26.9.08

A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Schroedinger, Erwin! Professor of physics!

Wrote daring equations! Confounded his critics!

(Not bad, eh? Don't worry. This part of the verse

Starts off pretty good, but it gets a lot worse.)

Win saw that the theory that Newton'd invented

By Einstein's discov'ries had been badly dented.

What now? wailed his colleagues. Said Erwin, "Don't panic,

No grease monkey I, but a quantum mechanic.

Consider electrons. Now, these teeny articles

Are sometimes like waves, and then sometimes like particles.

If that's not confusing, the nuclear dance

Of electrons and suchlike is governed by chance!

No sweat, though--my theory permits us to judge

Where some of 'em is and the rest of 'em was."

Not everyone bought this. It threatened to wreck

The comforting linkage of cause and effect.

E'en Einstein had doubts, and so Schroedinger tried

To tell him what quantum mechanics implied.

Said Win to Al, "Brother, suppose we've a cat,

And inside a tube we have put that cat at--

Along with a solitaire deck and some Fritos,

A bottle of Night Train, a couple mosquitoes

(Or something else rhyming) and, oh, if you got 'em,

One vial prussic acid, one decaying ottom

Or atom--whatever--but when it emits,

A trigger device blasts the vial into bits

Which snuffs our poor kitty. The odds of this crime

Are 50 to 50 per hour each time.

The cylinder's sealed. The hour's passed away. Is

Our pussy still purring--or pushing up daisies?

Now, you'd say the cat either lives or it don't

But quantum mechanics is stubborn and won't.

Statistically speaking, the cat (goes the joke),

Is half a cat breathing and half a cat croaked.

To some this may seem a ridiculous split,

But quantum mechanics must answer, "Tough @#&!

We may not know much, but one thing's fo' sho':

There's things in the cosmos that we cannot know.

Shine light on electrons--you'll cause them to swerve.

The act of observing disturbs the observed--

Which ruins your test. But then if there's no testing

To see if a particle's moving or resting

Why try to conjecture? Pure useless endeavor!

We know probability--certainty, never.'

The effect of this notion? I very much fear

'Twill make doubtful all things that were formerly clear.

Till soon the cat doctors will say in reports,

"We've just flipped a coin and we've learned he's a corpse."'

So saith Herr Erwin. Quoth Albert, "You're nuts.

God doesn't play dice with the universe, putz.

I'll prove it!" he said, and the Lord knows he tried--

In vain--until fin'ly he more or less died.

Win spoke at the funeral: "Listen, dear friends,

Sweet Al was my buddy. I must make amends.

Though he doubted my theory, I'll say of this saint:

Ten-to-one he's in heaven--but five bucks says he ain't.
"

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

long read but worth it. props from Michigan

Anonymous said...

i remember reading this in a book club. i cant believe you posted this excerpt. this is a classic indeed. jah love