The Nine Lives Hypothesis, or Why Schrödinger’s Cat Can Never Die

Today’s story was inspired by my recent Sciency Words post on Schrödinger’s cat.  I cannot emphasize enough that this story is not meant to be taken seriously.

It is often said that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics is either lying or delusional.  In 1935, world-renounced physicist Erin Schrödinger proposed an experiment to demonstrate the true absurdity of all things quantum.  The experiment came to be known as Schrödinger’s cat. Now today, despite the vehement protests of animal rights groups, researchers at Omni-Science Laboratories have conducted the first ever real world test of the Schrödinger’s cat experiment.

A cat is placed inside a test chamber, along with a sample of cesium-131, a radioactive isotope.  A contraption within the test chamber will either kill the cat or spare the cat’s life, depending on what that cesium isotope does.  If the cesium undergoes radioactive decay, the cat will die.  In not, the cat will live.  The conditions of the experiment are so devised that the cat should have an even 50/50 chance at survival.

But according to the bizarre laws of the quantum world—the world of atoms, including radioactive cesium atoms—nothing is real unless it is being observed.  In the absence of an observer, anything and everything that can happen does happen, all at once, all jumbled together in a coexistent meta-state.

And so once the test chamber is sealed and its contents can no longer be observed, the laws of quantum mechanics should take over. The cesium isotope simultaneously does and does not decay.  The killing apparatus simultaneously has and has not been triggered. The cat simultaneously is and is not dead.  And so the situation should remain, until the scientists reopen the test chamber and observe its contents.

Researchers at Omni-Science originally intended to run the experiment only a dozen times, but the test results were so surprising and so confusing that additional tests were warranted.  In total, 63 cats were put through the experiment.  And to the astonishment of everyone involved, all 63 cats survived.

“We’re at a loss to explain it,” says Dr. D.C. Bakshali, principal investigator on the Schrödinger’s cat project.  “Statistically speaking, roughly half the cats should have died, and half should have survived.  But the survival rate was 100%.  We didn’t lose one cat.  Not one!”

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain these surprising results.  One possibility is being referred to as the nine lives hypothesis.  Since cats are said to have nine lives, perhaps whenever a cat dies in the test chamber it immediately resurrects itself.  Although this notion was initially suggested as a joke, one Omni-Science researcher latched onto the idea and even proposed a mechanism that may explain how unobserved cats are able to continuously revive themselves.

“Even in the 1930’s,” says Dr. Haru Hoshiko, “it was pointed out that a cat is perfectly capable of observing itself.  But has it not occurred to anyone that only living cats are able to make such observations?”

Hoshiko goes on to explain: “So long as Schrödinger’s cat remains alive, it observes itself as living.  The moment it dies, however, there is no longer an observer present.  The laws of quantum mechanics reign once more, the cesium has once again simultaneously decayed and not decayed, and thus the cat is once again simultaneously dead and alive. But the living version of the cat is capable of observing itself to be alive, causing the superposition to collapse.  Thus, Schrödinger’s cat can never die!”

According to Hoshiko, the nine lives hypothesis should more accurately be called the infinite lives hypothesis, as there is no theoretical limit to how many times a cat—or any other animal, for that matter—would be able to revive itself in this manner.  Hoshiko’s paper on the subject has been accepted for publication in Nature.

Needless to say, the results of the Schrödinger’s cat experiment have profound implications for our understanding of quantum mechanics and, indeed, the nature of reality itself.