"Jesse's Cat":  A Theory of Psychodynamic Superposition

Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.                       John Donne

 

Jesse has thought of a variation on the famous thought-experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat.  In Schrödinger’s version, there is a radioactive substance that triggers a geiger counter when it decays.  When the counter detects radiation, it emits a ringing sound.  This, in turn, triggers a sound sensor, which causes a hammer to fall on a vial of cyanide gas.  The gas is then released into the box containing the Cat.

Schrödinger’s paradox was this:  The radioactive decay is a quantum event, so it cannot "happen" until it is observed to "happen".  Until observed, the radioactive atom is in a state of "superposition", which means it is both decayed and undecayed at the same time.  We are comfortable with this because we don't deal with atoms in our everyday lives.  But the Schrödinger’s Cat thought-experiment demonstrates how everyday reality can become entangled with quantum events.  The superposition of the unstable atom is transferred first to the Geiger counter, then to the cyanide flask, then to the Cat.  Until observed, the counter is both ringing and silent.  Similarly, the flask is both broken and intact.  But the strangest part is the entanglement of the Cat, which is alive and dead at the same time!

It's not until a human observer opens the box and finds the Cat dead or alive that these entangled levels of superimposed states "collapse" into one state.  Or do they?  After all, there's nothing in the mathematics of the equation describing quantum events that shows us a way out of Schrödinger’s box.  There's no purely physical reason why the human observer should not become entangled the moment he or she opens the box,  no reason why he/she shouldn't be immediately suspended between the states of seeing a dead Cat and seeing a living Cat.

But no one in their right mind is ever conscious of seeing a dead-and-living Cat.  So that's where we draw the line, at the point when a human observer becomes conscious of the event, regardless of what Schrödinger’s equation tells us.  We draw this line on an intuitive basis.  Implicitly, we also intuit that the Cat can and does experience superimposed states, that "Cat consciousness" doesn't rule out, say, a dead-or-alive mouse.  In fact, we've all seen a Cat playing with a dead mouse just as if it were alive.  We sense that the Cat is not conscious in the same way we are.

            When we're asleep, however, it's a different story.  In dreams, the Cat often is alive and dead at the same time.  People are themselves and someone else at the same time.  We find ourselves in one place and another place at the same time.  We don't experience superposition of states in our waking life, but in our dreams that's always the way we experience things.

            Which brings us at last to Jesse's variation on Schrödinger’s Cat.  It works this way:  Let's take away the Cat and the vial of cyanide and substitute a sleeping person in the box.  Let's also adjust the volume on the Geiger counter so its ringing will be loud enough to waken our sleeper.   Until the person awakens, the radioactive atom will be both decayed and undecayed, and the counter bell will be both ringing and not ringing.  In his or her dream state, the sleeper can and will experience the simultaneous ringing and silence of the bell.  The dream may even elaborate this experience into a scene in which the sleeper hears an alarm clock, turns it off, but still hears it ring.

Here's where we encounter the paradox.  For the dreamer to be wakened, the bell must be ringing.  It can't be suspended between ringing and silence.  But in order for the bell to be ringing, the person has to be awake and conscious of its ringing.  Catch-22!  The bell can't ring unless the sleeper wakens, and the sleeper won't waken until the bell rings.

The only way out of this paradox is to ask the same question that the poet John Donne posed:  "For whom does the bell toll?"   In his/her dream state, the sleeper both hears the tolling and does not hear it.  Part of the sleeper's mind responds to the tolling, the part that we describe as the "waking self".  This is the self "for whom the bell tolls".  But it is not the whole Self.  The waking self, or ego, remains superimposed on a background of sleeping selfhood, or unconsciousness.

The work of Sigmund Freud revealed that the unconscious processes of the mind are always at work, even when we are fully awake.  In other words, our normal waking condition is in fact a state of superposition of conscious and unconscious states.  Based on Jesse's variation on Schrödinger’s thought experiment, it appears that this psychic superposition is not a fortuitous circumstance of human evolution, but a necessary result of the interaction of consciousness with quantum-entangled events.