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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Carl Ginet
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Christine Korsgaard
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
E. H. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
Joseph Fourier
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Stuart Hameroff
Patrick Haggard
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
William Stanley Jevons
Pascual Jordan
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
John von Neumann
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek
 
Schrödinger's Cat
Erwin Schrödinger's intention for his infamous cat-killing box was to discredit certain non-intuitive implications of quantum mechanics, of which his wave mechanics was the second formulation. Schrödinger's wave mechanics is more continuous mathematically, and apparently more deterministic, than Werner Heisenberg's matrix mechanics.

Schrödinger did not like Niels Bohr's idea of "quantum jumps" between Bohr's "stationary states" - the different "energy levels" in an atom. Bohr's "quantum postulate" said that the jumps between discrete states emitted (or absorbed) energy in the amount hν = E2 - E1.

Bohr did not accept Albert Einstein's 1905 hypothesis that the radiation was a discrete quantum of energy hν. Bohr (and Max Planck believed radiation was continuous waves. This was the question of wave-particle duality, which Einstein saw as early as 1909.

It was Einstein who originated the suggestion that the superposition of Schrödinger's wave functions implied that two different physical states could exist at the same time. This was a serious interpretational error that plagues the foundation of quantum physics to this day.

This error is found frequently in discussions of so-called "entangled" states (see the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment).

Entanglement occurs only for atomic level phenomena and over limited distances that preserve the coherence of two-particle wave functions by isolating the systems (and their eigenfunctions) from interactions with the environment.

We never actually "see" or measure any system (whether a microscopic electron or a macroscopic cat) in two distinct states. Quantum mechanics simply predicts a significant probability of the system being found in these different states. And these probability predictions are borne out by the statistics of large numbers of identical experiments.

The Pauli Exclusion Principle says (correctly) that two identical indistinguishable (fermion) particles cannot be in the same place at the same time. Entanglement is often interpreted (incorrectly) as saying that a single particle can be in two places at the same time. Dirac's Principle of Superposition does not say that a particle
is in two states at the same time, only that there is a non-zero probability of finding it in either state should it be measured.

Einstein wrote to Schrödinger with the idea that the decay of a radioactive nucleus could be arranged to set off a large explosion. Since the moment of decay is unknown, Einstein argued that the superposition of decayed and undecayed nuclear states implies the superposition of an explosion and no explosion. It does not. In both the microscopic and macroscopic cases, quantum mechanics simply estimates the probability amplitudes for the two cases.

Many years later, Richard Feynman made Einstein's suggestion into a nuclear explosion! (What is it about some scientists?)

Einstein and Schrödinger did not like the fundamental randomness implied by quantum mechanics. They wanted to restore determinism to physics. Indeed Schrödinger's wave equation predicts a perfectly deterministic time evolution of the wave function. But what is evolving deterministically is only abstract probabilities. And these probabilities are confirmed only in the statistics of large numbers of identically prepared experiments. Randomness enters only when a measurement is made and the wave function "collapses" into one of the possible states of the system.

Schrödinger devised a variation in which the random radioactive decay would kill a cat. Observers could not know what happened until the box is opened.

The details of the tasteless experiment include:

  • a Geiger counter which produces an avalanche of electrons when an alpha particle passes through it
  • a bit of radioactive material with a decay half-life likely to emit an alpha particle in the direction of the Geiger counter during a time T
  • an electrical circuit energized by the electrons which drops a hammer
  • a flask of a deadly hydrocyanic acid gas, smashed open by the hammer.
The gas will kill the cat, but the exact time of death is unpredictable and random because of the irreducible quantum indeterminacy in the time of decay (and the direction of the decay particle, which might miss the Geiger counter!).

This thought experiment is widely misunderstood. It was meant (by both Einstein and Schrödinger) to suggest that quantum mechanics describes the simultaneous (and obviously contradictory) existence of a live and dead cat. Here is the famous diagram with a cat both dead and alive.

What's wrong with this picture?
Quantum mechanics claims only that the time evolution of the Schrödinger wave functions for the probability amplitudes of nuclear decay accurately predict the proportion of nuclear decays that will occur in a given time interval.

