Friday, June 28, 2002

The Real World

The Past as Undetermined as the Future?
I can't get past the idea that cats are irredeemably stupid and useless, so imagining Pavlov and Schrodinger switched test subjects and we've got a dog instead of a cat in the box with the uranium, the detector, the hammer, and the vial -- why is the experiment not considered observed until the scientist does the observing? Surely we can say the dog observes whether the hammer breaks the vial and he is poisoned, right? Why isn't the result of the experiment considered determined then? Or, take it further: in the article, Wheeler says it's not a consciousness that needs to do the observing, that inanimate objects serve as well (the mica that interacts with particles emitted by radium from the earth's core). He is arguing that once a particle like a photon interacts with the real world, then it's path (or, past) is determined. We don't need Schrodinger's dog, we can say that once the detector is activated by the particle, the result is determined. Maybe I'm getting bogged down in trying to define what he means by 'the real world', as if particles somehow exist in an unreal world that co-exists and somehow interacts with a real world. I can't help but wonder if all of quantum theory arises from limitation in our understanding, our ability to measure, that isn't a product of reality being absolutely incomprehensible or unmeasurable, only incomprehensible and unmeasurable by us right now and perhaps forever. There's also something that bothers me about the particle vs. wave light-through-slit experiment. That it plays out the way it does makes me think we influence the result (not by observing, but by interfering) or that we simply have two wrong or incomplete theories of light. [link via GITM]
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