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Schrödinger’s Cat When Nobody Is Looking

Some of the most perplexing topics in physics revolve around quantum theory. The quandary is seen most famously in the Schrödinger’s cat question and the issue of information loss in black hole evaporation. Richard Feynman said, “I think that I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Most physicists have just gotten used to it. There’s no doubt quantum theory is successful at the practical level. But when considering it as more than a tool for calculating probabilities for possible outcomes of experiments in the laboratory, and taking it as a fundamental description of the “world out there,” it faces serious conceptual problems.

The basic problem is that quantum theory seems to be about what we measure and not about what is out there in the world. One might think this is just fine, as the theory represents just “our information” about the world. But that would make sense only if there were something about the world that we can be informed of, which must be, in general situations, specified by the theory. Understanding how to deal with this conceptual problem requires us to look at the theory in more detail.

BLACK HOLE PARADOX: If a black hole evaporates completely, leaving only the thermal radiation, there seems to be no way in which it might encode all the information needed to recreate the exact quantum state of the matter that gave rise to the black hole in the first place.NASA

According to quantum theory, a generic state of a system (a particle’s position or velocity) does not have well-defined values. That indefiniteness is known as “quantum uncertainty,” and, unfortunately also as “quantum fluctuation.” The quantum theory presented in standard textbooks involves two distinct rules for the evolution of the state of a physical system. One, referred to by Roger Penrose, is the U-process. It’s represented by the Schrödinger equation, allowing the precise determination of the state of the system at any future time (deterministic prediction), or time in the past (complete retrodiction), given the state of the system at present. But this rule only holds as long as the system is not subjected to an “observation.”

The second rule, which comes into play when some attribute of the

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