Chapter 16: The Cat Paradox
...... Late Wednesday morning, at the end of his forth period computer class, Kip darted outside for air and to let off steam. Computers, as usual, had been a total bore and waste of time. The teacher had, as usual, spent at lot of the time trying to show that he knew more about computers than did the kids. And the stuff he tried to teach was from the dark ages and he programmed in a language that hadn't been used since dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
...... Kip jogged around a small circular path on the Dalambertian, and as he came back around to his starting point, he saw Wolfgang coming his way. Wolfy's shop class was probably almost as boring.
...... Kip waved to him and Wolfgang waved back. But Wolfgang seemed happy, even enthusiastic. When they'd just gotten close enough to each other to talk without shouting, Wolfgang pulled something from his pants pocket. Then, after glancing around, furtively, he opened his fist revealing a small flat piece of metal. "Look at this." he said in a conspiratorial tone. "I just made it in Industrial Tech."
...... "Um," said Kip, looking down at Wolfgang's palm. "What is it?"
...... "It's a lock pick!" Wolfgang scanned his surroundings without moving his head. "Just holding it makes me feel like an outlaw."
...... Kip took the sliver of metal and examined it. It looked like something a dentist might use.
...... "I got a hair pin from Dr. Linda," said Wolfgang, "but it was the wrong kind: round, not flat. But I was lucky. I found a broken hacksaw blade in the shop. A hacksaw blade is the gold standard for making a pick. I used the grinder." He took the pick back from Kip. "Any professional lock picker would be proud to have this." He slipped the pick back into his pocket. "Fortunately, the shop teacher didn't recognize it as a lock pick. I told him I was making a tie clip."
...... "A tie clip? Cool." Kip had never seen Wolfy so enthusiastic about anything. "When are you going to try in out?"
...... "Right after school. At the carousel. I am, after all, the Master of the Stables of the Dark Riders."
...... Later, when Kip went into Snack Bar for the ESAP assembly, he saw on the board,
...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... Gedanken Today -- Meow!
...... Nothing much happened at the assembly.
The only two items were Paul scheduling the rest of the week's baseball practices
and Wolfgang reporting on his chess team.
...... "And even if the Amdexter kids win the ball game," said Wolfgang, "we'll crush them at chess."
...... "Not Amdexter kids," said Chucky, "Amdorks."
...... "Sorry. I forgot."
...... "I don't intend for us to lose the ballgame," said Paul with some heat.
...... "Sorry," said Wolfgang, again.
...... Just then, Dr. Ralph came in. He carried a cardboard box and led Paradox in on a leash. He put the box on the table, tied the handle of the leash around a table leg, and then turned to the class. "I'm afraid this will be the last gedanken session for awhile," he said in a subdued voice.
...... Responding to a chorus of whys and aws, Dr. Ralph held up his hand. "I'm sorry. But my former thesis advisor said he strongly suggested that I not overload you with too much quantum mechanics information. "
...... "Strongly suggested doesn't mean you have to actually follow that suggestion," said Nick.
...... "I'm afraid it does. He's always polite. But he's also the chairman of the ESAP Science Advisory Board." Dr. Ralph bit his lip. "And he has a point. He thinks it'll be more productive if you guys know only the most blatant problems with the theory."
...... "Phoey," said another kid, Michael Lee. "This is the best part of ESAP."
...... "It won't be forever." Dr. Ralph sighed. "But it is too bad," he said softly, almost to himself. "I'd have liked to have exposed you to the Flegor Mandl experiment and a few EPR experiments and to Bell's theorem." He looked out at his class. "I've found that when I explore quantum concepts with you, I get new insights on them myself." He smiled but it looked forced. "Oh well, ESAP is about your insights, not mine."
...... "I always look forward to these sessions," said Kip.
...... "Oh, we'll still have sessions occasionally," said Dr. Ralph, "about relativity, though."
...... Kip looked at him quizzically.
...... "Not gedanken sessions, exactly. More in the nature of instruction. Yes, relativity has problems, but not conceptual ones. We have a good way of thinking about relativity."
...... Kip was about to ask what it was, but Dr. Ralph didn't give him the chance.
...... "The trick is to think of space and time as one thing: space-time."
...... "Like waves and particles are one thing?" said Michael.
...... "No." Dr. Ralph laughed. "With space-time, we know what we're talking about." He went to the board and picked up a piece of chalk. "But back to things where we don't know what we're talking about." He underlined 'Meow!'. "Today, we'll investigate the notorious Schrödinger Cat Paradox." He bent down to his cat. "And I don't mean you."
...... The class, as a whole, laughed, lightening the mood.
...... Dr. Ralph began pacing. "My advisor was reluctant to have me to talk to you about Schrödinger's cat either. He said it was too complex. And he's probably right. But I'll try to give you a taste of the problem." He stopped in front of the center blackboard. "You recall," he said, "that until the electron hits the screen, we have to think of the electron as just about everywhere--and it sort of decides to be at a specific place only when it hits the screen--or more generally, when it is measured."
...... Kip pursed his lips. His almost-vision of the electron's behavior couldn't really be described that way.
...... "And so," Dr. Ralph continued, "in some sense, each electron that goes through, goes through both holes. So the question is: if we can deduce this behavior for electrons, how about bigger things--like milk bottles, for instance--or cats?" He paused for a few seconds. "Well, according to quantum mechanics, as it's understood today, we could set up a situation where, for example, a cat in a box will be neither alive or dead until someone opens the box to see. That act of observation forces the cat to be either dead or alive."
...... "Come on," said one of the boys.
...... "Really. I'm not making this up." Dr. Ralph went on to describe the box, the cat, and the experiment.
(For Dr. Ralph's description of the Cat Paradox, click here)
...... Kip really didn't see the paradox. In his half-formed visualization of quantum mechanics, the paradox wouldn't exist. But if all these scientists think there's a paradox--maybe my way of thinking about quantum mechanics is wrong. He felt a wave of sadness. Yeah. It must be wrong. He pursed his lips tighter, feeling his stubbornness surface. But maybe it's not.
...... Dr. Ralph talked some more, but Kip was preoccupied with his own thoughts and trying to visualize the unvisualizable.
...... After school that day, Paul rounded up
his baseball team for a practice. There were only three days left until the
Saturday game with Amdexter.
...... As they passed the carousel on the way to the ball field, Kip saw Wolfgang hanging around the control cabinet. Wolfgang was not on the team.
...... Before Kip could say anything, Paul called out. "Wolfy. You're coming to watch the practice, aren't you?"
...... "What?" said Wolfgang, obviously surprised. "Yes. Of course." He sidled up to Kip. "I did it," he whispered. "The Dark Riders will ride again!"