You’ve heard of Schrödinger’s Cat. It’s the thought experiment that illustrates the problem with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Seal a cat in a box, along with a Geiger counter, some poison and some radioactive material. When an atom is released, the flask of poison is shattered and the cat will die. That’s assuming it’s not chasing a ball around the box of course.
The point is, at any given moment the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. You know, like when you have a deadline and your cat has curled up to sleep on your keyboard, but looks too cute to move.
You can never know what state the cat is in (livid probably), until you actually look in the box. Or you see cat shit oozing out from under the lid.
It’s all about things existing in all their theoretical states – called superpositions, and you can make your own Spider-Man sex jokes.
Unsurprisingly, this thought experiment has inspired a number of authors and writers to work it into their fiction. You’ll remember Dirk Gently talking about it in his holistic detective agency, unless you haven’t read it of course, in which case, that may make it a superposition itself. He claims to have used clairvoyance to look inside the box, only to discover the cat was neither alive nor dead, it was just missing. It had got bored with waiting around.
The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who are described as “quantum-locked” which probably means nothing, but it suggests that they are in some sort of superposition. They can only move when not being observed. The Doctor also claims to have met Schrödinger’s Cat, but since it’s a thought experiment, we can conclude that the Doctor is a lying shitbag.
According to Wikipedia, there’s an episode of CSI all about String Theory, which features a headstone marking the grave of Schrödinger Martin. I haven’t seen it, but I wonder if they exhumed the coffin to find out if anybody was in it.
But as always, it’s down to Futurama to make the best use of a scientific principle in its storytelling. In Law & Oracle, Fry apprehends Schrödinger after a lengthy car chase, and the physicist explains he is transporting a cat, some cesium and some poison. Fry asks if the cat is alive or dead, and Schrödinger replies, “it’s a superposition of both states, until you open it and collapse the wave function”.
So Fry opens the box.
And the cat jumps out and attacks his face.
There’s also a lot of drugs in there.