At The Intersection of Science and Religion

…lies Schrodinger’s equation, his cat, nearly all of quantum mechanics and what happens to our universe when scientists try to peek into the box.

Confused? Sorry. I’ll explain. No – that’ll take much to long. I’ll sum up.

At the heart of quantum mechanics is the notion that most everything (especially at the sub-atomic level) is probabilistic, at least it is until someone makes an observation of it. Schrodinger had this cat, you see, and he put it, in a famous thought experiment but not in actuality, into a rigged box, booby trapped to painless kill the animal if a random event (in this case, the decay of a single cesium atom) happened. After waiting an appropriate amount of time, the box would be opened to see if the cat was alive or dead. The question was, was the cat alive or dead before the observer observed? – before the answer was known?

No, you cannot know before the answer is known (observed). So the only thing that you can say about the state of the poor animal is that before you look, it is both alive and dead and that this can only be the case if the universe itself holds both situation simultaneously. After you look, then either 1) all the possibilities collapse into one, the one you see, or 2) both possibilities go on their merry way, completely oblivious and independent of each other. The physics you get in either case is consistent with the world we see around us, and the probabilities calculated inevitably give results that agree with every measurement made to test quantum mechanics. It’s spooky how accurate it is.

But Schrodinger cat is just a thought experiment. From the U.K. Telegraph:

Schrodinger’s cat in which, thanks to a fancy experimental set up, the moggy is both alive and dead until someone decides to look, when it either carries on living, or dies. That is, by one interpretation (by another, the universe splits into two, one with a live cat and one with a dead one.)

New Scientist reports a worrying new variant as the cosmologists claim that astronomers may have accidentally nudged the universe closer to its death by observing dark energy, a mysterious anti gravity force which is thought to be speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.

The damaging allegations are made by Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and James Dent of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, who suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the cosmos to revert to an earlier state when it was more likely to end. “Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe,” Prof Krauss tells New Scientist.

Some disagree with the conclusion.

These “scientists” offer far too many basic misunderstandings of cosmology and quantum mechanics to discuss all of them. For example, without a glimpse of a rational reason and in contradiction with all existing theories and scenarios, anthropic or otherwise, they proclaim the typical lifetime of our Universe to be comparable to the Hubble time.

More seriously, they argue that by observing the cosmological constant, we have “reset the cosmic clock” which means that the Universe can no longer have a bright future. Their “reasoning” is wrong at every level you can imagine. This religious idea is based on a complete and rudimentary misunderstanding of the measurement theory in particular and the interpretation of quantum mechanics in general.

Religious idea? Well, I’m not sure about that. It is true that Krauss’s (et.al.) idea of “resetting the clock” is not a concept I’ve run across before in this context. That doesn’t make it automatically nonsense, of course. I’m just not aware of it.

But the idea that you change the observed by observing it is not exactly correct either (or let’s say, it’s not expressed well here). Better to understand Schrodinger to say that the observer and the observed are intertwined in subtle ways. For instance, the the Telegraphic article, when the writers put it that:

This is not the only damage to the heavens that astronomers may have caused. Our cosmos is now significantly lighter than scientists had thought after an analysis of the amount of light given out by galaxies concluded that some shone from lightweight electrons, not heavyweight atoms. In all, the new analysis suggests that the universe has lost about one fifth of its overall mass.

they are clearly out of their ever lovin’ minds, not to mention just plain wrong. Changing our incorrect notions of what an observation was tell us does not, even in the strange, spooky world of quantum mechanics, change the universe.

God’s built us a subtle universe, not a fragile one. And we certainly weren’t given the power to wreck it like that.

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