Christian Schirm/Public Domain
Christian Schirm/Public Domain

The Art of Schrodinger’s Cat

Christian Schirm/Public Domain
Christian Schirm/Public Domain

Erwin Schrödinger posited a thought experiment in 1935 that became known as Schrodinger’s Cat. You put a cat in a box with some equipment and shut it up. Inside, there is a radioactive element that has a 50% chance of decaying in an hour. Any decay will register on a Geiger counter, which trips a device that breaks a poison vial and kills the cat. But the box is closed. At the end of that hour, is the cat dead or alive? You cannot know until you open the box. Therefore, until you observe the cat, he exists as both dead and alive.

ADA&Neagoe via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

To the layman, that seems ridiculous. Schrodinger’s experiment is about quantum mechanics, but it's like philosophy and metaphysics as well. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make any sound? Of course it does, because believing that nothing exists outside our perception of it is extreme hubris.

Be that as it may, the experiment seems unnecessarily cruel as well as absurd. Schrodinger was a smart man, but that's no excuse to kill a cat. Despite the fact that it was just a thought experiment, Schrodinger's reputation took a hit from both cat lovers and slightly-less-sharp scientists, as you can see in this T-shirt designed by Mike Jacobsen.

Another Dimension

The explanation for those somewhat familiar with quantum mechanics reveals that Schrodinger was just trying to make a point among physicists. But the thought experiment lingered on, because we love cats, and would hate to see harm come to one. And the idea of a cat being both dead and alive bends our brains. It’s like a trip into another dimension.

A T-shirt from Wear Viral entitled Schrodinger’s Portal puts the cat into the physics-bending world of the game Portal.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre created this illustration for his short story "Schrödinger's Cat-Sitter.” The cat is simultaneously in front of and behind the impossible object, which makes about as much sense as the cat being both dead and alive at once.

Artist Jie Qi saw that the two states of the cat, alive and dead at the same time, were impossible. He illustrated that as an illusion, putting the cat inside an impossible box as well. This drawing is from 2006. He followed that up with two more iterations of the same subject you can see here, and you’ll find the original version from 2004 here

How can a cat be both dead and alive? DeviantART member Evilkitten3 saw that as a condition that could be desired, even if it’s not possible.

It’s quite a difficult concept, especially when you first hear it. A group of giant robots learn about the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment and decided to investigate the results for themselves, in this Robot Republic video.  

Comic artist Hannah Blumenreich considered the entire idea silly, because a cat will let you know when he doesn’t want to be in the box anymore. If he is alive, that is.

Half Dead, Half Alive

Some interpret “both dead and alive” to mean half dead and half alive, because that’s the only way the phrase makes any sense. DeviantART member atoji saw that as a literal way to illustrate the cat. Maybe he's only mostly dead.

DeviantART member RaggedyAnarchist used the same idea, with the cat split down the middle and the “dead” side still holding the poison that killed him. Or half of him. The other side is celebrating life!

When Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope received a rhyming letter asking him to explain Schrodinger’s Cat many years ago, he replied with an epic poem that didn’t clear up anything at all, but it rhymed well. Here the poem appears with Scott Adams’ Dilbert comics featuring Schrodinger’s cat. I have no idea whether Cecil Adams is related to Scott Adams.  

The Zombie Cat

But there’s another way to be both dead and alive, as we’ve seen in some George Romero films and the TV series The Walking Dead. The cat could be a zombie! Alive, meaning animated, and dead, meaning he died in the box. DeviantART member pixelat3dLtd illustrated Schrodinger’s zombie cat, who seems to be looking for the one who caused his current state of being.

Taking that idea a step further, DeviantART member Zaleho made Schrodinger’s cat a zombie with one side “deader” than the other, sporting saber-teeth as well!

The Cat’s Revenge

How does the cat feel about being treated in this way? Not happy, as illustrated by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal. The cat is justified in wanting to turn the tables on the scientist who thought up the experiment.  

Animator Chavdar Yordanov tackled the subject in 2012 with a video exploring the wrath of the formerly adorable cat who is subjected to such an inhuman experiment. The mayhem inflicted by the ghost of the wronged feline is rather satisfying.

But we all know how the experiment really would have turned out. The cat is, of course, alive, because cats have nine lives!

See also: The Buttered Cat Paradox

If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets

Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

Chloe Efforn
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.


Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.


He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.


John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.


As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.


In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.


John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.


John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.


In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.


More from mental floss studios