20th Century Physics — 2004

For a few years there I donated a Jack O’ Lantern annually to a charity auction. A friend was the highest bidder in 2004, and I offered him the chance to weigh in on the design. He said I’d done enough old folk tales, and wanted something modern. “Oh, like Kafka’s ‘Metamorphoses?'”No. I want . . . the whole history of 20th Century Physics! It must have both the special and general theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, Schrodinger’s Cat, and Einstein insisting that God does not play dice with the universe!” I proceeded to try my best. 

In my illustration, I show God the Father as pictured by Michelangelo along with Albert Einstein. God is tossing the dice — but every face on his dice has only a single pip! Thus, any way they fall, we end up with snake eyes. So Einstein is both right and wrong: the dice are tossed, but God has no doubt of the result. 

Einstein is shown as God’s right-hand man, perhaps an unintended blasphemy. Albert is flipping Schrodinger’s Cat, in a reference to the randomness of flipping a coin. 
“Schrodinger’s Cat” is the name of a “thought experiment” proposed by Erwin Schrodinger, a physicist who (like Einstein) had doubts about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. According to some, quantum mechanics implied that, until they are observed, objects exist not in definite states but as probability waves. Different possible states of being coexisted with one another until our observation of them caused the probability functions to collapse, leaving only one final state. Schrodinger pointed out that this line of reasoning meant that a cat locked in a box with vial of poison, whose death had not yet been observed, existed as a probability wave with both living and dead components — until we opened the box to observe it. The obvious absurdity of this situation, he thought, served to refute the probability wave interpretation.

Alive…. dead….

My take on Schrodinger’s cat is that (1) even before we open the box, the cat itself observes whether it’s been poisoned or not, thereby collapsing its own probability wave, and (2) unlike a flipped coin, which lands on heads or tails by random chance, a flipped cat always lands on its feet!
You could say that I’ve left out a lot of 20th century physics. In response, I can claim to have included dark matter, dark energy, and black holes in the design. You just can’t see them. And I do show the curvature of space.

…alive, dead… alive!