The famous physicist Schrödinger once set out a little thought experiment of the kind with which Physicists love to bamboozle us. It makes little sense to me so I asked my Physics teaching colleague to explain it in really simple terms. He told me that to get a useful explanation I should read a little of a book of his that he happened to have to hand called “Physics for Absolute Morons” or something similar. The book makes everything crystal-clear by offering the following explanation: 

“… so there is 50:50 probability of the cat being alive (hopefully) or dead when the box is opened after that time. Schrödinger argued that, following the Copenhagen interpretation (of quantum theory), we would have to think of the cat in a fuzzy blend of states, being both alive and dead at the same time, while the box was closed. Just as the wave or particle view of an electron is only fixed on the point of detection, the cat´s future is only determined when we choose to open the box and view it. On opening the box we make the observation and the outcome is set”

Got it?

We had a cat which is now dead but which, up to a few days ago, was alive. It was not like Schrödinger´s cat, which was a conceptual construct, a kind of imaginary toy we can play with in our minds. Ours was a flesh and blood cat of the kind that startles us at night with the light reflected in its eyes. Its name was Tinker.

We had this cat for about 8 years although it would often vanish for days at a time. Sometimes when it came back it looked great – fat and happy. Obviously someone else was feeding it.

Recently it showed up after a longish absence looking pretty disheveled. It had lost weight and some fur was gone. It had been in the wars. We fed it up but it failed to regain condition or to regrow the missing fur. On Wednesday I took it to the vet.

A blood test revealed feline AIDS and the vet told me that there is no cure. It is likely that the virus was transmitted through a bite. We had two options – one was to treat the symptoms and to keep the cat inside the house, the other was to put the cat to sleep. Sadly, the second choice seemed like the right one.

It took 10 minutes for the injection to work. During this time the vet had left the room to attend to the necessary paperwork and the cat and I were alone. Tinker was lying against me on the top of an aluminium work top, his face buried against my side and I felt the rise and fall of his ribs until these movements diminished and finally stopped.

That cat used to drink out of the toilet and it crapped once right at the back of Pippa´s wardrobe. As usual it was my job to clean it up. It used to slob around, as all cats tend to, choosing the most comfortable places to stretch out. And of course it had another, secret life, as all cats do which it lived alone and in the dark.

These were among the thoughts that visited in the last few moments we were together in that room before the vet returned to confirm, with a stethoscope, that the cat was dead. She acknowledged this fact with a simple nod and was thoughtful enough not to talk about it. What was there to say?

When I had settled up with the vet I phoned home to say what had happened but I had no words, not beyond just stating what had happened. Questions came at me but I was not good for answering them. Words are good sometimes but at other times, times like this, they are superfluous.

The cat had been alive and now it was dead.