Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Schrodinger's Cabin

If Schrodinger opened all his Christmas presents and left an empty box on the floor, his cat would jump in it. I guess that's the only thing we ever know for certain about Schrodinger's cat. Because if Schrodinger cares at all about his Christmas tree, he's going to tape that cat in the box good and tight. And then nobody will know a darn thing about it.

Schrodinger developed his famous boxed-cat thought experiment in order to point out the absurdity of some of the ideas floating around the new field of quantum mechanics. Some were positing that subatomic particles must exist in all possible states at once and remain that way until the instant they're observed. He tied the viability of a cat to the state of a radioactive atom and suggested, chuckling to himself, that the cat must be alive and dead at the same time and wouldn't resolve one way or the other until someone opened the box and had a peek. Which is silly. It could just have a little kidney infection. Even Schrodinger thought this was silly with regard to cats. The problem is that some things that are very, very, very small don't act according to Newton's laws. Not cats. Kittens, maybe.

It doesn't have anything to do with physics, but I've always subscribed to the notion that unobserved things might not even exist. One doesn't want to go about sticking one's head in the sand--even ostriches don't do that--but I no longer feel an obligation to be aware of every last crappy thing that happens in the world. In the course of a life there's enough crappiness to go around and I don't think I need to be exposed to all of it. With that in mind I'm putting off a trip to our cabin.

Trunks of two of the three trees that aimed at the cabin
We do need to go to the cabin. We haven't been in three months and by this time it's possible the only thing holding it together is mildew. Worse, there might be a tree on top of it. That's actually likely. There's nothing but trees around there and there's nothing much keeping them up except force of habit. We've had a ton of rain lately. This turns the soil into pudding. The trees, which are more than 200 feet tall, don't actually have a very deep go-it-alone root system. They're not libertarians. They band together in more of a co-op. Given a little push, like, say, the recent great winds that have accompanied the recent great rains, they'll go down like bad drunks. Bunches of them at once.

This is such a likely scenario, in fact, that we pack up and leave when it's been wet and gets real windy around there. One time three massive Douglas firs came down right alongside the cabin and just nicked the fascia board on the corner. They were stacked up like cordwood on what used to be our deck. If I had been inside at the time they came down, the authorities would have found me stone dead in a puddle of pee.

Anyway right now the cabin is unobserved. It could be alive or dead. I like to imagine it's still standing. I'd hate to think of it all smashed to kindling just because I had the temerity to go have a look.

33 comments:

  1. Ah, but since the observer affects the observed (another of quantum physics strange yet delightful dictums), just keep picturing in your mind that the cabin is standing. While you're at it, you might as well picture it cleaned and free of mildew, with some new furnishings. Maybe with lots of money squirreled away under a floorboard somewhere.

    Actually, I think Schrodinger would be an excellent name for a cat.

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    1. I thought the very same thing. Well, about the cat. Incidentally, it's possible not everything I ever write about quantum mechanics can be taken to the bank and cashed. I've read several books on the subject and halfway through all of them I realize I have no idea what's going on.

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  2. I dare anyone to tell me denial isn't a valid coping mechanism!

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  3. It still exists even if it is kindling...or ash from a lightning fire, right? We actually live where trees drop like bowling pins when the wind comes along with or without pudding soil.

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  4. Is there an infinitesimally small moment between life and death that the cat IS actually both dead and alive? Or neither?
    If there is a tree on your cabin and Dave heard it fall, is he still wrong? This calls for some beer and research. In that order.

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    1. Oh he's never wrong. Hardly ever wrong. There was that one time, but I could be wrong about that. Then there was that other time...

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  5. But if you're not there to see it, did the tree really fall?
    I went through the fabled Columbus Day Storm back in either '62 or '63, on the southern Oregon coast, upriver from Gold Beach. I was visiting my mom, she was at work when it hit. I didn't see her for 5 days, until they cleared the Rogue river road up to her house.

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  6. Yikes - I hope your cabin is okay. In the meantime you've found the humour in it, as always. Denial, beer, humour - they're ALL coping mechanisms.

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    1. Update: Cabin is fine. Electricity even works.

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    2. Good to hear, although perhaps somewhere in the multiverse, someone now has a cabin to rebuild.

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  7. My preferred coping mechanism would be wine.But I can adapt.

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  8. I went back to see my cabin, and it wasn't even there. Someone had carted it away, probably log by log. (It was a vintage log cabin, modernized somewhat to make it livable.)

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  9. It happens, out in the boonies. "Finders keepers," and all that.

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  10. This is really, really, out in the boonies. Far north, a mile from the nearest neighbour, out of sight of anyone. I've seen it happen before; a small, abandoned house I used to visit to harvest windfall apples from their abandoned orchard before the bears got them disappeared overnight. Some time later, it reappeared, on a recently purchased lot miles down the road. The grapevine had reported that this couple had trucked the house away, and sho' 'nuff, that's who was living in the house when they cut down the trees that hid it from the road.
    People shrugged and went about their business. If the old owner hadn't complained, why worry?
    The same goes for my cabin; I had moved out, no-one was living there. Ergo, finders keepers.
    I was more enraged at the creeps who cut down my ancient weeping willow while I was renting the cabin to them.

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  11. "dead in a puddle of pee." I guess that is better than shitting your pants and dying.

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  12. Perhaps you could contact someone in the military and have them send a drone over to take photos for you. That way you'll know for sure if the cabin is standing or not, maybe even see if it is mildew covered. Or moss covered.

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    1. It's all good! We have escaped the mighty timbers this time.

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  13. Hello, I am a new reader. Your attitude toward believing / knowing everything matches mine. Like Sherlock Holmes, I am content to drop knowledge that doesn't interest me. AND, we had a huge tree pull the same falling stunt at my house years ago, and I was inside six feet away from impact. When I opened the nearby door the branches pushed through and we were unable to close the door. Happy to meet you.

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    1. I didn't realize this puts me in the company of Sherlock Holmes! I really must read more. Thanks for popping by. Sounds like your tree just wanted to get warm?

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  14. Weirdly enough, your blog post didn't exist until I read it.

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  15. Tell me the cat didn't eat all of Dave's butter...

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