Schrodinger’s Cat: A Death Foretold

“In all cases, observed individuals behave or perform better than unsupervised individuals for a limited time if they suspect or know about the observation”(Rouse). The Hawthorne Effect, a psychological phenomenon, was derived from an experiment in the 1920s that aimed to see how workers would react under different conditions. This experiment started off with Hawthorne Work’s efforts to increase employee productivity by changing the amount of light on in the workspace. Initially, as expected, increasing the illumination of the area greatly increased productivity of the area.

However, when the lighting was decreased, the employees’ efficiency remained high. In an effort to test whether the lighting was the true factor the worker’s new productivity, the company did a series of tests wherein the workers were told when the experiment was being conducted, and when they were left to work as they please. In each experiment, regardless of the lighting, Hawthorne Works found that whenever the people thought they were being observed, production in the workstations increased dramatically when compared to that of the unobserved worktime. This Hawthorne Effect came to prove that people behave differently when under surveillance. Similarly, in 1935, Erwin Schrodinger conducted a thought experiment in which a cat was left in a box for an hour. Along with the cat, a vial of deadly poison was left as well.

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During this hour, there is a chance that the vial will break open, and an equal chance that the vial will remain sealed. In the case that the vial does break open, it can be undoubtedly said that the cat will be killed, and the opposite can be said as well. Therefore, until the observer opens the box to see the state of the cat, the cat can be thought of as both alive and dead. However, the moment the box is opened, the cat no longer has a ‘choice’; it can be undoubtedly stated that the cat is dead or alive. This was meant to prove that when something is left unobserved, it “can simultaneously exist in all possible configurations, but observing the system forces the system to collapse and forces the object into just one of those possible states”(Winter). As soon as an observer gets involved, there is no longer any ambiguity to the state of the cat; it is either one or the other.

When thinking of the concept, this is exactly how human beings act as well. Under the privacy of one’s room or personal space, one can act with complete freedom and without judgement, but the moment that this person is put under society’s ‘spotlight’, he or she is forced into a version of himself that may or may not reflect our true intentions. This person, like Schrodinger’s cat, is forced into a role when there could have been another option. This idea that the mere act of observation drastically changes people can be further examined through the characters in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. In this book, the trait of acting differently when observed is especially prevalent in the Vicario household, a relatively underprivileged family with three main perpetrators: Pablo, Pedro, and Angela Vicario. The twins, Pablo and Pedro are well known in the town as men who are “hard-working and of a good sort”, especially in the eyes of the society (Marquez 15).

In an area where honor triumphs all, these brothers were “brought up to be men”, and were expected to uphold the high standards of honor and machismo that was undisguised in the culture (Marquez 31). Under society’s eyes, these young men were ideal citizens, carrying out what needed to be done to preserve their family’s honor, even if it meant the loss of a life. However, the private actions of the twins are in direct contrast with how they act amongst a crowd. In fact, the twins had “done much more than could be imagined to have someone to stop them from killing”, but due to the role that society expected them to play, the Vicario brothers had no choice but to do what was expected of them (Marquez 49). When unobserved by the people’s eyes, the Vicario twins, much like Schrodinger’s cat, could have wanted to, or not wanted to commit the crime. However, the moment they stepped under the magnifying glass, they position on the matter had been set, and “there [was] no way out of [the crime]… It was almost as if it had already happened” (Marquez 61).

Simlarly, Angela Vicario, the sister of the twins, was placed under a similar microscope since the day she was born. The entirety of her life, she had been “reared to get married”, and it was known in the society that there was no woman better trained than she was (Marquez 31). Under the influence of the society, Angela Vicario was seen as someone with “a helpless air and a poverty of spirit that augured an uncertain future for her”, but it was ultimately discovered that this was simply the role she had been forced into (Marquez 32). When free from the judgmental eye of society, Angela Vicario “had nothing in common with the person who’d been obliged to marry without love at the age of twenty” (Marquez 89). The mere act of supervision and scrutiny forced her into a role that was generic and mind-numbing, when in fact she was a person with “very good judgment and a sense of humor” (Marquez 89).

In the case of Angela Vicario, the poison had almost killed her, bringing her to the brink of mental ‘death’. For every character in the novel, there are instances in which the pure act of observation changes aspects of their character. For the victim of the book, Santiago Nasar, these act of surveillance creates a great disparity in character and action. When unobserved, Nasar is a man who “grabs [his maid] … whenever he [catches her] alone”, but under the microscope of society, he becomes a man who is “handsome, a man of his word, and with a fortune of his own at the age of twenty-one” (Marquez 13, 18). Under the act of observation, he undergoes an obvious shift in personality that reflects valor, prudence and honor instead of a molester taking advantage of helpless women. There is an aspect of each individual’s personality that changes when placed under a microscope.

For some, this change in personality is due to what is expected of them. For others, this change is to hide some other aspect of their personality. Be that as it may, it can be conclusively seen that in life and in literature, the observer has a noticeable and significant role in the actions and behaviors of the people.