Where Thought Experiments Become Reality™

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Erwin laid the cat down tenderly. He had morphine to keep her comfortable, but next Wednesday Jennyanydots would die. He curled up beside her and surfed for quantum news to soothe his sorrow. A new site caught his attention: www.lookingglasswonderland.qu. He clicked. A starry gyre rotated; the phrase "Where Thought Experiments Become Reality™" spun through the indigo firmament. Beside a telephone icon he read:

Curious? Contact Alice: ‹ 1 ││ 0 › ‹ 0││ 1 ›

Erwin stared at the reflected quibits. He clicked the icon; a voice answered immediately: "LookingGlassWonderland, Alice Liddell speaking. How may I help you?"

"Em," Erwin stammered, "I have this thought experiment, but it needs the impossible, to observe without observing –"

"Your name, sir?" Alice asked.

"Erwin Schrödinger."

"And yes, Mr Schrödinger. I've heard about your thought experiment. You say: 'There are only two possibilities: yes or no.' The cat is either dead or alive. Those of the Danish persuasion maintain that the cat is in a superposition of life and death until observed. Correct?"

"Correct!" Erwin said.

"I believe we may be able to help you," Alice said. "However, we follow strict ethical guidelines at LookingGlassWonderland. And we are very fond of cats."

Erwin took a deep breath. "I have a cat. I'm afraid the news from the vet is not good. I understand that cyanide is swift, but painful. However, she is already on morphine to ease her ailments…"

He sounded, Alice thought, both hopeful and heartbroken. "I believe we can agree to that. I will book you in for Tuesday at ten, Mr Schrodinger. Can you provide the cyanide, the radioactive isotope and the Geiger counter?"

"Certainly," Erwin said. "Tuesday it is."

***

Erwin pressed the buzzer of LookingGlassWonderland. Through the intercom a voice said, "Welcome, Mr Schrödinger. Please pick up the book from the shelf at the seventh bend."

The cat carrier and rucksack were awkward on the descending spiral stairs; more awkward still with a hefty book in his left hand. At the foot of the stairs a door led into a hallway. A young woman stood at a glass table. "Welcome, Mr Schrödinger," she said. "Everything is in place, please follow me."

Erwin followed her through a tall door, greatly relieved that no shrinking was involved. Beyond the first square of the chequerboard landscape they came to a room with a fireplace, two ladders against the mantelpiece, and a brass-framed mirror overhead. In front of the fire, Erwin saw a glass box with a hinged lid.

"But we will be able to see everything!" he exclaimed. "How can this possibly work?"

"Once we go through the looking glass, Mr Schrödinger, I assure you that we will be able to observe in a way that will not collapse the situation in the box. When I am on this side and the White Knight is in there," Alice nodded toward the mirror, "he can see me, but I cannot see him. I have no awareness of being observed."

Far from convinced, Erwin set up the experiment. When everything was ready he took Jennyanydots out of the carrier. "Would you like some time alone with her?" Alice asked. "No," he said, stroking the cat's bedraggled fur. "I've said my goodbyes."

"Well then. It's important that neither of us look back until we have passed through the glass." They climbed the ladders; Alice pushed her hand against the mirror; it dissolved into smoke. "Through now," she said. "Quickly."

Erwin looked around the new room. "Is this another Multiverse?" he asked.

"It can't be," Alice said, "there can be no connection between Multiverses. And now, please place your nose against the looking glass. Don't press, or you'll fall through."

They touched their noses to the mirror. They could see the glass box; they could see the equipment; but where was Jennyanydots? "Look, look," Erwin said. "The grin. I can see her grin. But what on earth can it mean?"

Alice was astonished – she had thought there was only one Cheshire Cat. "Do you have that book I asked you to pick up?" she asked him.

"Why yes," Erwin said, surprised to find it still in his hand.

Alice flicked through The Annotated Alice, with Notes by Martin Gardner. "Here it is," she said. "This is the bit where I meet the Cheshire Cat: 'Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin; but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!' And in his note Mr Gardner says: 'The phrase "grin without a cat" is not a bad description of pure mathematics…'"

Erwin laughed and laughed. "Pure mathematics! Of course! Mathematically, superposition is possible. The cat is both yes and no, present and absent, alive and dead. But since we still don't know if Jennyanydots is actually alive or dead, we are not observing, and the experiment has not collapsed. Splendid!"

He turned to Alice. "What now, Miss Liddell?"

"Now we go back through the mirror."

As soon as they crossed over they could see the cat, lying inside the glass box, flaccid and breathless. "Wait, Mr Schrödinger," Alice said. "I took the precaution of providing gas masks."

Alice opened the lid and Erwin lifted and cradled Jennyanydots, his tears wetting her fur. "Poor old puss," he said. "Now she is only a classical cat, no quantum jiggle to keep her alive."

"I'm so sorry, Mr Schrödinger. When Dinah died I wept a swimming pool. And now we must be on our way."

Back in the hallway, Erwin handed Alice a brown envelope. "Cash," he said, "as agreed." As the door closed at the top of the stairs, the tiny door into the hallway opened. The White Knight nibbled on a bun and grew to Alice's size.

"Another satisfied customer?" he asked.

"He left with more questions than answers," Alice said. "But he is a man who enjoys mystery, so yes. And now it's time for tea."

About the Author: 
Monica Corish lives in Co Leitrim in Ireland. Many, many years ago, she studied science; she is now a full-time writer and writing workshop leader. www.monicacorish.ie