I am a cat.
Inside this box.
But I’m not sure if I’m dead or alive.
Quite possibly I could be both. I’m not sure.
My owner, Dr. Erwin Schrodinger, put me in here, with a pair of things I dont quite understand. Apparently, one of these things puts a single atom in the air. An atom of what, I dont know, but apparently something that falls apart quite readily. The other thing measures the number of atoms in the air, and if that number decreases by one, a hammer comes down and breaks a vial of hydrochloric acid. And I die.
Obviously, you can see that this would cause me some distress. My life hangs on a single, highly contrary atom. This is not good.
But standing outside this box, you dont know if I’m dead or alive. I could be dead by now: there’s a fifty/fifty chance of that. I could also be alive. But you dont know until you open the box to see. And I wont know until you open the box so I can see.
My owner, Dr. Erwin Schrodinger, says this demonstrates a reductio ad absurdum of the theory of quantum mechanics, that right now, this minute, there are conceivably two of me, both of us living parallel lives that converge only when the box is opened. One of me is alive, the other is dead. I wouldnt exactly call that “living a parallel life”, since the other me — or quite possibly I — is dead. There is also the distinct possibility that I am both dead and alive simultaneously, but I would call that absurd. However, what seems equally absurd is that I am talking about it at all. And that is perhaps another philosophical point for another time.
I should genuinely like to meet the other me, but if Dr. Schrodinger’s theory is correct, the other me is dead, which means there would be little in the way of conversation. Still, the other me might be alive. But that would suggest that I am dead, and this entire discussion becomes moot at best. Clearly I do not want to be dead, even in the name of higher science. Nor do I want the other me to be dead, because I would not wish such a fate on anyone, not even myself. Or if I am simultaneously dead and alive, perhaps that suggests that you are as well. After all, I wont even know you exist until you open the box, and I see you. Until then, you could be equally there and not there.
And we will not know, you see, until you — or the other you, assuming you are not there but you are — open this thing. And then I — or the other I — will either jump out and purr in your arms or will be dead and ready for burial in the back garden.
Or perhaps I should just focus on getting the hell out of this box…