Tuesday/ Schrödinger’s cat

IMG_6439 sm
Illustration of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment from the book ‘Paradoxes – The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics’ by Jim al-Kalili.

I bought a book this weekend, called ‘Paradox – The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics (byJim al-Khalili)’.  One of the ‘paradoxes’ is the famous thought experiment by  Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, devised in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the problem of an interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects, resulting in a contradiction with common sense.  In a nutshell : the cat’s destiny is subject to a completely random event (the decay of atoms). The observer does not know if the cat is dead or alive before he opens the box and looks.  Therefore the state of the cat is ‘dead and alive at the same time’ : exactly what quantum mechanics says the state of sub-atomic particles are.  They exist and they do not.  They are here – and there – at the same time.  Whoah.

My favorite Afrikaans poet happened to write a poem about the cat as well, using it as a metaphor for loss and for life and death.   I also came up with a rough translation to English – even though one can argue that poems cannot (and therefore should not) be translated.

Schrödinger se kat
† Gunar, 1 Junie 2003
Johann de Lange

In die nanag het ek opgeskrik
& meteens geweet jy’s dood:
eindelik met die heelal kiets,
my ligvoetse geesgenoot.

Volgens wette van die wetenskap
verdwyn jy in geen vergetelgat,
maar is gelyktydig hiér én weg:
’n opperste kwantumkat.

Schrödinger was reg: verseël
in geheue se tydlose kis –
oë soos nuutgemunte pennings –
bly jou uiteinde helend onbeslis.

Hoe om oor verlies te skryf:
die regte woord te soek
vir iets wat my onverwoord-
baar klink. Ek stuit steeds
stom voor jou vertrek:
grepe en momente sal
moet deug vir tyd en wyl.
Uit hierdie penpunt huil
vanaand net gitswart ink.

Schrödinger’s Cat (my own rough translation to English)
† Gunar, 1 June 2003
Johann de Lange
In the after-night I frightened up
& at once knew you’re dead:
at last with the universe as one,
my light-footed mate.
Subject to the laws of science
you disappear in no oblivious hole,
but is at the same time here and gone:
an utter quantum cat.
Schrödinger was right: sealed
in memory’s timeless chest –
eyes as newly minted pennies –
your end stays healingly undefined.
How to write about loss:
to search for the right word
for something that sounds me un-
wordable. I still stop dead
mute at your departure:
bytes and moments will have to
make do for now and longer.
Out of this pen’s nib weeps
just pitch black ink tonight.

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