Q is for Quantum physics
Where are Billy and Jessie? Are they alive and well, doing their bit to rid the world of rodents, or did the Mulligans poison them? There are many things in life that we just don’t know. Until we open the box.
When it came to the cats, her husband and a lot of other things, my mother was inclined to deny reality as much as it was possible. She blessed herself when passing graveyards and saluted magpies for good luck. She doused us in holy water every time we left the house. She still believed they’d turn up one day, fat and fed, and she believed that the lump on her breast couldn’t be cancerous—yet she thought about it all the time. At times that belief would crumble, but she would fight it with that great stubbornness indicative of her race; and her mind would alternate from benign to malignant every ten minutes.
That’s from The Cats, The Box and The Paradox, David Brennan’s story in story in Cat Tales, the anthology drawn from last year’s Book a Break short story competition. Atthys Gage, who judged the competition, said, it has a crisp, economical style I found bracing and clean, and a nice knack for dialogue. (Not forgetting an utterly convincing teen protagonist.) And, I would add, a discussion of reality that made me quite dizzy. It isn’t every day that you wonder, after reading a story, if you’re actually dead or alive.
The box is the one which Schrödinger put his cat in, then filled it with radioactive material. You might think that’s a weird thing to do but Schrödinger was a physicist.
Now, you have no way of knowing what’s happening in the box. Did the material disintegrate and kill the cat? Or did it remain stable, in which case the cat is alive and well.
Now, here comes the strange bit: two states exist before you open the box. In one state, the cat is dead and in the other the cat is alive. So the cat is both alive and dead because you have no way of looking into the box without opening it. When you open the box, the two states reduce to one. By your very action—opening the box—you have changed reality.
It’s an analogy for a problem in quantum physics and gives rise to the idea of parallel universes. So in a way my mother is right; she doesn’t believe whole-heartedly in reality because you wouldn’t know what the fuck reality is if you thought about it hard enough. Wouldn’t do you well to be thinking about it too much. So that’s what I think. Billy and Jessie are still alive but they are also dead.
Another physicist I’ve read about was Heisenberg, who was uncertain about everything. He said that when we look at things, they’re not where we thought they were because they’ve gone somewhere else. Or something like that. Anyway, all this quantum stuff has given me an idea. When I set off on my journey, I’m going to leave a box behind, and for all Sam and Sam know, I won’t have left at all because I’m in the box. It’s very cunning because in fact I’ll be in two places at once. And when they open the box, hey presto, there I am. The only problem I have with this cunning plan is that I might be there all right, but dead.
The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. So please don’t hesitate to spread the word and help us raise as much as possible. And of course, if you click on the button, you can read David’s story yourself and delve into the nature of reality.
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