Monday, July 11, 2005

schrödinger's cat

The postulate:

We admit the world is indeterminate. We admit that electrons have fuzzy edges. When one collides, it may bounce one way. It may bounce the other.

Schrödinger said that if that's the case, let's seal a cat, a geiger counter, a fragment of radioactive material, and a bottle of poison gas into a box for one hour. There's a 50-50 chance that radioactive decay will trigger the geiger
counter, activate a mechanism that breaks the bottle, and poison the cat. He asks if we'll find a live cat or a dead one when we open the box. (MacGeyver apparently designed the steel case with Rube Goldberg.)

That sounds like the famous "Lady or the Tiger" scenario, but it's much more complex. The man who has to open either of two doors knows a lady (reward) is behind one and a tiger (death) is behind the other. He doesn't know which door leads to the tiger, but the answer is knowable (and finite). But Radioactive decay occurs on the level of indeterminancy. No knowledge of the system inside the box will ever let you predict the fate of Schrödinger's Cat. Whether it lives or dies is absolutely unknowable -- until you open the box.

My Comments:

But is all this important in life? The world is a environment of partial information. And poker is one of the best examples of this. Entrenched firmly between statistics and pattern recognition, there are clues to make the proper determination. i.e. to know what's in the case without opening it (the equivalent of your opponent turning over his cards). Unfortunately for a player learning the game, this is genius IQ level stuff. I can happily boast an above average (only on a technicality), but in terms of the above scenarios, I can be compared to a bowl of soggy oatmeal. So now you know why so many math wizards play poker and why some many of the great players have been playing 20 years.

"But what about these 23 year old poker wiz kids?" you ask. Well, the brain is especially adept at absorbing pattern recognition in the young adult stages of life. It is not surprising that by being agressive and thus increasing volatility in hands, combined with better pattern recognition of when to bet and when not to bet of the avergae wannabe, one of these guys propells himself to the top of a tournament ladder in a mushroom cloud like fashion.

So what do we learn from all of this? Precious little. Maybe we can take stock in the fact that because of all of this, many players (fish) will open the case numerous times just to see that cat and pay off your hands.

If we take on the role of a painter and decide to paint a portrait of the case, we can't help but infuse the picture with unintentded or intended impressions. When we do this, the other players (the viewers of the painting) are picking up on those impressions and comparing them to their own painting. Now maybe you can see how a non-math wizard can tilt the odds in their favor. Assuming the other players appriciate art.

When I run down patterns in my mind, I take the Lt. Columbno approach. "there just one thing that still bothers me..." is the famous line Columbo mutters after he leaves a room and suddenly turns around. If nothing seems out of the ordinary, then I take the play at face value. Betting and raises is strength, checking is weak. When something is out of place, then maybe you can gleem a peek into what's behind the door, the lady or the tiger.

"Why not just kill the cat before you put it in the case?" - GoGo in Kill Bill.

See also the blog that started me on this line of thinking and recently player knocked out of the WSOP, Wil Weaton at

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