Today's Google Doodle honors Erwin Schrödinger, the Austrian physicist whose thought experiment demonstrated the absurdity of conventional ideas in quantum mechanics.
What if you penned a cat in a steel chamber and then affixed to that chamber a small amount of radioactive substance? And what if, over the course of one hour, one of the atoms in that substance might – or, in equal probability, might not – decay? What if, in the 50/50 chance that the substance did decay, it deployed a hammer that shatters a flask of hydrocyanic acid that then poisons the cat?
So, after an hour, is the cat alive or dead?
It’s both, said Erwin Schrödinger, the Austrian physicist who revolutionized how quantum mechanics is understood and who is honored today in a Google Doodle.
It’s an absurd idea, ripe for riffs and jokes: "If they don't ever open the box to feed it, it'll eventually just be two different kinds of dead,” observes a character in Neil Gaiman’s novel "American Gods."