I’ve been enjoying the ABC sci-fi series FlashForward, but I was annoyed at how they botched the treatment of Schroedinger’s cat in the last episode. The original thought experiment envisaged a cat in a box into which no one can see, in which there is a poison the release of which will be triggered if an atom of a radioactive isotope decays. The quantum uncertainty about the decay of the isotope is interpreted by some as representing a situation in which neither possibility occurs until there is some observation, which resolves the overlapping realities in what is known as the “collapse of the waveform.” The point was to illustrate the paradoxical nature of this interpretation of quantum mechanics, which seems to allow for a live-dead cat.
The FlashForward version has a cat hidden away with a poisoned sardine. Not only does this not involve quantum indeterminacy, but unless the poison can be smelled, there is really no doubt that the cat will eat the sardine, is there? After all, it’s not like trying to give a cat a pill. I did like the fact, however, that the episode raised the possibility that the cat might be an observer, and that this might resolve the paradox at least of the cat, although it doesn’t make many aspects of quantum physics any less mysterious or perplexing.
You can watch the episode online on Hulu:
(The part with Schroedinger’s cat and the sardine is right near the beginning)