As anyone with any experience in the kitchen would tell you, “A watched pot never boils.” The meaning attributed to this adage is that time feels longer when you are waiting. But I’m going to chuck this dictionary definition down the rabbit hole and dive into its literal meaning (all in the purview of actual science, of course).
The literal meaning of this phrase is that an act of observation changes the outcome of the thing you’re observing. So for example, you watching the pot would hinder its “boiling” and the moment you blink…well catastrophe.
In our (macroscopic) experiences, we rarely come across phenomena that demonstrate this principle. (The moon exists, whether you look at it or not.) However, in the complicated, counter-intuitive realm of quantum mechanics, we find out that the act of observation does change the state of the system. Erwin Schrodinger immortalized this idea in his famous thought experiment.
Suppose you have a box that has one (possibly unlucky) cat and a vial of poisonous gas. There is a 50% chance that the vial breaks and the poison kills the cat and a 50% chance that the cat makes it out alive. The box is sealed and there is no way we can find out the fate of our cat until we open the box (i.e., make an observation). According to Quantum Mechanics, as long as the box is closed the cat is both dead AND alive. Essentially, the fate of the cat is sealed only when we open the box*.
That’s all for today. I’m keeping my A-Z posts short (under 300 words). If you have any questions, comment below! (Leave a link to your blog as well.)
*I touched upon one of the experiments that demonstrate this rather peculiar phenomenon in an earlier post. Check it out here!