The Cambridgeshire Cat

I have left the sunny climbs of Canada for a few months, in favor of the eternally sweltering UK.

In fact, I am visiting the University of Cambridge, which reminds me of the following quote from Stephen Hawking:

“When I hear of Schrödinger’s cat, I reach for my gun.”

Although attributed to him, I wasn’t able to find the source, so if anyone knows it then please let me know.

The quote has 3 possible interpretations (at least that’s less than quantum theory):

  • Prof. Hawking intends to shoot the cat, thus demonstrating that it is dead without a doubt and not in any kind of quantum superposition.
  • Prof. Hawking intends to shoot the bore who is bringing up this hoary old issue once again.
  • Prof. Hawking intends to shoot himself because he is so fed up of hearing about the apocryphal cat.

Whichever meaning is intended, I think I ought to be careful what I talk about in public around here.

9 responses to “The Cambridgeshire Cat

  1. Maybe in that book where Penrose and Hawking alternate in debate? It really sucks having my library in boxes as I can’t get into them to check.

    I wonder if, now that Hawking has conceeded part of his bet with Preskill/Thorne whether he now thinks that he needs to take a more humane approach to cats?

  2. I always intepreted this quote as meaning he would shoot the cat so that he wouldn’t have to hear of it anymore.

    This reminds me, I was at a party once and a nonphysicist started to ask me about Schrodinger’s cat – before he could finish asking, I blurted “it’s dead.”

  3. I don’t know what happened to the title of that post, but it’s fixed now.

    Hmm, the quote could be in the Penrose/Hawking book, maybe in one of the discussion sessions. Unfortunately, my library is also in boxes and several thousand miles away, so there’s not much chance of checking that unless I can be bothered to walk 100 yards to the math library.

    On another topic, it looks like there will be a trio of quantum bloggeurs at the Royal Society next weekend.

  4. Whatever he ist trying to shoot at, he is going to miss it. Such is the nature of quantum phenomena. I suspect that Mr Hawking is a card carrying hardcore determinist who makes short shrift with everything that he cannot explain in one sentence.
    So I will make sure that I never cross his paths. Nine lives are much too short in order to waste even one of them to someone who cannot not allow for doubt (i.e., for ontological uncertainty).

    The Cat that owns Schrödinger

  5. From a website:

    “Hawking is famous for his oft-made statement, “When I hear of Schrödinger’s cat, I reach for my gun.” This was a deliberately ironic paraphrase of Hermann Goering’s anti-intellectual quote, “When I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for my revolver”, which itself was from a play by German playwright and Nazi Poet Laureate, Hanns Johst.”

  6. * Prof. Hawking intends to shoot the cat
    * Prof. Hawking intends to shoot the bore
    * Prof. Hawking intends to shoot himself

    Or it could be a superposition of those posibilities

  7. When I hear of Hawking’s Gun, I reach for my cat.

  8. Philipp Brauer

    I think, Prof. Hawking intends to say, that if there
    is such a thing as a hybrid state of life and death or one accepts the many-world-theory, which some people claim, can be deduced from “Schrödinger´s Cat”, he will also be able to reach for a gun (to transform the hybrid state of cat in a definite state, the death); at least in some universes. But from this statement one can read, that he does not accept such interpretations or conclusions as the many-world-theory.

  9. The quote originated from the Penrose/Hawking debate following Penrose’s three 1995 Tanner Lectures. See p.7 in
    Here’s the quote with a bit more context: “Roger is worried about Schrödinger’s poor cat. Such a thought experiment would not be politically correct nowadays. But I have a lot of sympathy with Herman Goering who is reported to have said: When I hear of Schrödinger’s cat I reach for my gun.”
    The line Hawking attributes to Göring actually derives from a play by Hanns Johst.

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