Posted by: cordy74 | March 14, 2010

Schrödinger’s Cat In A Dish Network Box

I like television. I like to be able to watch many channels. I do not like it when my television does not work. We have Dish Network satellite television service. Recently our Dish Network box began to have some problems. I think there might be a cat in our Dish Network box. Upon calling Dish Network on Wednesday we were told the replacement box would not arrive until the following Monday. Thus began my thought experiments concerning the Dish Network box.

The problem with the box was that it would randomly decide to turn itself off and would then become locked in a reboot cycle loop whose end counter was a random number. The box might come back on after a single reboot or it might reboot for several hours without coming back to normal function. Unplugging the box for a while sometimes helped. As time went on, however, the trick of unplugging it and then plugging it back in seemed to become less effective.

With mounting frustration due to the inability to entertain our children with the slew of semi-educational programming they had come to love so much my wife made the comment on Sunday night that “it only works when we’re not looking at it.” Upon hearing this the first thought that came to my mind was that our Dish Network box behaved like the Invisible Boy’s powers in the movie “Mystery Men.” It’s a great movie. If you’ve never seen it I suggest you watch it. If you have watched it I suggest you watch it again.

The Invisible Boy’s power was, quite obviously, to turn invisible. You could have figured that one out for yourself. What you don’t know unless you’ve seen the movie is he can only become invisible when no one is watching him and can only stay invisible as long as no one looks at him. It sounds a little strange and useless at first but he puts it to very good effect in the movie. I’ve always wondered on what principle a power like that would work. What always came to mind was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and ­Schrödinger’s Cat-In-A-Box thought experiment. For those of you not in “the know” let me try to break it down as I understand it.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that we change the outcome of an experiment simply by our observation of that experiment. You can kind of think of it as imagining that the outcome of a coin toss could have been vastly different if you had not actually watched the coin get tossed or observed how it landed. Well, as vastly different an outcome as a coin toss can get since it realistically can only come out one of two ways. Let’s not even get into a discussion concerning whether or not you can be sure the coin even landed if you did not observe it in any fashion.  It’s not a tree.  This isn’t a forest.  You get the picture.

­Schrödinger’s Cat is the famous thought experiment wherein you imagine a cat in a sealed box. Inside the box is also a poison that has a 50% chance of being released within an hour. Without being able to observe the cat you don’t know for certain whether or not the cat is still alive after the hour has ended. Essentially you have to conclude that the cat is both dead and alive until you open the box and complete the observation. Once you’ve opened the box and have seen what state the cat is in you have eliminated the opposite state. By simply observing the cat you have affected the outcome. Now back to the Invisible Boy.

Since he can only turn invisible when no one is watching him it seems that the Boy’s powers also rely on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. He can remain invisible if he wishes until someone observes him, at which time they affect the outcome and he becomes visible again.Triggered by my wife’s statement, I believe our Dish Network box is also operating on this Principle.

You can plug it in and listen to the fan start to run. It has power and you know it could be operating normally but until you turn on the television and observe it’s state the box is operating under an Uncertainty duality. It can be considered to be both operating normally and malfunctioning at the same time.  Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, the outcome of our observances has more and more frequently revealed that the box is not operating normally. Maybe if we would stop observing it the box would start behaving normally again.  That just blew your mind like it did mine, didn’t it?

I could blame Dish Network for giving us inferior equipment and not being able to send a replacement in a timely manner but I think I’ll go ahead and blame a couple of physicists who have been dead for around 40 years.

Finally, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger are probably spinning in their graves due to my complete butchery of some of their greatest works. Of course, we’ll never actually know whether or not they are spinning unless we dig them up at which point we will have observed them and affected the outcome of this little thought experiment. I prefer to think of them as simultaneously existing in both the spinning and non-spinning states.

Who needs a cat when you’ve got dead physicists?



  1. I really don’t understand this. So the blonde kid who plays the piano in the Peanuts comic strip has a cat that’s stuck in a cable box? I would call Snoopy. Duh!

    • Dammit, Christian!! Focus!!! That was Schroeder! He’s a fictional cartoon character. I’m talking about a real-life dead physicist here!! You have singlehandedly undermined the legitimacy of this entire post. Congratulations.

  2. OK, wait!
    A) I think we need proof of the “cat in a box” theory. Got any we can try it on?
    2) Wouldn’t the dead guys quit spinning when we got the coffins open, therefore we would never really know if they were spinning (kinda like the Invisible Boy power.)

  3. […] Schrödinger's Cat In A Dish Network Box « Cordy74 […]

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