History and Philosophy of Physics


A Reinterpretation of Schrödinger's Cat According to Ernst Mayr

Authors: Peter Punin

ABSTRACT: The theory of decoherence, provided we accept its validity, partially solves the quantum-macro clash as it had been seen few decades before. Namely, the theory of decoherence permits us to understand (better) why a given macro-system, in contrast to the quantum entities that compose it, does not superpose simultaneously several possible states. Subsequently, the theory of decoherence partially solves the paradox stemming from the Gedankenexperiment known as “Schrödinger's cat”. In terms of decoherence, it seems reasonable to admit that the feline, independently from any measurement process, is either alive or dead, but never superposes these mutually exclusive states. On the other hand, the resolution of a second essential aspect of the quantum-macro clash cannot find any help from the theory of decoherence. While now the overall wave packet reduction by the macroscopic environment of each quantum phenomenon manifesting itself at our scale seems quite plausible, the theory of decoherence does not explain from where our macroscopic world – ultimately irreducible to the only quantum axioms and laws – could emerge. In other words, whereas the macro-non-superposition problem seems almost solved, the supra-quantum emergence problem entirely persists. From the (current) perspective of the macroscopic non-superposition problem, Schrödinger's cat perhaps retains only a historical interest . But in the present paper, we will try to show that in the context of the supra-quantum emergence problem, the “cat” continues to have a specific relevant significance. On the other hand, it seems commonly admitted that the special status of the “cat” as a representative of living matter does not have any intrinsic meaning within the Gedankenexperiment. Other antithetical “macroscopic superpositions” such as a broken-intact phial or simply the needle of a measurement apparatus pointing simultaneously upwards and downwards would express the same message than the dead-living “cat.” However, here we aim to prove that the living matter status of the “cat”, when related to the supra-quantum emergence problem, does have – despite its author – an intrinsic signification which the modern philosophy of science generally denies. Indirectly inspired by certain assumptions of the neo-Darwinian biologist Ernst Mayr denoting that the existence of living matter expresses a key aspect of the supra-quantum emergence problem, this paper is purposed to establish 1° that the efficient elucidation of the supra-quantum emergence problem should have a formally and experimentally operating “general systems theory” according to Ludwig von Bertalanffy, 2° that this “general systems theory” still looking for its own scientificity remains until further notice reduced to a kind of not entirely full scientific “world vision” or “intellectual attitude” commonly called “holism”. 3° that a generally neglected text passage of Schrödinger's article “Die gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik” containing the “cat” closely anticipates – despite its author and far ahead of time – the fundamental assumption of “general systems theory”, i.e. “the whole transcends the 'sum' of its parts”, 4° that the factors ensuring the powerful formal consistence of quantum physics are – except for one determining detail – the same which hamper the creation of a scientifically relevant “general systems theory” and, subsequently, impede the elucidation of the supra-quantum emergence problem.

Comments: 18 Pages.

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[v1] 2012-09-04 06:33:45

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