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10 November 2008

Can one of you smart people explain this joke to me? I've come up with a few possibilities but they don't seem very funny. Can someone explain it to me? I know it won't seem as funny if it has to be explained, but I'd like to know! Thanks
Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Schroedinger's cat.

I'm not so good on Heisenberg, but the (non-physicists') deal with Schroedinger's cat is that observing something changes its state -- unobserved, things could be doing pretty much anything, but when we observe them, we "fix" their state. If a cat's in a box either alive or dead, until we look in and see, then the cat exists in both states. Once we look, then we're the ones who really create the situation in which the cat is in only one state, alive or dead.
posted by occhiblu 10 November | 00:48
Thanks for the explanation. I never would have figured it out on my own. And thanks too for the links. I'm interested in all of this but don't know if it I will ever "get" it. I appreciate your help!
posted by nelvana 10 November | 00:53
Oh. good joke!
posted by Ardiril 10 November | 00:54
No problem! Thanks for sharing the joke! :-)
posted by occhiblu 10 November | 00:55
The Heisenberg joke is basically you can know how fast you're going or where you are (position and momentum according to Wikipedia) but not both at once, in a nutshell. Hence the response to the cop. occhiblu has the cat thing pretty well. Neither one of them make "sense" they're just riffing off the two scientific examples in a sort of wink-nudge way.
posted by jessamyn 10 November | 01:16
THe Heisenburg part (I think but am not entirely sure [no pun intended]):

From the Wikipedia link above:
So in quantum mechanics, there are no states which describe a particle with both a definite position and a definite momentum.

So, as in the joke, the driver could only know exactly how fast or where he was. Not both.

It's a really great joke, too. One that I think most cops wouldn't care to hear.
posted by MonkeyButter 10 November | 01:20
I really should refresh before posting a comment.
posted by MonkeyButter 10 November | 01:21
Schrodinger's cat is an idea put out by Schrodinger to illustrate the problem of the "Copenhagen" interpretation of quantum mechanics being applied to real objects. Einstein and friends felt that a quantum view of something includes all the possible states a thing can be at once. That means something only has a definite state at the moment of observation. Schrodinger felt that a cat in a box, unobserved, would be dead or alive without observation and used that to show that quantum mechanics can't be used to explain an object in real space.

The Heisenberg joke is very funny. The Schrodinger one not so much.
posted by arse_hat 10 November | 01:42
Copenhagen Interpretation. Sorry missed this.
posted by arse_hat 10 November | 01:44
In a similar vein: (Not made by me, alas.)
posted by chrismear 10 November | 05:33
A few weeks ago I would never have gotten the Schrodinger's cat joke, but I just saw it referenced on a way cool episode of Nova.

Incidentally, I'd highly recommend that Nova special if you get a chance to see it. It's called Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives and follows Mark Everett (the main guy from the Eels) as he learns more about his father, Hugh Everett, a legend in quantum physics and the founder of the parallel universe theory.
posted by Slack-a-gogo 10 November | 08:30
I knew the foundation of both those jokes, and didn't find them to be very funny. Sort of like, "Newton was pulled over by the Carriage Police and they asked if he knew how fast he was traveling. Newton said, 'No, but you can calculate it based on the time it has taken me to travel this distance.'"

Unless the humor comes from applying quantum laws to macro situations?
posted by muddgirl 10 November | 08:53
I weep for the state of science education. Didn't your high school science teachers subject you to these kinds of jokes? These groaners should be standard in every classroom.

Copenhagen Interpretation Fantasy Camp
posted by Eideteker 10 November | 11:52
The following is a true story:

I was visiting a company where, in their new offices, the conference rooms were named after famous thinkers/scientists/inventors. There was a Marconi Room, a Galileo Room, a Copernicus Room, etc.

I walked up to the receptionist and asked, "Where is the Heisenberg room?"

She replied, "I don't know."

....I smiled quietly to myself.....
posted by Doohickie 10 November | 20:15
Thanks so much everyone for the interesting info and links. Jokes like these would have been right up my science teacher's alley, but I was likely not paying attention. Now of course I'm fascinated by it and wish I knew more. I think I'll start with the Nova site (thanks Slack-a-gogo!).
posted by nelvana 10 November | 22:36
What's your favorite James Bond song? || I <3 this man