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Friday, July 09, 2004

Great Mysteries of the World Solved: Part XI

From the back of the car came the well-modulated voice of a seasoned TV presenter: "Do you know, I have no idea how Schrodinger's cat works a philosophical concept." It was Judith Hann, doyenne of technology, announcing her statement with a wary air. There was suddenly an odd silence in the car - Judith admitting she didn't know the answer to anything that would be clearly covered in the green category of Trivial Pursuit... Why, it was ridiculous. It would be like Dame Aggie announcing she'd missed one out of the cocktail menu at closing time.

I confessed that physics has always been a little bit of a mystery for me too. Physics is far too logical. And it seems that you simply can't pass an exam in it by answering 'Because it just does!' to most of the questions.

"Perhaps David Bowie would know," piped up Cher, next to her in the back. There was an unusual warmth in her vocoded voice. It was David's house that we were driving back from - at speed - after spending a glorious afternoon in his gardens. He was a marvelous host, with the most charming way of stuttering over the word 'changes'. I believed Cher to have become quite smitten with the eccentric singer - here was a man almost as flamboyant as she, living as characters and enjoying half-hourly costume changes. Although we discovered he'd stopped inventing new personas and was now regressing though his previous ones, leaving us rather taken aback when he opened the door dressed as The Gnome King from Labyrinth. I think Cher may have recognized one of her old wigs, to boot.

The afternoon was only marred slightly by David insisting we took tea in the centre of his hedge maze, after stealing Dame Angela Lansbury's Playstation 2 from the back of the car as ransom. Apparently nobody had thought to bring an infant boy along, despite what the invite had said.

I was worried for dear Judith, as she must be desperate if she was asking three half-cut friends who couldn't figure out how Velcro worked for the answer to a philosophical question. I dimly recalled the idea for Schrodinger's cat states you first put a cat in a box with a vial of poison. The poison is supported by an atom that has a fifty/fifty chance of decaying, and therefore the poison could be knocked over and kill the cat. But if you seal the box so you can't see the cat - and here's the scrabbling jump of logic - the cat no longer exists, instead taking on the fifty/fifty possibility of being alive or dead.

"Well, I wouldn't want to put a cat in a box," said Cher.

We h'mmed in agreement. Cher was forever the humanitarian.

"Little bastard's scratch your eyes out," she added, causing Aggie to cackle and swerve. I just knew that Aggie's eyes were anywhere but the road, resulting in the vehicle slowly veered over towards the oncoming traffic. I could feel Judith Hann's slightly panicked hands squeezing the back of my seat.

"Aggie, do watch the road!" I cried, having to steady my Pimms with my other hand.

She swerved the car calmly back on track and smiled a toothy grin, some of which clearly weren't hers. "I was driving soapboxes before you were born, sonny! I'm one of the safest drivers on four wheels!"

"Yet you have two artificial hips..." opinioned Cher from the back seat.

"You can talk," cackled Aggie, She gave the windscreen a belated rub with her cardigan sleeve, and peered under the green sunstrip to the sky above, pressing her nose once again to the glass to check the state of the cloud cover.

"HEDGEHOG!" cried Brian from the roof-rack above.

There was a slight bump, and the car slipped slightly under Aggie's control.

"TOO LATE..." came the remorseful cry.

I glared at her, and we continued for a little way in silence. The car suddenly felt very stuffy in the afternoon heat and I cracked the passenger window a little, enjoying the cooling wind roar into the car. I turned to check that it wasn't ruffling Judith's gorgeous perm too much and she smiled a tolerating smile back. She wasn't a great fan of Aggie's driving style that simply seemed to consist of 'Stop' and 'Cer-rrrist!'. And her ancient Ford Anglia in which we currently rattled down the country lanes had the suspension of a step-ladder. Aggie absolutely refused to trade up to a newer model; after all, it had taken us the best part of ten years to get her to give up her Transit van with the stained mattress in the back.