The (no classical) probabilities (no interference between terms) simply predict the number of live and dead cats that will be observed in a large number of identical experiments
More specifically, quantum mechanics provides us with the accurate prediction that if this experiment is repeated many times (the SPCA would disapprove), half of the experiments will result in dead cats.

Note that this is a problem in epistemology. What knowledge is it that quantum physics provides?

If we open the box at the time T when there is a 50% probability of an alpha particle emission, the most a physicist can know is that there is a 50% chance that the radioactive decay will have occurred and the cat will be observed as dead or dying.

If the box were opened earlier, say at T/2, there is only a 25% chance that the cat has died. Schrödinger's superposition of live and dead cats would look like this.

If the box were opened later, say at 2T, there is only a 25% chance that the cat is still alive. Quantum mechanics is giving us only statistical information - knowledge about probabilities.

Schrödinger is simply wrong that the mixture of nuclear wave functions that accurately describes decay can be magnified to the macroscopic world to describe a similar mixture of live cat and dead cat wave functions and the simultaneous existence of live and dead cats.

The kind of coherent superposition of states needed to describe an atomic system as in a linear combination of states (see Paul Dirac's explanation of superposition using three polarizers) does not describe macroscopic systems.

Instead of a linear combination of pure quantum states, with quantum interference between the states, i.e.,

| Cat > = ( 1/√2) | Live > + ( 1/√2) | Dead >,

quantum mechanics tells us only that there is 50% chance of finding the cat in either the live or dead state, i.e.,

Cats = (1/2) Live + (1/2) Dead.

Just as in the quantum case, this probability prediction is confirmed by the statistics of repeated identical experiments, but no interference between these states is seen.

What do exist simultaneously in the macroscopic world are genuine alternative possibilities for future events. There is the real possibility of a live or dead cat in any particular experiment. Which one is found is irreducibly random, unpredictable, and a matter of pure chance.

Genuine alternative possibilities is what bothered physicists like Einstein, Schrödinger, and Max Planck who wanted a return to deterministic physics. It also bothers determinist and compatibilist philosophers who have what William James calls an "antipathy to chance." Ironically, it was Einstein himself, in 1916, who discovered the existence of irreducible chance, in the elementary interactions of matter and radiation.

Until the information comes into existence, the future is indeterministic. Once information is macroscopically encoded, the past is determined.

How does information physics resolve the paradox?
As soon as the alpha particle sets off the avalanche of electrons in the Geiger counter (an irreversible event with a significant entropy increase), new information is created in the world.

For example, a simple pen-chart recorder attached to the Geiger counter could record the time of decay, which a human observer could read at any later time. Notice that, as usual in information creation, the energy expended by a recorder increases the entropy more than the increased information decreases it, thus satisfying the second law of thermodynamics.

Even without a mechanical recorder, the cat's death sets in motion biological processes that constitute an equivalent, if gruesome, recording. When a dead cat is the result, a sophisticated autopsy can provide an approximate time of death, because the cat's body is acting as an event recorder. There never is a superposition (in the sense of the simultaneous existence) of live and dead cats.

The paradox points clearly to the Information Philosophy solution to the problem of measurement. Human observers are not required to make measurements. In this case, the cat is the observer.

In most physics measurements, the new information is captured by apparatus well before any physicist has a chance to read any dials or pointers that indicate what happened. Indeed, in today's high-energy particle interaction experiments, the data may be captured but not fully analyzed until many days or even months of computer processing establishes what was observed. In this case, the experimental apparatus is the observer.

And, in general, the universe is its own observer, able to record (and sometimes preserve) the information created.


The basic assumption made in Schrödinger's cat thought experiments is that the deterministic Schrödinger equation describing a microscopic superposition of decayed and non-decayed radioactive nuclei evolves deterministically into a macroscopic superposition of live and dead cats.

