Cordial Deconstruction

Observations from our shared single objective reality in a materialistic, naturalistic, & effectively macro-deterministic universe.

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Posts Tagged ‘Flash Forward’

Reply to a Comment on My Schrödinger’s Cat Post

Posted by Karl Withakay on May 1, 2011

Commenter your wrong left the following comment to my Deconstruction post on Flash Forward’s mishandling of the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment:

“Ok, you seem to have completely missed the point here. The point of Schrodinger’s cat is precisely about quantum probability, which you have stated, and you seem to have a knowledge of this thought experiment and what it means. The thing that is really getting to me is the fact that the point is still being made in almost exactly the same way, but you are quibbling over the fact that it is not explained fully and mentioned the radioactive isotopes and the Copenhagen interpretation. Surely a 10 minute conversation about this thought experiment would waste time in the programme and really doesn’t matter. The nitty gritty stuff is for scientists, not for people just watching some action on television. Don’t get me wrong I love reading physics as much as any studious person, but it really doesn’t matter in the slightest that he didn’t go into every single little detail regarding the experiment. Stop wasting your time complaining and read more physics, you’re obviously interested in it. Not only that but you’ve wasted my time having to correct your ignorance.”

What follows is my reply to that comment, which I felt was worthy of it’s own post.

It would appear to be you who has completely missed the point and demonstrated your ignorance on the topic.  By substituting a poisoned sardine for the decay of a radioactive isotope, quantum probability has been eliminated from the thought experiment and has been replaced by a regular non-quantum, deterministic event.

Further, when the physicist states that the observer gets to choose whether the cat is alive or dead, that is not quantum physics and the collapse of the quantum waveform, it’s a philosophy of a post modernist subjective reality, dependant on the perception and will of the observer.  In quantum mechanics, the observation of the cat in the original thought experiment collapses the quantum waveform and solidifies the current state of the cat; it does not choose which state the cat is in, which is what the physicist in the TV show said.

The writers completely misunderstood the thought experiment, and got it wrong on two key points.  They replaced a quantum probability with a deterministic event, and then gave the observer a choice in the end state of the cat rather than the observation only being a choice to create the end state of the cat with no ability to choose what that end state was.

It is acceptable to boil a scientific concept like quantum probability and decoherence down to a form the average TV viewer can understand, but only if it remains relatively accurate in the key points.

I have not wasted my time at all, and if you have wasted you time is not my fault.  It would seem that I have either read more physics than you, or I have at least better understood and appreciated the nuances of what I have read.  It also seems that you either failed to pay attention while reading my post, or you were unable to understand they key points of my post.   If by reading this reply you better understand the key points as to why the writers got the thought experiment wrong, then you have not wasted your time at all either.

And by the way, you’ve spelled your name wrong if your intention was to say “you’re wrong” rather than talk about a wrong that I posses.  I normally don’t quibble about simple spelling mistakes, but I would think if someone takes the time to compose a 181 word statement claiming someone  is wrong on a matter of quantum physics, that they would take time to make sure they haven’t confused “your” with “you’re”.  Such a mistake hardly adds to your credibility.

Your comment has been Cordially Deconstructed.


Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Flash Forward, Followup, Science, Television, This Blog | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Flash Forward Gets Schrödinger’s Cat a Little Wrong

Posted by Karl Withakay on October 29, 2009

Tonight’s episode of Flash Forward, “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” contained a flawed portrayal of the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment (note the 2 separate links) in a conversation where a quantum physicist is trying to pick up a hot woman on a train by telling her he can explain what caused the flash forward.  After mentioning that the most basic concept she needed to understand was quantum superpositions, they have some witty flirting and then the conversation proceeds as follows:

Physicist:  “Imagine you have a cat, a teeny tiny cat that fits in the palm of your hand.  You also have a poisonous sardine.  Once we close your palm there are two possible scenarios: either the cat eats the sardine and dies or the cat doesn’t eat the sardine and lives.  Quantum physics says until we open your hand to discover the cat’s fate, both eventualities occur at the same time.  For us, the cat is both living and deceased.”

Hot Woman  “But how can that be?”

Physicist:  “That’s the miracle of quantum mechanics.  The observer get to decide.”

The problem is that this thought experiment leaves out an important element of the original, a quantum probability.  In the original experiment, the cat’s life or death is dependent not on a poisoned sardine, but on the potential decay of a radioactive isotope source.  If the source decays and emits a decay particle, a hammer triggered by a Geiger counter breaks a vial of poison, killing the cat; otherwise the cat lives.  The key is that the decay or non-decay of the isotope is a quantum probability, whereas the cat eating a poisoned sardine is not.

Schrödinger originated this thought experiment in an attempt to illustrate what he saw as a flaw in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.  According to quantum mechanics, the cat is both alive and dead (because the isotope has both decayed and not decayed) until the observer collapses the quantum wave function by observing the state of the cat (which is dependent on the state of the isotope), even though common sense says the cat was obviously either dead or alive before being observed.  The experiment also has nothing to do with the observer “deciding” anything.  The act of observation collapses the quantum wave function to one state or the other, but no choice of states is involved or possible.

The Flash Forward thought experiment was an not an example of quantum superposition since no quantum state was involved, and it wasn’t Schrödinger’s/Schroedinger’s Cat.

Posted in Flash Forward, Science, Television | Tagged: , , , | 11 Comments »

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