05 September 2012

Schrodinger's Cat Experiment: Mark I

As cultured and educated people, you are no doubt aware of Schrodinger's Cat. What you are probably not aware of is the distressing truth behind this famous thought experiment and the resulting cover up that has lasted for nearly 80 years.

Knowing the specifics of the experiment, you may reasonably surmise that Erwin was no great lover of cats. On first inspection, it may not be entirely clear why this may be the case. However, I will, in this post, theorise as to the cause of this.

We flashback 80 years to the early 1930s, where we find Erwin Schrodinger jetting between Berlin, Oxford and Princeton, and corresponding with one Albert Einstein about quantum mechanics.

Schrodinger had a theory that needed testing, that at some level, matter can coexist in different states. He had yet to make the leap that it might only apply at the quantum level. Picture the scene; Erwin sits in his office, deep in thought, when his cat Cuddles1 jumps onto his lap. It is there, scratching Cuddles idly between the ears, that he formulates the basis of that famous experiment.

Hang on, you're thinking to yourselves. Schrodinger's Cat is a thought experiment. It was never carried out for real. That may indeed be true, and I'm about to tell you why.

As we have already established your intellect and learning, I can assume that you are also familiar with Godwin's Law, which states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1".

RocketBootKid's Law, which I am hereafter bequeathing to Mankind, can be stated in similar terms, thusly; "Over time, the probability of a cat owner being randomly attacked by their cat for no rational or logical reason approaches 1".

Back to Schrodinger. He and his cat are in the box, while Schrodinger ponders how the Observer Effect may alter the results of his experiment. The cat, being a cat and therefore experiencing the multiverse on a plane of existence completely devoid of logic and reason, suddenly sinks five of its six ends into Schrodinger's tender underparts.

Flashforward a few months, and it is only his dedication to scientific rigor that finds Schrodinger still occupying the box, when the better parts of him, his tender and now swollen underparts in particular, are begging him to develop a less painful experimental paradigm.

At some point, Schrodinger had a final falling out of love with Cuddles. The specifics of this event are wasted to the pages of history, but the ramifications for Cuddles are dire. Schrodinger, in a late-night manic episode, arrives at the specifics of the device with which we are now familiar.

His housekeeper, who services were suddenly dispensed with, would later comment that she hadn't seen Cuddles around for a while. Perhaps fearing a visit from the RPSCA, Schrodinger was careful to categorise the fate of Cuddles as a "thought experiment" when he published his theory in "Die gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik" in 1935.

In a museum somewhere, in a display case, is a box inside of which, most definitely, is a dead cat.

1 Schrodinger may or may not have had a cat, which may or may not have been called Cuddles. I think he'd be satisfied if I said all of the above were possible.

29 June 2012

The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge

Okay, it's a pretentious title, but you're just to going to have to deal with it.

This post is at least partly to defend my (annoying?1) tendency to never state anything in definitive terms. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that I find absolute, unilateral, or dictatorial statements inherently distasteful. I was going to say inhuman, but that's perhaps a bit strong. The reason that the overdeveloped thesaural region in my brain returned that word is that a defining characteristic of humans is our ability to work together, to establish a consensus, to collectively achieve more than the sum of our parts.

A unilateral statement - the product of a single human - is inherently exclusive and therefore destructive to the power of the collective2.

The second is that the very nature of knowledge is fleeting, dynamic, you might even say ephemeral. In fact, someone already did. I remember very clearing taking Physics at school and being told in later years to forget what I had previously been taught. Not because what I had been taught was incorrect, but because it was too high-level, too abstract.

The same is true of all areas of expertise, physics perhaps more than most. There are levels of understanding that are perfectly sufficient for most, but which gloss over the finer, more detailed points that are vital for the development of that subject.

Another factor is that the depths of human knowledge are constantly being explored, only to find that it's actually a lot deeper than previously thought. Unless you're keeping abreast of all recent discoveries throughout the entire sphere of human knowledge, you're going to be at least slightly inaccurate every time you open your mouth.

It is therefore extremely difficult to make any definitive statement about anything, other than that which you know inside and out, without it being based on a incomplete understanding of that subject, and therefore not entirely accurate. Now, most people don't worry about this, and most of the time it really doesn't affect much at all.

To the extreme pedants among us, and to those who value community consensus over dictatorial pronouncements, it's an important distinction, and one that should be accepted.

1 I assume it must be at least slightly annoying, but that's just a guess.
2 I cannot use that word without the Borg or Communism coming to mind.

27 June 2012

The Dilbert Stages of Professional Cynicism

Over the years, I have come to believe that there are three stages to one's professional career, and that those stages may be defined relative to ones opinion of the work of Scott Adams, specifically 'Dilbert'.

This theory is borne of my own experiences, but like most of the ideas on here, is unlikely to be terribly original, well thought through, or even succinctly put. In an effort reduce the word count a bit, I'll apply Ockham's Razor, shave some words off, and define the stages as follows; 

  • You don't think Dilbert is funny
  • You think Dilbert is hilarious
  • You think Dilbert is based on your professional life.
Or, to put it another way;
  • You don't get Dilbert
  • You get Dilbert
  • Dilbert gets you.
These three stages reflect the effect of corporate reality as it slowly eats away at the fresh-faced young employee, heretofore swaddled in the protective nirvana of educational utopia. They are the measure of how much of the child has been replaced by corporate robot, of how much idealism has been replaced by cynicism.
Someone I know is very keen that people aren't cynical and go into things with an open mind, with the attitude that things can be done.As I've said before, I consider myself to be both a realist and an idealist. I try to nurture the hope that all things are possible, but I'm not going to stay up all night waiting.

People are cynics for a reason. Cynics are not born; we are made, or rather corrupted. While we may be cast in our mother's womb, we are forged in the fires of industry, in the furnaces of commerce. It is in this inhospitable environment that the naif in all of us has, at some point, had our eyes forcibly opened a la Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

Lord Acton was only halfway there; Power may corrupt, but its lack is just as harmful, albeit in different ways. Absolute power may make you believe that you can do what you like, but the lack thereof makes you believe that nothing is possible and that, whatever you do, forces beyond your control serve to constrain you.

Eventually, you stop trying. Only the blindest optimist or greatest fool would continue in the face of a life's experience. Indeed, Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

To return to The Three Stages, the first two stages are merely precusors to the transition to Stage 3, a transition that represents a paradigm shift in the professional outlook of the person in question. A person who has made the transition from Stage 2 to Stage 3 has been "broken", a term that intentionally mirrors the process by which horses become rideable.

While horses are more useful once broken, broken employees are often less useful. While they are still useful and important members of the team, they are less likely to go the extra mile.

The point at which employees break is often quite tangible. Someone previously level-headed and conscientious will suddenly become outspoken in meetings, or their grin get slightly manic, or "Thursday Afternoon Effect"1 behavior happens on other days of the week.

We all know the signs, and we all silently mourn the passing of their youth, and think "You're one of us now".

1 The Thursday Afternoon Effect is the point on Day 11 of a 12-day week full of 10 hour days when everything, even quite sad things, become hilariously funny, and the slightest thing can send you off into wild paroxysms of maniacal laughter.

I am working on an update to the theory that posits a fourth stage, which may be exemplified by the phrase "You know what, fuck that, it doesn't have to be this way". Whether this is merely an acute remission in otherwise chronic decline, or the turning of the tide, is the subject of further study.