But since the essence of a "measurement" is an interaction with another system (quantum or classical) that creates information to be seen (later) by an observer, the interaction between the nucleus and the cat is more than enough to collapse the wave function. Calculating the probabilities for that collapse allows us to estimate the probabilities of live and dead cats. These are probabilities, not probability amplitudes. They do not interfere with one another.

After the interaction, they are not in a superposition of states. We always have either a live cat or a dead cat, just as we always observe a complete photon after a polarization measurement and not a superposition of photon states, as P.A.M.Dirac explains so simply and clearly.

According to quantum mechanics the result of this experiment will be that sometimes one will find a whole photon, of energy equal to the energy of the incident photon, on the back side and other times one will find nothing. When one finds a whole photon, it will be polarized perpendicular to the optic axis. One will never find only a part of a photon on the back side. If one repeats the experiment a large number of times, one will find the photon on the back side in a fraction sin2α of the total number of times.
Quantum mechanics similarly gives us only the probability of finding live cats (or dead cats) in a large number of identically prepared experiments (pace the SPCA)
Thus we may say that the photon has a probability sin2α of passing through the tourmaline and appearing on the back side polarized perpendicular to the axis and a probability cos2α of being absorbed. These values for the probabilities lead to the correct classical results for an incident beam containing a large number of photons.

In this way we preserve the individuality of the photon in all cases. We are able to do this, however, only because we abandon the determinacy of the classical theory. The result of an experiment is not determined, as it would be according to classical ideas, by the conditions under the control of the experimenter. The most that can be predicted is a set of possible results, with a probability of occurrence for each...

When we make the photon meet a tourmaline crystal, we are subjecting it to an observation. We are observing whether it is polarized parallel or perpendicular to the optic axis. The effect of making this observation is to force the photon entirely into the state of parallel or entirely into the state of perpendicular polarization. It has to make a sudden jump from being partly in each of these two states to being entirely in one or other of them. Which of the two states it will jump into cannot be predicted, but is governed only by probability laws. If it jumps into the parallel state it gets absorbed and if it jumps into the perpendicular state it passes through the crystal and appears on the other side preserving this state of polarization.

Superposition and Indeterminacy
The non-classical nature of the superposition process is brought out clearly if we consider the superposition of two states, A and B, such that there exists an observation which, when made on the system in state A, is certain to lead to one particular result, a say, and when made on the system in state B is certain to lead to some different result, b say. What will be the result of the observation when made on the system in the superposed state? The answer is that the result will be sometimes a and sometimes b, according to a probability law depending on the relative weights of A and B in the superposition process. It will never be different from both a and b.
There is no justification for assuming an intermediate (and absurd) condition of simultaneous live and dead cats. The thing that is "intermediate" is the probability, not the outcome.
The intermediate character of the state formed by superposition thus expresses itself through the probability of a particular result for an observation being intermediate between the corresponding probabilities for the original states,† not through the result itself being intermediate between the corresponding results for the original states.

In this way we see that such a drastic departure from ordinary ideas as the assumption of superposition relationships between the states is possible only on account of the recognition of the importance of the disturbance accompanying an observation and of the consequent indeterminacy in the result of the observation. When an observation is made on any atomic system that is in a given state, in general the result will not be determinate, i.e., if the experiment is repeated several times under identical conditions several different results may be obtained. It is a law of nature, though, that if the experiment is repeated a large number of times, each particular result will be obtained in a definite fraction of the total number of times, so that there is a definite probability of its being obtained. This probability is what the theory sets out to calculate.

Decoherence and the Lack of Macroscopic Superpositions
Despite the claims of decoherence theorists, microscopic superpositions of quantum states do not allow us to "see" a system in two different states. Quantum mechanics simply predicts a significant probability of the system being found in these different states. Thus it is no surprise that we do not see macroscopic "superpositions of live and dead cats" at the same time. What does exist at any given time is the probabilities of the two states (in the macroscopic world) and the probability amplitude of the two states (which can coherently interfere with one another) in the microscopic world.

Decoherence theorists claim that they explain the "mysterious" non-appearance of macroscopic superpositions of states. But quantum mechanics does not predict such states, despite the popular idea of macroscopic superposition of live and dead cats.

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