Q is for Quantum physics


Where are Billy and Jessie? Are they alive and well, doing their bit to rid the world of rodents, or did the Mulligans poison them? There are many things in life that we just don’t know. Until we open the box.

When it came to the cats, her husband and a lot of other things, my mother was inclined to deny reality as much as it was possible. She blessed herself when passing graveyards and saluted magpies for good luck. She doused us in holy water every time we left the house. She still believed they’d turn up one day, fat and fed, and she believed that the lump on her breast couldn’t be cancerous—yet she thought about it all the time. At times that belief would crumble, but she would fight it with that great stubbornness indicative of her race; and her mind would alternate from benign to malignant every ten minutes.

That’s from The Cats, The Box and The Paradox, David Brennan’s story in story in Cat Tales, the anthology drawn from last year’s Book a Break short story competition. Atthys Gage, who judged the competition, said, it has a crisp, economical style I found bracing and clean, and a nice knack for dialogue. (Not forgetting an utterly convincing teen protagonist.) And, I would add, a discussion of reality that made me quite dizzy. It isn’t every day that you wonder, after reading a story, if you’re actually dead or alive.

The box is the one which Schrödinger put his cat in, then filled it with radioactive material. You might think that’s a weird thing to do but Schrödinger was a physicist.

Now, you have no way of knowing what’s happening in the box. Did the material disintegrate and kill the cat? Or did it remain stable, in which case the cat is alive and well.

Now, here comes the strange bit: two states exist before you open the box. In one state, the cat is dead and in the other the cat is alive. So the cat is both alive and dead because you have no way of looking into the box without opening it. When you open the box, the two states reduce to one. By your very action—opening the box—you have changed reality.

It’s an analogy for a problem in quantum physics and gives rise to the idea of parallel universes. So in a way my mother is right; she doesn’t believe whole-heartedly in reality because you wouldn’t know what the fuck reality is if you thought about it hard enough. Wouldn’t do you well to be thinking about it too much. So that’s what I think. Billy and Jessie are still alive but they are also dead.

Another physicist I’ve read about was Heisenberg, who was uncertain about everything. He said that when we look at things, they’re not where we thought they were because they’ve gone somewhere else. Or something like that. Anyway, all this quantum stuff has given me an idea. When I set off on my journey, I’m going to leave a box behind, and for all Sam and Sam know, I won’t have left at all because I’m in the box. It’s very cunning because in fact I’ll be in two places at once. And when they open the box, hey presto, there I am. The only problem I have with this cunning plan is that I might be there all right, but dead.

The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. So please don’t hesitate to spread the word and help us raise as much as possible. And of course, if you click on the button, you can read David’s story yourself and delve into the nature of reality.

In a special promotion deal, the price of Cat Tales is just $1.99 for the whole month of April. Available as a PDF (or epub / mobi) complete with colour illustrations directly from this site* by clicking the button below. Also available in print (black & white, $9.50).

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*Buying from this site results in $1.61 after the PayPal commission, as opposed to just $0.70 when buying from Amazon. An insecticide treated mosquito net, which protects on average 2 people for 3 to 4 years, costs $2.50. PLUS, if you buy from this site, you’ll get a personal message of thanks from Curtis along with a short story of his own (in which Nibbles the cat, I’m sorry to say, comes to a rather unfortunate end).

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  1. Oh, Smith, I believe you are far too intelligent to be distracted and misled by the false logic and alternative facts inherent in Schrödinger’s damned box. The fact is, that while both possibilities exist simultaneously, only one state (reality) exists inside the box, and it doesn’t care if you can see it or not.

    The thing is, Schrödinger created the cat-in-a-box thought experiment to illustrate the problem he perceived with what they call the “Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics” if you applied it to everyday objects. It suggests opposite states exist simultaneously at the quantum level until “quantum superimposition” occurs and the two states reduce to one — apparently because some scientist with a really powerful microscope looked to see which one it was. Preposterous! Schrödinger was actually saying it couldn’t possibly be that opposite states exist simultaneously in any particular object until “superimposition” occurs.

    As skeptically as I read anything published in Wikipedia, here’s a link you may use to read their explanation of Schrödinger’s thought experiment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat

    And despite all of that, David Brennan’s story is definitely worth reading.

    • I’m much reassured by your comment, Sue, as I was getting a headache just thinking about it. However, I do think it would be cool to be in two places at once, so I’m going to experiment, but replacing the radioactive material with a bowl of gizzards. That way I have every hope of staying alive.

  2. Reblogged this on Space, Time, and Raspberries and commented:
    If ever a cat needed Cats Protection, it’s Schrödinger’s. Being both alive and dead until someone looks in a box? No wonder denying reality is so appealing. Fortunately, David Brennan’s story, “The Cats, the Box, and the Paradox”, makes more sense than that, and it helps both Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation if you buy a copy of Cat Tales for yourself or someone you know. Or someone you don’t know till you look at then when you give them the book. Go ahead, get a copy of Cat Tales today and help make sense of the world.

  3. Pingback: Q is for #Quantumphysics — curtisbaussebooks @twitter @thewritealice @olaqueenbee @nasa – thewritealice MLS – Let Us Write You The World In Our Eyes.

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