Monday, 29 November 2010

Schrodinger's Cat 'Paradox'

For some reason the thought-piece known as Schrodinger's Cat came to mind last night, and  and with just about enough interest to set to virtual ink the arising thoughts, here I go. I have no knowledge of the scientific background that brought the idea into existence in the first place, and if you want to familiarise yourself with it that's up to you, but for all that's really necessary here I've copied the following from elsewhere:

The Schrödingers cat consists of a cat in a box. The Schrödingers cat paradox is based around two events and a state.

The first event is a random event. This is the release of a poisonous gas by a radioactive particle, which will kill the cat.

The second event is an observer who will look inside the box.
The state considered is the state of the cat: live or dead. The paradox is: the cat is only in a particular state after "you" have opened the box and looked inside. Before that moment the cat is not in one or the other state.
 
So it seems to be saying that the act of human observation creates or is alleged to create the inner state of the observed creature, and prior to the act of human observation the cat is in a state of unreality or perhaps two mutually contradictory states simultaneously.

The essence of all the confusion here is all a matter of bad language, and comparable to an earlier post Russell, Berkeley, There is a House. There I looked at a thought, or attempted thought, of Bertrand Russell:
 
'"There is a house which noone perceives." Whether this proposition is true or false, I do not know; but I am sure that it cannot be shown to be self-contradictory.'

So here it is stated as an objective fact that there is a house which exists but is unperceived. This, to emphasise, is stated as a fact, not as a possibility. And for it to be declared a fact it must be known to be so, and how is the existence of this house known to be a fact but only through observation. Without this observation or perception it cannot be a known fact. And so it makes no sense to say there is a house which is unperceived. To assert that the house is is to say it is a fact based on observation; so by stating that there is a house that is not perceived, one is stating as a fact that which one is simultaneously stating cannot be a known fact.'

So the essence of the above is that one cannot make statements of fact about unobserved phenomena. If I put a coin in a drawer of some piece of furniture, the Schrodinger's Cat variation is to say that the coin both is and isn't in a state of existence within the drawer until the drawer is again opened and there it is, or less likely, isn't. This though is parallel to the Russell piece above. There is a famous line by Wittgenstein: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent...." and this is the problem here. One cannot legitimately talk of the unobserved phenomenon in terms of fact or precise argument. One has denied oneself the necessary act of observation but instead of shutting up about the unobserved, as one must do, one talks on about the coin being in some twilight zone of existence until the drawer is opened. I am not, in terms of absolute logic, at liberty to say anything about it and my theorising about the cat or coin is worthless.

With the coin in the drawer, which is perhaps a much better and simpler case than the needlessly complex cat notion, one might speak as following: I put it in the drawer, I do not take it out, I later open the drawer, there is the coin. So it might be claimed I knew all along it was in the drawer, and there was no increase in knowledge when the drawer was opened and there it was. I merely continue to know what I knew all along: ie that the coin was in the drawer.
However this is never a matter of knowledge. I may have left the room whereupon someone quickly steals in and takes the coin, and so when I open the drawer the coin is no more there. Then again that someone may five minutes after taking it have replaced it and so when I re-open the drawer and there it is, in truth it was not there all along despite my imagining.
 If I do not leave the room perhaps it slips down some crack in the drawer and so despite my certainty it remains in the drawer it has departed. Wen I re-open the drawer when a coin is there where expected perhaps it is a different coin. Perhaps there is a secret panel enabling someone access to the drawer. . . . And so on.  One can say whatever one likes about what is going on in the unobserved drawer, for example that the coin has been transformed into a goose and then just before the drawer is opened it transforms back: all such statements about the unobserved coin are equally valid in the sense of being equally worthless - stressing that this is language being used in a scientific or absolute intellectual sense rather than an everyday one.

So in essence, I am not in a position to say anything as a matter of truth about the unobserved phenomena, and this talking of the cat or coin as being in this or that state of existence is all a matter of illegitimate language; illegitimate because one cannot attempt to make statements of fact whilst simultaneously denying nseself the necessary foundation to make such statements. There is no paradox with Schrodinger's Cat. It is not a case of creating the state of existence of the observed phenomena; it is merely that with the renewing of observation upon looking into the box or opening of the drawer one is now in a position where definite statements are again permitted one. One is now again in a state of certainty regarding the observed phenomenon, and the 'paradox' amounts to having not accepted the fact of being in a state of uncertainty when this was the only legitimate intellectual position - instead waffling on about what may be going on in the unobserved box.


To add: in my 2 minute reseach into Schrodinger's Cat I saw that Schrodinger intended his piece as a Reductio ad absurdum; i.e. form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence. And so Schrodinger is alleged to be disproving whatever the relevant theory because of the absurd implications. This however seems to me utterly inadequate, and that the final arrival point of an argument leads to a destination one finds untenable is in itself no disproof. This is an example of the appalling vista argument - whether the phrase is simply my own or in use I'm not sure - but in short Schrodinger's thought piece, even if its logic made sense, which it doesn't, despite perhaps his imagining, disproves nothing. All he does is to take the presumed logic of some theory and alleges it shows it to have very odd implications.

A further look at Schrodinger's idea-piece here.

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