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RON COHEN: A BIT OF THIS AND THAT
Ron Cohen
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Ron Cohen

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Posted 12.19.16
Near Washington DC

RON COHEN

SCHRODINGER'S CAT COMES TO LIFE IN SATURDAY'S NEW YORK TIMES
[This piece by Ron Cohen first appeared in Jack Limpert's excellent blog: ABOUT EDITING AND WRITING

I have been alive 79 years and 11 months without ever having encountered Schrodinger's Cat. That changed this weekend.

On page one of Saturday's New York Times< was a story that probably would not have been played so prominently in any other newspaper. It told about a white-tailed deer which, to the delight of the city dwellers of East Harlem, had been cavorting for several days in Jackie Robinson Park. Its capture and placement in a city animal shelter ignited a turf war between Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The deer languished for days in bureaucratic limbo, with De Blasio pressing for humane euthanization and Cuomo pushing for transport and release upstate. Back and forth the two struggled. Then moments before the deer was to be loaded into a van to head to the country, it died.

Deep in the Times story were these blithe sentences by reporter Andy Newman:

The deer was condemned to die, then he was not, then he was, then he was not.

For a few surreal minutes Thursday night, the deer, like Schrödinger's cat, was both alive and dead, with a city official insisting he had already been euthanized and the state insisting he had not.

There it was: Schrodinger's Cat. Stumped, I sought the counsel of Clementine, my iPhone Google Lady. She responded with this from Wikipedia:

Schrodinger's cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e., a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

This was mostly Danish to me, but I could not help but marvel at how the clever Mr. Newman had introduced a cat into a story about a deer, employing a reference that certainly must be among the most obscure ever to grace a daily newspaper.

At brunch at a friend's house that afternoon, I explained the story and the Schrodinger's Cat theorem to two former UPI colleagues, Mike Feinsilber and Richard Lerner. Neither had ever heard of Mr. Schrodinger nor his cat.

That night, when I logged onto my Facebook account, I could scarcely believe my eyes. The first item was a commercial for this T-Shirt: A cat behind prison bars and the inscription "Schrodinger's Cat. Wanted Dead Or Alive."

Mind you, I had discussed this with no one but my four friends at brunch and yet, for the second time in one day, the infernal cat was dogging me.

Can anyone doubt Big Brother is everywhere?

Ron Cohen, a retired journalist, worked for United Press International for 25 years and Gannett News Service for 15.

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