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Schrodinger’s Baby

May 11, 2011

It recently occurred to me that I’m nine months older than my birthday, give or take a few days. Hard to say exactly when I was conceived. Not the kind of thing you ask your parents about. And anyway, how would they know for sure? I can only pin my daughter’s birth down to within a week. It could’ve been any one of… never mind.

The point is, for those first few days – before anyone knew she was conceived – my daughter was in an indeterminate life state. Like the famous thought experiment, we had set up an unobservable situation where two possible states existed. Either we would conceive a baby or we wouldn’t. Until the metaphorical box was opened – in this case a shared intuition and a pregnancy test – our baby was in the same predicament as Schrodinger’s Cat.

“A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.” Schroedinger: “The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics”

Erwin Schrodinger wasn’t claiming his cat to be both alive and dead at the same time. He was reducing quantum mechanics to absurdity, particularly the idea that the act of observation influences the shape of reality. You can make up your own mind. I’m not trying to say I had anything to do with willing my baby into the world. She was there before we took valid scientific measurements. But I can’t help wondering… how long did she wait in that box before we opened it?

Maybe that’s why nobody counts their age from conception; birth is so much easier to put a date to. Even pro-lifers celebrate their birthdays. Isn’t that strange? If a fetus has a right to life, shouldn’t life be counted from the day it was conceived, as opposed to the day it was born?

I’m all for celebrating both. My birth date is February 19th, 1976, but I’m nine months older than that. I was conceived sometime around the 19th of May, 1975. That means my conception-day is a week from tomorrow!

Looks like I have a party coming up.

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