The Dead Cat:
ExperimentAccording to the Buenos Aires newspapers, my long-lost friend Ricardo Morales was found dead in downtown Buenos Aires just one week ago. His face had undergone a radical change, but his identity papers were with him, and initial tests identified him as who he was: Ricardo Morales.I lost touch with him about twenty years ago, when confronted with the country's increasing military oppression, we both ceased to pursue our university studies in Argentina. I came to the United States in the wild hope of eventually becoming able to help my people from abroad, or if circumstances permitted, back in Argentina. Ricardo, more courageous or more impatient, joined the resistance. He went underground and I never heard from him again until I read the news of his death today. And I was barely beginning to recover from the emotional shock when I received a note from him in the mail, which I presume was written a short time before his death. It simply says: "Please read the enclosed. I can't go on without letting you know why you didn't hear from me during all these years. --- Ricardo." And attached to this brief missive, I found a document with the following text:This morning at 10:00, Marcos Bardán assumed his position as Secretary of Labor. Bardán is a famous politician and union man, but his work in physics is utterly unknown. This work, however, was decisive in shaping his life and his political career. Hence, I shall describe it here. Bardán studied engineering and physics at the National University of Buenos Aires. He left the university, and having assumed a false identity for political reasons, worked at a private physics lab for the next five years.
He was very interested in quantum physics. This led him again and again to perform a modified version of Schrödinger's experiment, which he found quite puzzling. Actually, his own version of the experiment obsessed him. Nearly every week, he would put a cat in a box, aim a loaded shotgun at the box, and connect the shotgun to an amplifier, which if activated, would fire the weapon. He wired this amplifier to a highly sensitive piece of lab equipment which could detect electrons. This in turn was attached to a single point on a surface of paraffin. He would place this surface behind another with two holes in it, and shoot an electron toward it. Sometimes, this electron struck the detector, the amplifier was activated, the shotgun fired, and a cat was killed by the discharge. Other times, the electron missed the connection, and the cat survived.
To Schrödinger, the experiment raised questions about the validity of quantum physics. To Bardán, it raised questions about the identity of particles, and indeed, of all physical objects. For according to one widely accepted interpretation of quantum physics, the physical reality of an electron striking the precise point on that paraffin surface (to which the electron detection equipment was attached) was only a set of probabilities. The probability of an electron striking that point, and of the electron striking a point one centimeter above it, and of another one a centimeter below it, as well as many others, all together described the exact place where the electron was. Each electron was at once in each and all of the places where it was probable that it would hit. The electron detection equipment, however, was wired to only one point. Therefore, each electron Bardán had shot, both had and had not hit the connection. Each time, then, the shotgun both had and had not been fired. And the cat was both dead and alive at the same time.
How could this be? Was the universe of physics merely a world of chance and contradiction? This implication was absurd. Yet, Bardán did not know what to believe. In the obstinate hope of finding out whether this wild possibility was indeed, a fact, one particular night he decided to do what he had done so many other times: to return to his laboratory and perform the experiment again.
A few cats were sleeping in cages piled up against one of the walls. Bardán looked at them from the door. One of the cats meowed, dreaming. Bardán went toward its cage, took the cat out, and put it in one of the boxes he used for this experiment. Sleepy, the cat searched for a comfortable position in its new bed. Bardán observed it for a moment. Then he shut the box. He began to shoot electrons at the paraffin surface. After two minutes, the shotgun went off. Bardán rushed toward the box. The door had been almost entirely destroyed by the discharge. Bardán opened what there was left of it and a perfectly healthy cat left its temporary prison with a jump, and hissing menacingly, scurried to hide behind a large bookcase. Astonished, Bardán wondered whether cats might not really have nine lives. He then looked into the box: another cat --- identical to the former --- lay inside, dead.
Bardán did not publish this result. He secretly kept on pursuing his research. But the logic, or the mere physics of the phenomenon, did not interest him any longer. The technology did. For if the phenomenon could be reproduced at will, it would obviously have very significant applications. One might, for example, develop a certain sort of immunity to armed attacks. And even if, strictly speaking, one could not develop any such immunity, the duplication of any individuals produced would certainly render these attacks pointless.
Soon afterwards, his facial features changed by a surgical operation, Bardán --- or to use his real name --- Ricardo Morales --- changed his identity again, this time assuming the name by which he became famous, Marcos Bardán. He began to work in a metal plaque factory, and soon began to take part in political and union activities. He took part in many of the bloody demonstrations of that year. Ever since, his comrades called him "Nine Lives," because he was unhurt, even though the automatic weapons fire of the police often left a carpet of dead men around him.
Years passed. Bardán became Secretary of the Central Confederation of Labor. People respected him, but he was not happy. In fact, he began to become violently depressed. Finally, he committed suicide two years ago. Or rather, as he feared, he committed suicide and survived his own death. He became two identical persons --- identical except one was dead, and the other alive. To cover this up, Bardán cremated his own body in a furnace at an abandoned factory. But he knew what had happened and was faced with his fate. His discovery had been fabulous. Its application was now irreversible --- he could not die.
Bardán continued working for his country and its people, and living in a way that took account of his situation. But the awareness of his immortality took on a new significance for him. His point of view now changed. His urgency to create just social solutions diminished. His sympathy for the oppressed became more ambivalent. He could wait; but others could not. He was, in fact, condemned to wait for all eternity; while others had to struggle in the present. He lived in limbo; others lived in hell --- but one that would end.
The President offered Bardán the Department of Labor. He accepted. This acceptance unleashed a grave political crisis. His enemies tried to assassinate him. At 7:00 this evening, he was shot in a bar across from the dark and imposing San Carlos Cathedral. In the skirmish, various individuals were killed. Bardán both was and was not with them. His corpse is now being viewed inside the office of the Metallurgical Workers Union. But he is alive. In any case, this is certain: Marcos Bardán is not qualified to be the Secretary of Labor. He is not qualified to live as a human being. For these reasons, through this letter, Marcos Bardán presents his irrevocable resignation from the position of Secretary of Labor that he assumed this morning. By the time this letter is received, he will be out of the country, and living under an assumed name --- forever. Let the people understand.--- Marcos Bardán
From The Room with Closets
A. Pablo Iannone
Reprinted by permission
Austin TX 78765