Cat of the Living Dead

There is a famous thought experiment known as “Schrödinger’s cat” that seems so obviously false that many people dismiss it immediately as ridiculous. The thought experiment starts with a cat trapped in an opaque box with a poison that will be released by the decay of a radioactive element. Without observation, there is no way to know if the cat is still alive because we can’t know if the poison has been released. So quantum physicists treat the cat in the experiment as both dead and alive simultaneously.

Ridiculous right? Most adults would emphatically state that a cat can not be both dead and alive at the same time. Even the person who is aware of this thought experiment understands that the cat isn’t really dead and alive, but rather that we don’t know which it is.

The real use of the thought experiment is beyond my understanding of physics, I’m just not that smart. It occurred to me, however, that I see the experiment playing out in my own life every day, and I’ll bet that it plays out in your life too.

For example, how often do you not open a text because you are afraid of what it might say? You know that it contains one of two possible messages, but rather than accept the truth of the message right away, we put off reading the text because while it remains unread, there is still hope. We fool ourselves into believing that both possibilities still exist, while in reality one of the two possibilities ceased to exist the moment the text was written.

We chose not to observe because we are afraid of reality and the consequences of it in our lives.

Suddenly this absurd thought experiment starts to reveal a deeper truth about ourselves. We are so often afraid to confront reality.

Perhaps for you this experiment is revealed in your approach to society. Perhaps you’ve found yourself saying that there “is no racism” in this country without really looking in the box to see the truth. Maybe you’ve decided that the pandemic is fake, or the election was stolen, or the election wasn’t stolen or the pandemic is very real without actually looking for yourself. While the truth remains unobserved, we have the freedom to act as if both things are true. We chose to act in line with our thoughts and feelings rather than acknowledging and accepting the truth that would be evident if we were just brave enough to look in the box.

Perhaps for you this experiment reveals itself in your relationship with the people around you. You are afraid to ask for help, because you are afraid no one will be there for you. You won’t express your emotions, because you are afraid you will be rejected or thought poorly of. You can’t ask someone for forgiveness because you are afraid they’ll never forgive you.. We are afraid we are unloved, so we never tell anyone we love them.

Or perhaps you avoid new situations, new challenges because you don’t know if you will succeed. You refuse to ask for the promotion because they may not feel you deserve it. You won’t try completing a marathon because you’re afraid you might fail. You won’t invest in your education because you’re afraid you’ll discover that you just aren’t smart enough. You won’t invest in your business idea because you might not be any good at it.

Why does it matter if I’ve chosen to look in the box or not? When applied in it’s original context, bad data equals incorrect results. In one interpretation of quantum mechanics, the superposition of the cat who is dead and alive results in a splitting of one world into two. (Fans of Marvel movies should be well acquainted with multiple timelines at this point.)

Humanity builds its actions and future from what we have observed. I see that a traffic light has turned red and I make the decision to stop. I see that the sink is full, so I turn off the water. My wife sees that I have fallen asleep, so she stops talking to me. Knowing the truth guides us to the best course of action in any given moment. A society that sees and acknowledges the truth of an issue can take steps to correct it, mitigating consequences. A society that refuses to see the truth reaps the consequences of ignoring it in full.

When we refuse to open the box we are like the man who looks in the mirror but immediately forgets what he looks like. The unkempt hair of injustice is uncorrected, the stain of hatred on the clothing of humanity remains untreated. Our souls perish because we refuse to observe the truth.

We are afraid we’ve sinned too much, so we never seek forgiveness.

We are afraid that we are un-redeemable, so we accept separation and exile.

Friends. Sometimes the truth hurts. It is still true, and we should still seek it out.

And in that day you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

I say to you truly, you are loved. The price of your redemption has already been paid.

Open the box.