Brian Blessed, of course, loved the car. The roof-rack was huge and he could stretch out right across it and have a whale of a time. It was the only way you could get him to travel these days: he would get dressed in his Prince Vultan winged costume from Flash Gordon, slip on the goggles, and tie himself to the roof. We would then tour with him having his arms out like he was flying. And, secretly, I did enjoy pulling up at traffic lights and watch him bellow huge parts of the classic movie to a surprised passerby.

Last week, he deafened a traffic warden.

"I wonder why is it never Schrodinger's Hedgehog," I mused, breaking the peace. "Or Schrodinger's Bunny."

"I like the idea of Schrodinger's Piranha for some reason," said Aggie.

"Surely they'd be much more reliable test subjects. You put a cat in a box with a vial of poison and - by golly - you know whether little spitting and hissing Tiddles is alive or not."

"That was our theory. We thought we'd definitely prove it by getting something incredibly loud in a box and seeing whether it existed in a state of quantum flux," said Cher. I could hear the whirring from her analytical mind. Possibly literally.

Judith seemed somewhat excited at this news. "You mean, you've actually carried out the experiment? What was the result? What did you use?"

Cher pointed straight up. It took us a couple of seconds to figure it out.

"You used Brian?" I yelled, unbelieving.

"It is the loudest thing we know," she replied. "We just stuck him in some Tupperware with a small amount of poison and recorded the answer."

"Which was?" asked a wide-eyed Judith.

"More importantly," I interjected, "Where did you get some Tupperware that was bigger than Brian?"

"Oh, we just used his lunch box," said Cher.

"TRUE!" piped up Brian from outside.

"So what happened?" asked Judith.

"He shouted a bit, ate his sandwiches, and went to sleep."

"But that's just what he usually does!" said Judith in frustration.

"Well, let's think through this," I said. "What is there to gain from putting anything in your box and not feeling if it exists or not?"

Aggie screeched like a witch. "That's what it was like with Anthony Newley! I've seen more meat on a Linda McCartney sausage. It was like chucking a chipolata down the Channel Tunnel!"

She was off again, squealing with laughter like the Wicked Witch Of The West. I leant over and grabbed the steering wheel before we shot off into a neighboring field, ruing the fact I hadn't argued harder for her to let me drive. We'd bickered on David's drive: she claimed I was too pissed to recount all the members of the Nolan Sisters and therefore too pissed to drive. Besides, her liver was ceramic.

"Well, lets look at the result," said Cher. "I think it's a principle of quantum mechanics that states if you can't prove the existence of something, it doesn't exist."

I pondered this for a moment. Then gave a gasp of incredulity. "The lazy little monkey!"

"What?" exclaimed Judith.

"It's simple! Schrodinger concocted the whole experiment so he wouldn't have to wash up!"

"Do what?" asked Aggie.

"Or cleaning his bedroom!" I continued. "This theory is simply so he could sit down after a meal and watch 'Neighbours' untroubled by domestic tasks! For when he was asked to slip on some rubber gloves, he'd simply close the kitchen door and claim the washing up doesn't exist!"

"I don't think they had 'Neighbours' in turn-of-the-century Austria, did they?"

"Ah! But can you prove it?" I asked, a twinkle in my eye.

"Yes," said Cher.

I fluttered my hands, brushing aside the argument. "It was the same with tidying his bedroom. When asked to do it, he'd simply turn away and claim that the bedroom no longer existed!"

"Idle bugger," said Aggie.

"It's quite simple really," I said. "You just have to think of it as why he invented it, rather than the point of it."

From the corner of my eye, I could see Judith nodding at this, clearly satisfied with the result. I was glad I could make her happy - she really was a most handsome woman, with a terribly clever mind. My heart fluttered as I our glances accidentally met in the car's side mirror.

For some reason, I felt I had to further prove my intelligence to her, and scrabbled for some further philosophical fact to talk about.

"So then, why is Occam's Razor so important?" I asked.

"Oh, that's easy," said Judith. "Not everyone suits a goatee."

Ah, happy days.


Antonio Hicks said...

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Douglas Adams- Posters.

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