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Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Tragic Story of Schrodinger's Cat

Schrodinger's Cat could not cope with a lifetime of uncertainty.

S chrödinger's Cat played a critical role in the early development of quantum mechanics. He is most well known for his famous thought experiment, in which he postulated that a measurement made by an observer could determine the outcome of a quantum event, using himself as an example. His paper on the subject, “Mein gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik”, published in 1935 in the prestigious journal Naturwissenschaften, established his reputation as a first-rate theoretical physicist.

Schrodingers cat, drunk and overcome by stress
Schrodingers cat, no longer existing Schrodinger's Cat could not cope with a lifetime of uncertainty. (Adapted from a photo from unknown source)

After this brief bit of fame, however, Schrödinger's cat soon fell on hard times. The constant stress of never knowing from one moment to the next whether he was still alive or dead began to take its toll. One by one, his sources of funding dried up. Soon, he found that he was no longer being invited to give seminars, and his scientific colleagues and students expressed uncertainty about whether he would show up at his lectures. Some people even debated whether he was even still alive. Gradually, Schrödinger's cat began to drink, often drinking himself into a catatonic stupor.

The insidious effects of chronic alcohol abuse began to affect his work. This was especially evident in his last paper published shortly before his death in 1961, “Der Maus Eigenfunctionen im Unendlich-dimensional Hilbertraum”, in which he published the following cryptic equation for analyzing the momentum of electrically-charged particles:

p[[p[p[p = <~~fafafaf | 35eeeeeeeeee >

It has been speculated that if properly understood, this strange-looking equation may have profound implications for our understanding of the interactions of particles in an electromagnetic field. Unfortunately, the original manuscript was covered with a green-colored stain that resembled cat vomit.

His last work was in telecommunications. His invention of Cat-5 cable at Bell Laboratories laid the foundations for the Internet. In his last days he also spent more and more of his time toying with string theory.

In his later years, Schrödinger's cat also received an unfortunate head injury that resulted in Yoda syndrome, named after the famous speech-impaired character Yodapappankin from the movie Star Wars. Although a CAT-scan produced an ambiguous (and in fact uninterpretable) result, the accident had clearly affected his speech centers, and his book “Um Gegenwärtige Quantenmechanik: Gesprache, Gedanken, und Haarknäuel” contains sentences like “Larger for l=0 the polarization effect of vacuum on the higher orbital angular momenta is,” in which the word order is altered in a fashion characteristic of the well-known dyslexia-like disorder. He frequently expressed despair about his ability to communicate with his students. “ Up your room, clean you must!” and “Learn they will not, afraid I am,” he would often say, shaking his head sadly and taking another swig of Black Cat Whisky. “Bad it is too.” Because of this speech impediment, many of his students were forced to drop his class on quantum mechanics. His earlier obsession with mice and excessive use of catnip also came to dominate his personality, and he was arrested several times for lurking around the Institut für Labortierkunde at the Biologischen Zentrallabor at the University of Zurich.

(last updated April 12, 2006)