I’ve been listening to the audible.com narration of ‘dirk gently’s holistic detective agency’, and there’s a bit on the Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment that has started me wondering, so I’m putting my question up here for any quantum physics gurus to weigh in on.
First, a recap of the S C formulation described in the book. You have a large lead box (presumably with a large enough air supply to keep a cat going for a few hours under ordinary circumstances,) that can be sealed to entirely enclose the space within. You have a cat. You have a lump of some very weakly radioactive material that wouldn’t harm the cat directly. You have some sort of geiger counter rigged up to a vial of poison so that if the counter detects a radioactive particle, the poison will spread throughout the air in the box in sufficient concentration to kill the cat.
You seal the box up for a few hours, over which time you’ve calculated that the odds of a radioactive emission that would set off the geiger counter are 50%. That’s the setup.
Now, the classic line of reasoning goes as so forth… because of the uncertainty principle, the position of the subatomic particles involved in the chunk of radioactive material are indeterminate until they are observed. Specifically, a particle may have two different waveforms, one in which it remains stable and one in which it assumes the characteristics of a radioactive emission. Since many of these partial-waveform particles will strike the counter, you end up with the remarkable situation in which the entire cat develops two waveform patterns, superimposed on each other, one in which the cat is alive and one in which it is dead. Once you open the box and peek in, observing the situation you collapse the waveforms and only one of them becomes ‘real’.
(Formulations of the standard spiel will vary - if I’ve made any serious goof up to this point let me know, of course.)
Now, here are my own thoughts. For this to make sense, you have to stipulate that the geiger counter is not itself ‘observing’ the particles… that it’s just one link in a chain reaction that is incapable of collapsing the waveform of the individual particles, but that instead the geiger counter will develop its own duplicate waveforms, if only for a slight instant, as a result of the partial-waveform particles striking it. In the same way, the poison vial does not ‘perceive’ the electric signal from the geiger counter and collapse its waveform, but resonates with alternate waveforms of its own. And the cat, who I think would be capabel of observing the poison gas arriving or not arriving and collapsing that dual waveform into a reality, does not - it develops its own dual waveform itself.
So now, my question is this: if all of the above is true, what makes me capable of collapsing the waveforms by opening up the box and peeking inside? Don’t I also develop a dual waveform, one in which I say “oh look, the cat’s alive” and one in which I say, “Oh look, the cat’s dead.” And presumably the audio recorder running in the lab also develops a dual waveform based on whatever I said and the clipboard develops a dual waveform in which ‘alive’ might be checked off and ‘dead’ might be checked off… and so on.
I presume there isn’t something unique about human beings that we can collapse waveforms but no other creature or device in the universe is capable of doing so… so what’s the deal? Of course, if you believe in the theory that infinite multiple universes are splitting away from each other based on each and every moment, then there is really no ‘collapsing’ of waveforms in the way that the schrodinger’s cat explanations suggest – each alternate waveform simply gets a universe of its own to be real in. But I’d like to hear any possible explanation that doesn’t involve alternate universes.
Thank you in advance for your time and expertise.