After the success of his EPR (Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen) paper, Albert Einstein received a letter from Austrian Physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In this letter, Schrödinger described what has become one of the most famous paradoxes of all time - Schrödinger’s cat. Initially, the thought experiment was a criticism, Schrödinger was attempting to point out the counterintuitive nature of Quantum Mechanics, and was in effect saying how ridiculous the theory was. The proposal is a classical reductio ad absurdum logical argument, and was not supposed to be taken seriously.
Schrödinger said this: “One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following diabolical device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it."
Basically, the atom has an equal probability to decay or not. If it does, the cat will die; but if it doesn’t the cat survives. However, since the box is closed to all outside observers (assume that the cat can breathe) we cannot determine the cat’s viability until we actually measure it. The cat itself develops a wave function, a mathematical interpretation of a quantum being. The wave function determines the probability that something is doing a particular thing; such as its position or velocity. A wave is nothing more than a realm of possibilities. When we describe a particle as a wave, the particle itself isn’t physically a wave; the wave just represents what we don’t know. Due to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, we can’t precisely know too much about a particle at any given time, so most of what we know is pure probability.
Since we don’t actually know what the cat’s state is until we open the box, we must assume that it is a wave; or that the cat has a string of probabilities to what it could be. Which means that, effectively, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time! However, once the box is opened and we are aware of whether the cat is dead or alive, the wave function immediately collapses and the cat settles into one state.
Plus, Schrödinger had incredible swag - and that can be scientifically proven.
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia