Quantum Theory: What's Real?

Nov 30, 2017

I would like to propose a thought experiment: Imagine a box that when closed, there is no interaction between the inside and the outside world. You can't hear, see or feel anything that may be put into the box. Now attach a vile of poisonous gas to the box, which in turn is attached to a triggering device that has a 50% chance of releasing the poison gas. Now let's place a cat into the box, and let's close the box and activate the experiment. After a certain amount of time, we know that the poisonous gas released and the cat is dead, or none of that happened and the cat is alive. So, is the cat alive or dead?

Until we actually open the box and look inside, all we can say is that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time. This thought experiment is a macroscopic example of what is known as "Quantum Indeterminacy," the foundation of quantum theory. Recall that the basic model for an atom is protons and neutrons in a nucleus surround by orbiting electrons. But Quantum theory states that because an electron moves so fast, that an electron has only a 50% chance of being at a certain location. To determine if the electron is actually at the location, we have to design an experiment to measure that; we have to open the box! But before we do that, the electron is both there and not there at the same time.

This Quantum Indeterminacy is indeed mind-boggling, because it suggests that the entire study of the atom is based upon probabilities and paradox's. Now we're going to continue this soon when we discuss parallel universes and teleportation.


Follow your curiosity to the Fred G. Dale Planetarium at Wayne State College.