[OPE-L:5894] Ask the cat, dummy

Alan Freeman (a.freeman@GREENWICH.AC.UK)
Sun, 28 Dec 1997 10:18:00 +0000

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Surely no discussion on cats is complete without the experiment first
by Schroedinger (Naturwiss 48.52 (1935) trans Jauch, Josef M (1965:125),
Foundations of Cat Mechanics (Reading, MA and Addison-Wesley)) cited in
Griffiths (1994), an experiment to my knowledge never performed, so that
cat concerned remains happily abstract, or possibly general, though
not total.

"A cat is placed in a steel chamber, together with the following hellish
contraption...in a Geiger counter there is a tiny amount of radiocative
substance, so tiny that *maybe* within an hour of one of the atoms decays,
equally probably none of them decays. If one decays then the counter
and via a relay activates a little hammer which breaks a container of
If one has left this entire system for an hour, then one would say the cat
living if no atom has decayed. The first decay would have poisoned it. The
function of the entire system would express this by containing equal parts
the living and dead cat" , (emphasis in original)

(for an alternative translation see Hughes, R.I.G (1989:280) who
'diabolic' for 'hellish' and supplies the vital words so tellingly omitted
Griffiths: 'which must be secured against direct interference by the cat')
Griffiths (op cit) gives the cat wave function as

Psi = 1/sqrt(2)[Psi(alive) + Psi(dead)]

He comments:

"The cat is neither alive or dead, but rather a linear combination of the
until a measurement occurs - until, say, you peek in the window to check.
that moment, your observation forces the cat to "take a stand": dead or
And if you find it to be dead, then it's really *you* who killed it by
in the window."

Curiousity would thus, in this case, be a proximate cause of cat death,
not in the sense that this is normally understood.

There is a substantial debate around various interpretations of the
text. All reduce to a single point, ignored until now:

Nobody ever thought to ask the cat.

The cat would know if it was alive. To prove this, assume a self-conscious
(V=0 where V = unselfconsciousness) Such a cat could, until point of death,
reason as follows: I think, therefore I am. After the point of death, it
not reason at all and the question would (for the cat) be meaningless.
moreover we must assume that if self-conscious, it would be a Cartesian
cat, its
knowledge would possess the status of absolute truth. This is a complete
refutation of von Neumann's (1932) 'no-go' theorem proving the
inconsistency of

There is a case to be made that cat-ness is in complete contradiction with
self-consciousness. Also the possibility of Post-Modern cats is to be
considered, such cats being unable to deduce with certainty whether they
alive or dead. This corresponds to the modal quantum construction "Maybe I
think, so maybe I Am" or possibly "I think I Am, but you don't have to".
empirical cat observation suggests that the actual state of general cat
consciousness corresponds to the deduction "I Know I Am, and I don't care
what the hell you think" (V = epsilon, where epsilon is very very very
In this case we might as well pretend the cat is an ideal measuring
even though it isn't, because it makes no difference to us and the cat
care anyhow because it exists in a Quantum World of its own.

On the connection between Quantum Logic and Post-Modernism cf Bub (1992)
Aaronovitch (RIP). Nevertheless, the balance of probability leads us to
that Schroedinger's cat could not possibly contribute to socially-necessary
abstract cat-time (SNAC) because after such a harrowing experience, it
be far too hungry.

And, indeed, the very same approach solves the great Kliman Cat Debate.

Ask the cat.

If it answers, it's part of abstract labour. If it don't, it ain't.