If the Internet was invented so people could post pictures of their cats, webcomics were invented so people could tell cat jokes. Webcomicsdom is filled with megalomaniacal cats, squishy shape-shifting cats, cats with snarky internal monologues, and the ominous ghosts of stillborn kittens.
But among webcomickers, there is one particular cat joke that stands above all over cat jokes: the Schrödinger’s Cat joke. Schrödinger’s Cat is a quantum mechanics thought experiment proposed by Erwin Schrödinger that goes like this: Imagine you have a cat placed in a windowless box, with a rig set up so that there is a 50/50 chance of a poisonous gas is released into the box. This means that there is an equal chance that the cat is alive as dead. According to certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, before you observe the cat to determine whether it is alive or dead, the cat can be said to be simultaneously both alive and dead. It’s a macabre, geeky notion, and it’s perfect for the often macabre, geeky world of webcomics.
Fortunately, this makes for more than just a lot of dead cat jokes. Granted, there are some dead cat jokes, but there are also jokes about sex, metaphysics, crazy ex-boyfriends, the uncertainty principle, and interspecies wrestling. So much versatility in such a hypothetical feline. Here’s a sampling:
- In Dresden Codak, Aaron Diaz explains why the Egyptian gods hate quantum uncertainty (at least as it pertains to cats). Plus, there’s a bonus Niels Bohr joke.
- Schrödinger’s Cat becomes Schrödinger’s Cubicle in Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics. Toss a grad student in, wait a few years, and until he’s observed by a professor he both is and is not ready to graduate.
- In Questionable Content, Jeph Jacques looks into the quantum mechanics of fetish creation. It’s disturbing in a way that has nothing to do with dead cats.
- Zach Weiner (of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) made a Dresden Codak guest comic that looks at the thought experiment from the cat’s perspective. Incidentally, Weiner did another Schrödinger’s Cat comic for SMBC. It doesn’t turn out well for the cat. He also cracks a lot of jokes about Erwin Schrödinger’s unconventional lifestyle (he lived with both his wife and his mistress). Lots and lots of jokes.
- Jonathan Rosenberg’s Scenes from a Multiverse manages to squeeze Schrödinger’s Cat, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and Ringworld into four panels. He also points out that wrestling cats into a quantum superposition isn’t much good for the cats.
- Abtruse Goose finds an unexpected flaw in Schrödinger’s calculations. And then another.And another – more emotional – miscalculation.
- A very meta early installment of xkcd applies quantum mechanics to the four-panel comic structure.
- Luke Surl explains why the unobserved cat is most definitely dead. It also considers the quantum mechanics of A Tale of Two Cities.
- The words-on-a-chalkboard “comic” Surviving the World imagines a fight between Schrödinger’s Cat and Pavlov’s Dog. The syndicated newspaper strip Get Fuzzy also contemplated a fight between the hypothetical cat and the programmed dog, though not in such absurd detail.
- Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures takes on the structure of a text-base adventure game, with absurd and ridiculous solutions provided by the readers. When confronted with Probability Theory Wasps, the heroes of “Problem Sleuth” conjure a Shadowbox full of every possible alive-and-dead state of Schrödinger’s Cat possible. And man, are those zombie cat states hungry.
- R Stevens’s Diesel Sweeties riffs on quantum theory with a quick nod to Schrödinger in the presence of a very miffed kitty (Top Image).
- Meanwhile, Tony Piro’s Calamities of Nature tries to extrapolate the observer effect to the entire world.
- In Cat and Girl, Dorothy Gambrell takes us to the Broadway production of “Schrödinger’s CATS.”
- Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum’s librarian-themed comic Unshelved positis the phenomenon of Schrödinger’s Card Catalog.
- Greg Dean’s Real Life Comics suggests a larger cosmic phenomenon: Schrödinger’s Trashcan.
Amidst all these ways to skin a hypothetical cat (and its parent thought experiment), Cyanide and Happiness goes the straightforward route and just calls a dead cat a dead cat.