Browse Definitions :
Definition

Schrodinger's cat

Schrödinger's cat is a famous hypothetical experiment designed to point out a flaw in the Copenhagen interpretation of superposition as it applies to quantum theory.

This is a somewhat simplified version of the virtual experiment:

A living cat is placed into a steel chamber along with a hammer, a vial of hydrocyanic acid and a very small amount of radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the radioactive substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip the hammer, which will in turn, break the vial of poisonous gas and cause the cat to die.

Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger created this mental experiment in 1935 to point out the paradox between what quantum theorists held to be true about the nature and behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what the average person observes to be true on the macroscopic level with the unaided human eye.

The role of the observer in quantum mechanics

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, which was the prevailing theory at the time, proposed that atoms or photons exist in multiple states that correspond with different possible outcomes and the possibilites , called superpositions, do not commit to a definite state until they are observed.

Schrödinger's thought experiment was designed to show what the Copenhagen interpretation would look like if the mathematical terminology used to explain superposition in the microscopic world was replaced by macroscopic terms the average person could visualize and understand. In the experiment, the observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, does not know whether the vial has broken and the cat has been killed.

According to quantum law under the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat will be both dead and alive until someone looks in the box. In quantum mechanics lingo, the cat's ability to be both alive and dead until it is observed is referred to as quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox. The logic behind the observer's paradox is the proven ability of observation to influence outcomes.

Schrödinger accepted that superposition exists; during his lifetime, scientists were able to prove its existence by studying interference in light waves. Schrödinger wondered, however, about when the resolution of possibilities actually occurs. His thought experiment was intended to make people ask themselves if it was logical for observation to be the trigger. Wouldn't the cat be either dead or alive, even if not observed?

Throughout the years, Schrödinger's cat analogy has been used to illustrate emerging theories of how quantum mechanics works. In the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum law, for example, the cat is both alive and dead. In this interpretation, the observer and the cat simply exist in two realities -- one in which the cat is dead, and one in which the cat is alive.

What scientists have learned about the nature of matter at the microscopic level and its relationship to what humans observe at the macroscopic level has not yet been fully explored. The role of the observer remains an important question in the study of quantum physics and is an endless source of speculation and conjecture in quantum computing and pop culture. Schrödinger himself is rumored to have said, later in life, that he wished he had never met that cat.

This was last updated in April 2020

Continue Reading About Schrodinger's cat

Networking
  • SD-WAN security

    SD-WAN security refers to the practices, protocols and technologies protecting data and resources transmitted across ...

  • net neutrality

    Net neutrality is the concept of an open, equal internet for everyone, regardless of content consumed or the device, application ...

  • network scanning

    Network scanning is a procedure for identifying active devices on a network by employing a feature or features in the network ...

Security
  • virtual firewall

    A virtual firewall is a firewall device or service that provides network traffic filtering and monitoring for virtual machines (...

  • cloud penetration testing

    Cloud penetration testing is a tactic an organization uses to assess its cloud security effectiveness by attempting to evade its ...

  • cloud workload protection platform (CWPP)

    A cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) is a security tool designed to protect workloads that run on premises, in the cloud ...

CIO
  • Regulation SCI (Regulation Systems Compliance and Integrity)

    Regulation SCI (Regulation Systems Compliance and Integrity) is a set of rules adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange ...

  • strategic management

    Strategic management is the ongoing planning, monitoring, analysis and assessment of all necessities an organization needs to ...

  • IT budget

    IT budget is the amount of money spent on an organization's information technology systems and services. It includes compensation...

HRSoftware
  • ADP Mobile Solutions

    ADP Mobile Solutions is a self-service mobile app that enables employees to access work records such as pay, schedules, timecards...

  • director of employee engagement

    Director of employee engagement is one of the job titles for a human resources (HR) manager who is responsible for an ...

  • digital HR

    Digital HR is the digital transformation of HR services and processes through the use of social, mobile, analytics and cloud (...

Customer Experience
  • chatbot

    A chatbot is a software or computer program that simulates human conversation or "chatter" through text or voice interactions.

  • martech (marketing technology)

    Martech (marketing technology) refers to the integration of software tools, platforms, and applications designed to streamline ...

  • transactional marketing

    Transactional marketing is a business strategy that focuses on single, point-of-sale transactions.

Close