Quantum Physics, A Cat, and Erwin Schrödinger (1887 August 12th)


Erwin Schrödinger born on August 12, 1887, in Vienna, was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist whose revolutionary wave equation changed the face of quantum theory.  He was awarded the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with British physicist P.A.M. Dirac, and later became a director at Ireland’s Institute for Advanced Studies. A published author with works like What Is Life?

In 1927, Schrödinger left his position at Zurich for a new, admired opportunity at the University of Berlin, where he met Albert Einstein. He held this position until 1933, opting to leave upon the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and the related persecution of Jewish citizens. Shortly after joining the faculty of Oxford University in England, Schrödinger learned that he had won the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing the award with another quantum theorist, Paul A.M. Dirac. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Schrödinger stated that his mentor, Hasenöhrl, would be accepting the award if he hadn’t died during World War I.

Following a three-year stay at Oxford, Schrödinger traveled and worked in different countries, including in Austria at the University of Graz. In 1939, he was invited by Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera to work at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin, Ireland, heading its School for Theoretical Physics. He remained in Dublin until the mid-1950s, returning in 1956 to Vienna, where he continued his career at his alma mater.

In terms of his writing, Schrödinger published the influential book What Is Life?, his attempt to link quantum physics and genetics, in 1944. He was also versed in philosophy and metaphysics, as evidenced in Nature and the Greeks (1954), which looked at ancient belief systems and inquiries; and his final book, My View of the World (1961), inspired by the Vedanta and exploring belief in a unified consciousness


SCHRODINGER ON KRNN:   A Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist in the field of quantum theory, Erwin Schrödinger was born on this date in 1887.  His thought experiment known as “Schrödinger’s cat” provides us with a feline playlist to which you are invited on Crosscurrents, 8/12 at 8 am.


Schrödinger’s Equation  : One of the keystones of the universe

The Schrödinger Equation is used to pinpoint the location of the electron. The discovery of this led to the extremely accurate model of the atom called the Cloud Model. We still use the Cloud Model today to show what an atom looks like.

Schrödinger’s equation mathematically described the “wavelike” nature of systems governed by quantum mechanics. With this equation, Schrödinger provided a way to not only study the behaviors of these systems, but also to predict how they behave. Though there was much initial debate about what Schrödinger’s equation meant, scientists eventually interpreted it as the probability of finding an electron somewhere in space.

Schrödinger’s Cat: Wanted Dead or Alive?

Schrödinger’s cat is a famous thought experiment. Essentially, you lock a cat inside a bunker with poisonous gas. The cat has a 50% chance of living, and a 50% chance of dying. But, until you actually look inside the bunker, nobody knows if the cat is dead or alive. Your act of looking at the cat forces nature’s decision to either kill the cat or let it live. So, your curiosity could actually kill the cat. This is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in physics today.

Schrödinger formulated this thought experiment in response to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which states that a particle described by quantum mechanics exists in all possible states at the same time, until it is observed and is forced to choose one state. Here’s an example: consider a light that can light up either red or green. When we are not looking at the light, we assume that it is both red and green. However, when we look at it, the light must force itself to be either red or green, and that is the color we see.

Schrödinger did not agree with this interpretation. He created a different thought experiment, called Schrödinger’s Cat, to illustrate his concerns. In the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment, a cat is placed inside a sealed box with a radioactive substance and a poisonous gas. If the radioactive substance decayed, it would release the gas and kill the cat. If not, the cat would be alive.

Because we do not know whether the cat is alive or dead, it is considered both alive and dead until someone opens the box and sees for themselves what the state of the cat is. Thus, simply by looking into the box, someone has magically made the cat alive or dead even though that is impossible.


4 thoughts on “Quantum Physics, A Cat, and Erwin Schrödinger (1887 August 12th)

  1. “Thus, simply by looking into the box, someone has magically made the cat alive or dead even though that is impossible.”
    Is it poisonous gas killing the cat box fast? Or radioactivity killing it slowly in the box?
    Opening the box, would seem to me, to free the cat from both options.
    But possibly kill the box opener.


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