Schroedinger’s Sardine

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)

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  • BSM

    Depends on the cat. I have four and two can be very finicky. They might snub their noses at the sardine. Perhaps I need to conduct an experiment for you and put it up on YouTube?;)

  • If you do the experiment, I'll share it here! Also, if you're a cat owner, do click the link about giving a cat a pill – you will enjoy it. Although I should have shared this version which includes a follow-up on how to give a dog a pill.

  • The remark that "the observer gets to decide" makes me think that FlashForward is going for a kind of Social Constructivist model of reality in which in observing the future, the human race collectively constructed a future that represented their deepest selves, or something along those lines.

  • BSM

    It's a deal. I am taking one of the boys to the vet later this week. So as penance sardines seems like a good idea. Since we've never given them sardines I'm not sure how this will go. I may end being mauled…As my variable I can insert a little lysine powder into one of the fish. We have one guy with respiratory issues so the vet told us when things act up, give them all some lysine. suspect they can smell it. However, if it's in tuna they will eat it.

  • Kay

    I'm enjoying the series very much, but I'm pessimistically expecting that the cause of the flash forward will be something along the lines of "We created a wormhole with the Hadron Collider, and this allowed the collective consciousness of the human race to time travel into the future 6 months" or something like that. The pessimistic part of me also expects the show to be canceled, considering that this is ABC we are talking about. (Invasion. Daybreak. Eli Stone. Pushing Daisies. Cupid. Defying Gravity.)

  • Kay

    Ah man, I just came across a post at another blog that mentioned that Flash Forward is based on a book that actually does include CERN as a cause of the event.Now I feel bad for poo pooing the idea. 🙁