The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 15, 2013

September 15, 1929

Murray Gell-Mann, born September 15, 1929, is a major player in modern physics. He won a Nobel in 1969. It was Gell-Mann who organized the particle-zoo. In the words of Garrison Keillor:

He developed a way to categorize the composite particles known as hadrons into eight separate types, and he called this the Eightfold Way, after the Buddhist Eightfold Path. He also theorized that hadrons were made up of three parts, and each part held a fraction of the hadron's total electric charge. He christened these smaller particles "quarks." He got the name from a line in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake: "Three quarks for Muster Mark!"

Keillor goes on to describe Murray Gell-Mann in terms of his many interests:

... In addition to his work in physics, he has helped organize an environmental studies program sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences. He is also an expert on historical linguistics, and co-founded the Evolution of Human Languages Project at the Santa Fe Institute. In his spare time, he's a rancher, a birdwatcher, and a collector of antiquities. He's the author of numerous scientific articles and books, including The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex [1994]

It is from this last book that we quote Gell-Mann on the paradoxes involved in the Schrodinger's Cat story. He says only a misunderstanding lets the adjective "paradoxical" apply to the situation made up by Schrodinger to clarify the significance of quantum mechanics in the classical world.

The live and dead cat scenarios decohere.; there is no interference between them. ..the outcome is not different from a classic one where we open a box inside of which the poor animal arriving after a long airplane voyage, may be either dead or alive, with some probability for each. ...[Therefore the] "weird quantum mechanical state of the cat, both dead and alive at the same time, [is misunderstood]. No real quasi classical object can exhibit such behavior because interaction with the rest of the universe will lead to decoherence of the alternatives."

Huh. Murray Gell-Mann needs to make up another story -- one that explains decoherence in the captivating way Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment does quantum mechanics. Not that "explain" is the right word.  But it seems to me we are talking about the very small and the very large-- quarks and jaguars.  But HOW they relate is the question and I am not sure "decoherence" is a term that can bridge the chasm. Things change when they get connected. But there still has to be some continuity .... or so it seems to me. 

No comments: