Thursday, 26 March 2015

Schrödinger's meme

I saw a cartoon today - it was very funny. A vet's waiting room, and a nurse talking to a waiting patient: "Mr Schrödinger, about your cat, I have good news, and bad news". It was really funny!

But it got me thinking. Marketing people still don't quite have the formula for what makes something go viral on the Internet, and it occurred to me that this is not a new phenomenon. It pre-dates the Internet rather a lot.

Schrödinger's cat is well know, but it dates back to 1935 in correspondence with Einstein. It was just a thought experiment. It was not some great breakthrough in physics in itself, but somehow that one meme has caught on, and gone viral, as it were.

Anyone even vaguely intellectual, and many not, will get that joke. Yet none of us, with possible exception of Sheldon, have any need for knowledge of disagreements on the basics of quantum physics in the 1930's. Yet we do know it!

So I wonder, is it true? that one of the key ingredients in something going "viral" on the Internet, or otherwise, is "cats", and especially "cats doing something silly"?

Did Schrödinger accidentally stumble on this marketing genius by mistake?


  1. I prefer Terry Pratchetts take on it. A cat in a box can be in one of three states. Dead, alive, and bloody furious.

    1. I think I managed to get a picture of our cat in that third state, looking at it. It was "quick, I need a cat in a box for my blog post"... Even so, she stayed in the box for the next hour just for the hell of it.

  2. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't....

  3. I used to merely dislike cats, partly because they set my asthma off. Now I hate them, because for the last ten years all the cats in the area have been crapping in my garden. It stinks to high heaven and it's disgusting to clean up. The onus should be on cat owners to stop their pets crapping all over the place. I don't care how this is a achieved, keep them in doors all the time for all I care. Also I have a bird table which the cats stalk looking for a meal. There are quite simply far too many cats in the UK.

  4. Too many cats, and too few suitable boxes. Science budgetary cuts, no doubt.

    It's interesting how literally some took his analogy, back in the day. I wonder how many commonly known animals could have been used instead. Chickens are too noisy, obviously.

  5. Most people don't understand that Schrödinger's intention was to ridicule this interpretation. The "experiment" with the cat seems ludicrous because it is ludicrous and Schrödinger intends a sympathetic audience to conclude that something else less silly must happen instead of the "super-position" concept, but instead today most people seem to think that this ludicrous experiment is something that really works or at least that all physicists are confident it could work.

    It's as if the general public had come to believe that Banach-Tarski means they really can turn one orange into two oranges just by some clever manipulation of the orange segments.