Last weekend while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes studying particle physics watching a loop of replays of Big Bang Theory, I ran across a reference to the famous (in scientific circles anyway), illustration of an aspect fo quantum theory called Schrodinger's Cat. Ed. Note - the 'o' in the name Schrodinger should have the two tiny little dots over it, but I don't know how to render that in this text editor. Which is also another indication I probably should not be attempting to post on particle physics or quantum mechanics. But let's press on anyway.
So here's the basic idea of the Schrodinger's Cat illustration, (text lifted heavily from the What is? definition page, (apologies and thanks in advance):
We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. Note: he did not actually DO this, it is just an illustration. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of hydrocyanic acid, a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat.
The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, according to quantum law, the cat is both dead and alive, in what is called a superposition of states.
It is only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive). This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that the outcome as such does not exist unless the measurement is made. (That is, there is no single outcome unless it is observed.)
Did you follow all that? Until you open the box the cat is not either dead or alive, it is both dead and alive, and only by opening the box and observing the contents does the cat actually become one or the other.
When I first looked this illustration up and read through the description of the (fake) experiment it really seemed kind of silly, I mean it may be a valid explanation of the quantum theory of superposition, but beyond that it really could not have any possible implication to anything I care about in the real world, i.e. the NBA, barbecue, Pawn Stars, right? We know the cat can't really be BOTH dead AND alive at the same time. It is one or the other, but not both. It just doesn't make sense.
But then I thought about it just a little bit more, and then in the context of many of the projects, roll-outs, system deployments, and other change management kinds of things I'd either been involved with or at least observed in the workplace and it started to make a little more sense to me.
Truly, how the project or change was presented and maybe even more importantly, to whom the new shiny tool and improved process was pitched to first did indeed impact the actual result. If we made our pitch to the right leader or executive first, and couched our pitch in terms that allowed Ms. Executive to see how they would benefit from whatever goods we were hawking, then we had a much better chance for success.
And if we did not make the case early, and convincingly, and to the right folks, well then we pretty much were ensured of failure, or at least, lack of impact, i.e. eventually the box gets opened and the cat is dead.
The thing is both outcomes, project success or failure, well they definitely both existed the entire time. It was only revealed which outcome actually became real until the impacted organization opened the box as it were and had a look inside.
That's it from me on this. And after having a quick scan though before hitting the 'publish' button, I too realize this very post is both dead and alive at the same time. It's only now, as you read this final sentence, that the actual state is determined.
I hope the little post survived...
Below is a short clip explaining the Schrodinger's Cat illustration, have a look if you are still intrigued, (email and RSS subscribers please click through)
Have a Great Weekend!