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

Live Smarter
8 Pro Tips for Taking Incredible Pictures of Your Pets

Thanks to the internet, owning a photogenic pet is now a viable career option. Just ask Theron Humphrey, dog-dad to Maddie the coonhound and the photographer behind the Instagram account This Wild Idea. He gained online fame by traveling across the country and sharing photographs of his dog along the way. But Maddie’s impressive modeling skills aren’t the only key to his success; Humphrey has also mastered some essential photography tricks that even the most casual smartphone photographer can use to make their pet look like a social media star.


Based on her Instagram presence, you’d guess Maddie is either in the middle of a road trip or a scenic hike at any given time. That’s no accident: At a pet photography workshop hosted by Adobe, Humphrey said he often goes out of his way to get that perfect shot. “You need to keep situating yourself in circumstances to continue making great work,” he said, “even if that means burning a tank of gas and going someplace you’ve never been.”


Dog and owner on a couch.

That being said, it’s important to know your pet’s limits. Is your dog afraid of flying? Then leave him with a pet sitter when you vacation abroad. Does your cat hate the water? Resist the temptation to bring her into the kayak with you on your next camping trip, even if it would make for an adorable photo opportunity. “One thing I think is important with animals is to operate within the parameters they exist in,” Humphrey said. “Don’t go too far outside their comfort zone.”


Not every winning pet photo is the result of a hefty travel budget. You can take professional-looking pictures of your pet at home, as long as you know how to work with the space you’re in. Humphrey recommends looking at every element of the scene you’re shooting in and asking what can be changed. Don’t be shy about moving furniture, adjusting the blinds to achieve the perfect lighting, or changing into a weird outfit that will make your pup’s eyes pop.


Two dogs in outfits.

Ella and Coconut Bean.

Trying to capture glamorous photos of a moving, barking target is a hard job. It’s much easier when you have a human companion to assist you. Another set of hands can hold the camera when you want to be in the picture with your pet, or hold a toy or treat to get your dog’s attention. At the very least, they can take your pet away for a 10-minute play session when you need a break.


The advent of digital cameras, including the kind in your smartphone, was a game-changer for pet photographers. Gone are the days when you needed to be picky about your shots to conserve film. Just set your shutter to burst mode and let your camera do the work capturing every subtle blep and mlem your pet makes. Chances are you’ll have plenty of standout shots on your camera roll from which to choose. From there, your hardest job will be “culling” them, as Humphrey says. He recommends uploading them to a photo organizing app like Adobe Lightroom and reviewing your work in two rounds: The first is for flagging any photo that catches your eye, and the second is for narrowing down that pool into an even smaller group of photos you want to publish. Even then, deciding between two shots taken a fraction of a second apart can be tricky. “When photos are too similar, check the focus,” he said. “That’s often the deciding factor.”


When it comes to capturing the perfect pet photo, an expensive camera is often less important than your cat’s favorite feather toy. The most memorable images often include pets that are engaging with the camera. In order to get your pet to look where you want it to, make sure you're holding something your pet will find interesting in your free hand. If your pet perks up at anything that makes noise, find a squeaky toy. If they’re motivated by food, use their favorite treat to get their attention. Don’t forget to reward them with the treat or the toy after they sit for the photo—that way they’ll know to repeat the behavior next time.


Person with hat taking photo of dog and dog food.

According to Humphrey, your pet’s eye should be the focus of most shots you take. In some cases, you may need to do more to make your pet the focal point of the image, even if that means removing your face from the frame altogether. “If there’s a human in the photo, you want to make them anonymous,” Humphrey said. That means incorporating your hands, legs, or torso into a shot without making yourself the star.


This is the mantra Theron Humphrey repeated throughout his workshop. You can scout out the perfect location and find the perfect accessories, but when you’re shooting with animals you have no choice but to leave room for flexibility. “You have to learn to roll with the mistakes,” Humphrey said. What feels like a hyperactive dog ruining your shot in the moment might turn out to be social media gold when it ends up online.

Build Your Own Cat With These LEGO-Like Blocks

It’s one thing to commission a custom portrait of your pet, but it’s quite another to build a life-size sculpture of them yourself with more than a thousand LEGO-like bricks. That’s exactly what you can do with the cat sculptures made by the Hong Kong-based toy-brick-makers at JEKCA (“building blocks for kidults,” as the company describes itself).

The pet sculptures, which we spotted over on Bored Panda, come in the shape of various breeds and colors that allow you to choose one that looks uncannily like your own pet. As long as your cat looks like a typical orange tabby or tuxedo shorthair, Siamese, Persian, or other garden variety cat, at least. They come in different colors and are available in multiple positions, whether it’s sitting, walking, pouncing, or playing.

Made of more than 1200 individual bricks each, the cat sculptures run about a foot tall, and between about half a foot and a foot long, depending on whether they’re sitting, standing on their hind legs, or walking. They come with instructions for assembly and can be taken apart and built again as many times as you want. But you don’t have to worry about them falling apart, according to JEKCA, since the blocks are secured by screws. “These cats are like real sculptures and will not collapse or break apart,” the company writes on its Facebook.

Six different calico cat sculptures in different positions

You could build one that looks exactly like your cat or adopt one of the brick animals as a pet itself. Buy a whole team of them, and it’ll look like your house is overrun with a cat gang—minus the extreme litter box cleaning that comes with being a traditional crazy cat lady.

The cat sculptures cost between $60 and $90, plus shipping, depending on the size of the kit and how many bricks it requires. You can see them all here. If cats aren’t your favorite pet, the company also makes dogs, birds, and other animals as well. Although, sadly, unlike their domestic pets, their dolphins and deer don’t come in life-size versions.

[h/t Bored Panda]


More from mental floss studios