Everyone has heard of Schrödinger’s Cat, but there’s a subtlety to that famous experiment that needs to be clarified… which is… it’s not that when you look into the box, only then do you know whether the cat is alive or not. It’s that until you look into the box, the cat is both dead AND alive. If that has you scratching your head, it’s because of course it’s a non-sensical scenario.
The issue has to do with mapping behaviour in the quantum world… to our visible, relatable world. And I’m not talking about the pseudo-scientific vibration energy healing quantum whatever… I’m talking about actual quantum physics, where things work differently at the subatomic level… and one of those things is that some particles, which can exist in one of two states, seem to exist in both… until you observe them, at which point they pick a side. For example, an electron… it has two levels, spin-up or spin-down. When you observe the electron, you can tell which state it’s in. But until you look at it, it’s spinning both ways. Or the polarization of a single photon… vertical or horizontal. And until you observe it, both. In simpler terms, imagine a coin. You flip it, and it falls to the ground. Now try to imagine that until you look at it, it’s both heads and tails… but the moment you look at it, it’ll pick one or the other. Bizarre.
There are problems with this sort of interpretation, and it’s one of many… but the thing is, this behaviour does exist, and it’s the foundation of the science that takes advantage of quantum mechanics. In a typical computer, data is stored in bits… and each bit is a one or zero. In a quantum computer, you have a Qbit… which can be a one, a zero… or both, simultaneously. A simple example, in a normal computer, a Byte is 8 bits, which can represent 2⁸ different numbers (from 0 to 255). But if that is a QByte (8 Qbits), you could theoretically evaluate all 256 versions at once, which on the surface implies a computer 256 times faster. And now imagine there isn’t just one QByte… but many.
Schrödinger had a problem with that, and came up with his famous thought experiment… which led to years of arguments with the greatest minds of the day, like Einstein, Planck, Bohr and Heisenberg (the theoretical physicist, not the meth cook).
At the end of the day though, what’s clear is that while these are all interesting theoretical discussions, and quantum effects can be exploited down at that level, as baffling as the experiments are (and there are trivially simple experiments you can do to actually see quantum effects)… the real world just doesn’t work this way. The “alternative facts” model of reality doesn’t allow for two things to be true at once, as much as some people would hope. The world’s issues aren’t waiting around for us to observe them before they tip in one or the other direction.
At present, depending how you wish to observe it, you might interpret this pandemic to be over. Or, of course, you realize it’s still very much going… and we need to be cognizant of that and respect it. You can’t have it both ways, but this seems to be what’s going on, depending to whom you listen. Schrödinger’s virus.
"If you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out.” — said Donald Trump, this morning. “No, it’s not”, says everyone else.
I guess it’s a good thing we’re not all subatomic particles, waiting to tip one way or the other. It’s good that while we understand there are indeed two (or more) sides to every issue, many of those sides don’t actually exist on top of each other. There’s some certainty to the fact that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and there’s no version of political/pseudo-scientific hand-waving that’s going to change that… and we’ll see that in rising numbers as things open back up. Today, Canada went over 100,000 known cases. Let’s hope we’ve all learned something and stick with it… the idea was to get it under control, which, around here, we’ve done. The important thing is to keep it that way. Or we’ll have bigger problems than trying to figure out if some theoretical cat is dead or alive.