Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wave function build-up and the skier of Charles Addams: the gist

[Since people have ADD, I split my last post in two parts.]

This is known as a collapse of wave function.

In his book, Wheels, Life and Other Mathematical Amusements, Martin Gardner asks:
Single-panel gag cartoons, like Irish bulls, are often based on outrageous logical or physical impossibilities. Lewis Carroll liked to tell about a man who had such big feet that he had to put his pants on over his head. Almost the same kind of impossibility is the basis of a famous New Yorker cartoon by Charles Addams of a woman skier going down a slope. Behind her you see her parallel ski tracks approaching a tree, going around the tree with a track on each side and then becoming parallel again. 
Suppose you came on a pair of such ski tracks on a snowy slope, going around a tree exactly as in Addams's cartoon. Assume that they are, in truth, tracks made by skis. Can you think of at least six explanations that are physically possible?
In his Answers section, after listing the possibilities, he jokingly brings a cartoon by J. Hart. I call this situation a wave function build-up:

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