Here is an imaginary phone conversation between Werner Heisenberg (WH) and Erwin Schrodinger (ES) that I have imagined to have taken place in the early 1930s, let’s say 1933. The situation is that the two great physicists were supposed to meet for coffee at a café in Berlin but Heisenberg has been delayed. So he telephones Schrodinger at the café.
A waiter tells Schrodinger that there is a call for him.
ES: Where are you? When are you reaching? I have been waiting for half an hour.
WH: I couldn’t tell you precisely where I am and when I might reach?
ES: I asked where you are and not where particles are.
WH: I am, like we all are, made up of particles. So if we cannot simultaneously tell a particle’s position and momentum with any precision, how am I going to tell you where I am and when I might reach?
ES (Sounding a bit exasperated): Werner, I don’t want to get into the whole physics of particles and position and momentum with you on phone.
WH: Why? Is it because you think I may not understand it? I am the whole physics of particles and position and momentum after all.
ES: That’s funny. So what’s taking you so long?
WH: Oh some problem at home but I thought I should call you to get started on what we planned to discuss while I reach.
ES: And you don’t know when you might reach because…
WH: I know my position. I am at home. But I don’t know about my momentum because it depends.
ES: Depends on what?
WH: It depends on so many variables, including whether there is a parade by those horrible Brown Shirts. We both know there is no predicting their position and momentum. Now that is one tough uncertainty that I oppose based on my principles.
They both laugh.
ES: Tell me anyway how this whole principle of your works. What are you saying really? It makes no sense to me. Are you saying that the act of observation affects a particle such that we cannot determine its position? Are you saying that our act of observation physically affects that particle?
WH: Erwin, Erwin, dear friend, you cannot be that simplistic. You know the so-called observer effect works at the quantum level. I don’t have to tell you that.
ES: Yes, yes but the whole Uncertainty Principle makes no sense to me. It is too clever for its own good.
WH: Says the man who locks up an imaginary cat inside an imaginary box with an imaginary vial of radioactive poison and then says the cat can be both dead and alive? Yeah, what’s with the cat? If it does not exist, why should it be dead or alive?
ES: So are you coming or not?
ES: Yes to coming or yes to not?
WH: Think of me as your cat. I may come or not because I may exist or not or both exist and not exist.
They both laugh again.
Note: I occasionally indulge in such non-sense. I wrote a piece about Schrodinger’s felinicide trial sometime ago. Read it here.