schrodinger more than half a century ago.
If you’re like me and had to pay Bonnie Vandenskurk a hundred dollars to help you get a “D” in high school physics, you might vaguely remember the
so-called “Schrodinger’s Cat” conundrum as being about as interesting as everything else in the class.
Erwin “Physics Boy” Schrodinger asked what would happen if one put a cat in a box and rigged up a hammer, a vial of poison, and a quantum trigger
device (all items Schrodinger apparently had around the house). If an electron is up, the hammer is cocked, but if it is down, the hammer drops,
smashing the vial and killing the cat.
This situation fascinates physicists, who call it the “Schrodinger Humdinger.” It seems that Schrodinger postulates that the cat in question is in the
“dual state” of being both alive and dead, a startling theory which causes most physicists to conclude that they need more government funding.
For me, “quantum physics” has always been another way of saying “drug-induced hallucinations.” These guys are always making headlines by announcing
that the universe is actually just a knot of hair in the head of Mrs. Lillian McClure (age 78) of Ironton, Michigan, or that gravity is merely a form
of mass hysteria, or that Las Vegas is the home of Wayne Newton, without ever considering the impact it has on the rest of us, which is to say “not
much.” But I’m afraid I’m going to have to demolish the Schrodinger Humdinger, by pointing out that the whole scenario is based on a false premise,
which is that it is possible to stuff a cat into a box in the first place.
If you have ever had to take a cat to the vet, you know what I mean. Here are the steps for getting a cat into a cage (the “Cameron’s Cat
1) Pick up cat 2) Push cat toward cage 3) Put iodine on scratches 4) Call veterinarian, tell him you’ll be late for the appointment 5) Wait two days
for cat to reappear 6) Put open can of tuna in the cage 7) Punish dog for eating tuna 8) Put fresh can of tuna in cage. Place cage out of reach of dog
9) Wait two days for cat to eat tuna 10) Give up, stalk cat through house, calling “here kitty, want to go for a car ride?” 11) Punish dog for barking
excitedly at the words “car ride” 12) Corner cat, lunge, break coffee table 13) Wait two days for cat to reappear 14) Spot cat, leap on it, wrestle it
to the ground. Carry cat to cage and shove it in
Step #14 sounds like the end of it, except that I have a Humdinger of my own: Somehow, for every 10% of the cat’s mass you manage, at great personal
cost, to cram into the cage, 20% of its mass will escape. This means that after half an hour of pushing and bleeding, you’ll wind up with less cat in
the cage than you started with. And, if you try this at my house, you’ll also have to deal with my dog, who is so determined to prove that she is a
better pet than the cat that her head keeps popping up next to yours, licking you in the face and trying to force her way into the cage.
Eventually you’ll reach the same conclusion I did, which is that the cat is in the “dual state” of both being not my pet and being not my
responsibility. It’s my daughter’s cat; let her wait two days for the cat to reappear and she can take it to the vet. This is the “Quantum Father’s
Solution to the Cameron Cat Conundrum,” and I’m sure it is only a matter of time before it receives government funding.
I can always hope, anyway.
* The Cameron Column, a free Internet newsletter, copyright 2005 W. Bruce Cameron http://www.wbrucecameron.com/
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