Dualities of Life, Schrodinger's Cat and Joker in the Pack

Published: 13th February 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th February 2016 04:43 PM   |  A+A-


Shall I come and jump up and down on it? I ask obligingly. Bunny, my wife, locked in combat with Delsey, does not deign to answer. At least, I think the object, which is the object of Bunny’s assertive attentions, is our Delsey suitcase. Bursting at the seams with the goods and chattels chez Suraiya, it has assumed a geometric shape Euclid might have had a tough time identifying. Suddenly there is a reassuring snick as the locks snap into place. There! Says Bunny triumphantly. Got it shut!

I think you forgot these, I say, holding up two toothbrushes, and we’re back to the square root of one.

Considering that on an average, we undertake the exercise about once a month, we make heavy weather of the recurring ritual of packing for a trip. At least Bunny does, my contribution to the joint effort being restricted to standing on the sidelines and offering periodically to use the recusant item of luggage as a trampoline in order to get it to close.

There is a basic philosophical difference in our approach to the problem. Bunny is a firm adherent to the scientific approach to packing, or what one might call the Nehruvian model. This involves drawing up Five-Year Plans, establishing social control over the commanding heights of the teetering edifice and providing a safety net for anything that falls off the heap. I favour the laissez-faire or free market paradigm, in which you bung in whatever comes to hand, the devil take the leftovers, slam the lid down when you can’t get in any more, and the heck with a level-weighing scale.

Both approaches have their drawbacks. Bunny’s method involves compiling a checklist of essential requirements. The first time Bunny drew up a list, we faced a small problem, namely our suitcase. For if we were to accommodate the checklist in it, there wouldn’t be any space for the items therein listed. We could, of course, have used the list to make sure that everything on it was in the bag and then left the list itself behind. But then how would we do our packing at the other end, preparatory to our return?

My approach is better suited to what modern science has revealed to us to be a random universe. Take the case of Erwin Schrodinger and his cat. In one of the best-known parables of quantum physics, Schrodinger postulated a hypothetical box in which he put a hypothetical cat. A randomly triggered mechanism within the box might or might not kill the cat if the box were opened. Once the cat was put into the box, it was abstracted from the duality of the everyday world—that is existence or non-existence—and translated into a limbo realm of indeterminate possibility—that is existence and non-existence.

In my case, read Bunny’s pink pullover instead of Schrodinger’s cat. Has my pink pullover gone in, asked Bunny once when I’d done the packing, years ago. Schrodinger’s cat, I shrugged, thereby implying that whether or not it actually existed in the box, in terms of pure possibility, her pink pullover was certainly present and accounted for. The subtle difference between a pullover qua pullover and pullover qua possibility was made comprehensively and painfully clear to me when we got to our destination and it was discovered that the garment in question was not in fact in the bag though its idea might well have been.

Ever since then, packing has for me become strictly a spectator sport, with occasional offers to hop up and down on the lids of suitcases. In fact, I’d volunteer to lend a helpful hop or two right now, except that Bunny’s got me to pack it in. Quite literally, leaving me in the dark with what feels suspiciously like a pink pullover but could well turn out to be someone’s stray cat. 


Suraiya is a writer, columnist and author of several books


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