October 26, 2018
Our baby son was stirring yet again in the next room, and again returned to silence; and this time I thought I would read about the personal life of Edwin Schrödinger. Sure enough, while he led an unorthodox life when it came to relationships (when he moved to Dublin it was, on obtaining the visas, with a ménage à trois), he formulated his most popularly famous thought experiment—the cat in the box paradox where he asked, “when does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?”—in 1935, the year after the birth of his daughter (albeit with an Austrian colleague’s wife). When your baby is in the crib in the next room, you are fairly sure everything is going fine, and yet the best way to be sure is to take a look, but then you might wake the baby—not causing the baby any real harm, but probably depriving them of further sleep and you (and perhaps even the neighbours) of rest. Rather than the poison and radioactivity of Schrödinger, all in their genetic makeup and everything in the world may be a potential threat to your newborn. The longer the nap, the greater the temptation you will have to look, or even to lean close and gently prod your baby. If they nap continuously for approaching three hours, in our house at least you begin to expect a cry (or a more conclusive movement in the near-dark), and if it doesn’t come—well, you wait longer; but how much longer do you wait? A nap can be short or intermittent, but at a certain point a nap becomes overly long from yours and your baby’s perspective. It’s possible that the birth of his first child had no impact of this kind on him, that, as it was an unconventional situation with his colleague and his colleague’s wife, he spent less time lingering outside the nursery of his baby daughter. But the somewhat sinister principle—of something or someone being alive and dead and only one or the other when you cannot help but take a look—comes readily to mind when we check fretfully if our baby is sleeping or awake, and alive or dead. That paradoxical cat in the box, however, could have seemed more reasonably poetic to Schrödinger than the baby in the nursery.