The reality of reality

The physicist Ernst Schrodinger proposed this hypothetical: a closed box contains a cat; a random mechanism inside the box can kill the cat, or not; it’s fifty-fifty either way. Schrodinger said that until you open the box and look, both possibilities exist, in parallel universes, equally real, but when you open the box, a “quantum wave of probability collapses.”

However: those probabilities seemed to exist only because the human observer didn’t know the answer. All our knowledge of reality is like that. Just as the cat is actually alive, or actually dead, all of reality actually has certain characteristics. We humans may not know those characteristics until we find out — by opening the box, as it were — or scientific experimentation. What then “collapses” (as Ian McEwan puts it in his novel Saturday) is our ignorance.

Footnote: as for the notion of “parellel universes,” if there is an infinitude of them, then if the cat is dead in our universe, there might be another universe identical to our own in every particular except that the cat is alive. There might also be another universe — indeed, there must be one — identical to ours in every particular respect except that FDR’s middle name was Donald. (If you don’t accept that, then you don’t know what “infinity” means.) But we cannot know anything about those other universes, and nothing concerning them has any bearing on the reality in our own universe.

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