a lost certainty or not

Here is the final work which I did in Short Stories class. Our instructor organized the course in a way that we always read science-fiction stories. I always liked them, read Asimov, Clark, Le Guin and some others. I also wrote science-fiction (I have been still writing it but I gave a little break. now it's time to recover)
As a note, this story I indeed like. It has a different kind of telling. Le Guin is always like that. I suggest especially the Left Hand of Darkness. [Karanlığın Sol Eli Türkçe çevirisi, Ayrıntı Yayınları]


          Schrödinger’s Cat is a story which was written by Ursula K. Le Guin whose work is not easily classified and mostly mentioned with the adjective of ‘weird’. She usually discusses the social topics in her stories such as morality, political ideology, racial interactions which can differ for alternative societies or as in the story of Schrödinger’s Cat, she takes the social implications of scientific truths into consideration. The story is composed of two parts, the narration and the action part. After a heavy and poetic description of the scene, the author lets two characters speak: The narrator whose cat is Schrödinger’s Cat and the mailman dog which is dog and human simultaneously. They discuss on the experimental setup of Schrödinger and put the cat into the box. According to the Gedankenexperiment of Schrödinger, the photon can be reflected or deflected by fifty percent of probability which can trigger the instrument that releases the poison. So, by a half probability the cat is dead or alive. Since in the quantum world all probabilities can be represented as a linear combination of probability wave functions before the observation, the cat is dead and alive simultaneously again before the observation. However when a variable from the outside of the quantum world such as a human eye observes, s/he collapses all probabilities into only one probability which is also dependent on space and time. Therefore, there is no way of predicting the earlier events before the observation which can be also classified as “uncertain”. The observer brings the certainty into the space/time reality by his own will. So, in this story Le Guin dramatically puts emphasize on the effects of the apprehension of the uncertainty in the universe by giving references to scientific principles and sub/atomic world.

The references of Le Guin given to sub-atomic world are composing the descriptive part of the narration. From this perspective, it is clearly seen what the story tells is deeply related to the molecules, atoms and so on. In the very beginning, the narrator gets started as talking about the break-up of a couple. This break-up smartly symbolizes the disintegration while being a couple represents the recombination of atoms, “The pieces of him trotted around bouncing and cheeping, like little chicks, but she was finally reduced to nothing but a mass of nerves: rather like fine chicken-wire, in fact, but hopelessly tangled.” They were hopelessly tangled even they broke up, since the atoms disintegrate and recombine without ceasing. In the followings, the narrator begins to talk about the heat which is also a reference to atomic world, because it is a type of energy which speeds up the molecules. The other symbol that is common to the story is music such as the piece of The Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach and the composer Schumann at the end. Music is composed of sound waves which can be reduced to the behaviors of atoms. Moreover, the fast movements of cats are used as a symbol as well, “… all they did was ZAP and gone. They lacked presence.” They are reflected as molecules and atoms that are bouncing up and down without a stop. All these details in the story want to point out the chaos and the unpredictability of the sub/atomic world.

Le Guin evaluates the effects of grasping and understanding the uncertainty in the story. Human wants certainty due to his nature. It is hard to accept and live with uncertain events and situations. However quantum mechanics ironically shows that everything around us contains a definite amount of uncertainty. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle already mentions that we cannot know the exact position and velocity (momentum) of a particle simultaneously.  That is why Rover, the mailman dog, says, “I can’t stand this terrible uncertainty”. Nature contains this uncertainty in its formation and shows itself in the laws. Furthermore, Le Guin points out the paralleled realities that exist simultaneously in time. Before it is decided, one event is only one of the possible future events; however after the decision, it becomes reality or certain truth. Therefore, we cannot predict previous future events and this uncertainty becomes an important problem in quantum mechanics. The quotation of “We cannot predict the behavior of the photon and thus once it has behaved, we cannot predict the state of the system it has determined… So it is beautifully demonstrated that if you desire certainty, you must create it yourself!” refers quantum weirdness of uncertainty in the story. Rover bursts into tears and his words “certainty, all I want is certainty” shows that Le Guin successfully touches the difficulty of science can be a substitute for spiritual hope.

The reader can observe plenty of scientific references in the story. In the narration part of the story, the author touches Michelangelo’s Last Judgment portrait which can be a symbol of the connection between the observation and certainty. Last Judgment comes with the observation in the experiment and “He observes. Indeed one wonders if Hell would exist, if he did not look at it”, as the narrator says. Furthermore, the quotation of “It is the note A, the one that drove the composer Schumann mad”, interestingly questions if the uncertainty of the quantum world which Heisenberg found out, drove him crazy. In one conversation, after Rover says that he wants only certainty and to know for sure that God plays dice with the world, the words of the narrator seem quite strange, “Do you think he’s going to leave you a note about it in the box?” This part of the story is like a reminder of a famous conversation between Bohr and Einstein. The words of narrator can be also interpreted as “Do you really think that you can decide whether God plays dice or not?” which is the words of Bohr directed to Einstein after his famous phrase of “God does not play dice with the world”. Ironically the information of this uncertainty is not sufficient to answer this question.

As a result, Le Guin mainly criticizes the insufficiency of science in spiritual seek of human as well as she decorates the plot with many references to atomic world and scientific principles. The uncertainty is rooted in the essence of science and it is the law of nature itself to define the event in a limited certainty. Even though it is hard to grasp this reality, we are also a part of this nature and uncertainty. That is why I wonder if we really lost the certainty, when I read last words of the story, “Wonder if he [the cat] found what it was we lost”.

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