OPENING THE BOX • by Jonathan Pinnock

I like it in here. It’s dark, but it’s snug and warm as well. Cosy. I can curl up and go to sleep if I want. I like sleeping, and I’ve got a full belly and it’s been a long day. But for the moment, I’m going to spend some time thinking. I like to think, too. Thinking is good.

As it happens, I’ve been thinking a lot about quantum superposition lately. This might seem a little odd — in fact, an independent observer would have trouble believing that I have even heard of the subject, let alone be sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject to give it serious consideration. But an observer is never independent. That’s the problem with observers.

Anyway, the reason I know about quantum superposition is that it’s something that the Prof keeps going on about. He says that, in isolation, everything exists in all possible states simultaneously, and it’s only when an observer takes a look at it that one of those states is selected at random. If a tree in the forest falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a cat in a box meows and no one can hear it, does it make a sound?

Well, I heard it. But I’m just the cat, part of this closed system, so perhaps my opinion doesn’t count for anything.

Before they shut the door to the box and everything went dark, I had a good look around, and I have to say that there are definitely some odd aspects to this box. There is a strange apparatus in one corner, and the more I think about it, the less I like it. It seems to consist of a tiny sample of some material, a Geiger counter and a device connected to it that’s designed to smash a flask if it detects anything. Something tells me that what this flask contains won’t be good for me.

I’m going to think about this a little more. Let’s say that this sample of material is slightly radioactive. So over the course of a short period of time, one atom might decay or none at all. But if the Prof’s right, within that atom, all the quantum states are superposed, aren’t they? So until that observer checks it out, it’s going to be decayed and not-decayed at the same time.

It’s bad enough trying to get my head around that, but it gets worse. I’m getting seriously worried now about that Geiger counter and the device that’s connected to it. If it’s designed to smash the flask when an atom decays, then the entire flask is going to be smashed and not-smashed all at the same time.

And if that flask contains something bad, what about me?

Hold on, I think I heard something. Or did I? My God, I’m choking. But… I’m not choking. I’m choking and I’m not choking. I need to work this out. Give me a moment. I definitely am choking. I’m gasping. I’m… dead? But how can I think that I’m dead? Unless I’m not dead as well? At the same time? Give me a moment. Don’t do anything rash. Stay calm. I can resolve this myself. I can do this. I can. I’m sure I can.

I hear rustling by the lid of the box. Wait. Please wait. I really can resolve this. I really can. Please. Don’t open the box. Just don’t open the box.

Please.

Don’t. Open. The. B —


Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and — despite having so far visited over forty other countries — has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His writing has won a number of prizes, short-listings and long-listings, and and he has been published in such diverse publications as Smokebox, Litro and Necrotic Tissue. His unimaginatively-titled, but moderately interesting website may be found at www.jonathanpinnock.com.


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Every Day Fiction

  • A clever examination of that age-old question: Who died first? Professor Schroedinger or his cat? 😉

    Top drawer, as usual, Jon. It gets a five from me.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Excellent, stuff!

    ?????, ?? ???

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Whoops! That last comment had me showing off my Arabic, but somehow it came out as question marks!

  • João Ventura

    Very good!
    Appropriate recommended reading for a course in Quantum Physics” 😛

  • Hal darasti al lughra Arabiya, ya walid ibn Hurriye? Kam, Ilal Yaum?

  • Chetan

    Yo..!! You rock..nice one..
    😉

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    I dare anyone to give you less than five (Be careful with those stars, guys. I know where you live. Less than a five and the mog gets it!) 🙂

    If this one doesn’t get you an interview, Jon…

    😉 scar

  • Clever use of quantum physics. The cat’s situation is very tense, especially at the end. The story leaves off in the perfect place. Great story!

  • R.A.S.

    A perfect five!

  • gay

    A star is born…well, five of them for that one.

  • Terrific voice and clear proof that cats are no dummies.

  • Kate Thornton

    I love physics stories! Great one!

  • Jen

    Ha! Excellent stiry! I love the fact that the cat think about such deep things during the off time.

  • Bob

    A very clever idea, nicely realized. The ending is especially elegant.

    That said, there’s a lot of expository throat-clearing in the beginning, before the tale really starts. I count one, perhaps two paragraphs that could be dropped from this story without losing anything of its flow or impact.

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone! Usual disclaimer: no cats were harmed during the writing of this piece. Although one of them is still a bit confused.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Movements of an objects are measured relative to other objects. Without other objects in comparison, in isolation, movements cannot be measured.

    Chemical and physical possibilities are judged by statistical measures; in quantum mechanics by known statistics regarding atomic particles.
    If you put a bomb in a box and light the fuse, both a physicist and the kid next door would agree that the statistics regarding such occurances strongly indicate there will be an explosion. Cats and people would suffer similarly – or is that a topic for biology?

    Whether something exists when not observed is an old philosophical question about how we can assume we “KNOW.” It’s not part of quantum mechanics.

    Someday someone thoroughly versed in these topics might write a story about it!

  • Synthjock

    “An observer is never independent”. And with that, a million thought experiments die in an instant. You cruel, cruel man 🙂

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I agree with synthjock – The fact that no one disagrees with him has nothing to do with it. An observer is in the same box as the experiment and therefore he is an influence on it. Elegant theories are meticulously carried through. Excuse me. I just made a mess and spilled my soda.

  • Fantastic. Five stars, Jon.

  • Natalie L. Sin

    One of the best flash stories I have ever read!

  • I like it from the Cat’s perspective. Never asked the cat did they. I also like sitting in the dark praying and thinking.

  • I like it from the Cat’s perspective. Never asked the cat did they. I also like sitting in the dark praying and thinking.