The Impossible Death of a Cat

(A Short Play because NaNoWriMo is too much work.)

This play is the first I have ever written and I thought I would post it here because, well, I can? Or I’m bored, but either way I hope you enjoy it.

I am not a physicist by the way, but I do know that new methods of delicately checking a quantum state without causing its destruction have made the example of the superpositional cat moot but hey, it’s a play about death and a cat! It made me snicker writing it.


The Impossible Death of a Cat

A large box rests on the stage. It is 6 foot tall and 9 feet long and 6 feet deep. The rest of the stage is black. A green glowing lamp rests in the center of the box. It fades in and out slowly, but the box is never dark. Beside the Lamp is a big bottle with a cartoony Skull and Crossbones of Poison.

 Within the box is a person dressed as a cat. The cat sits against one wall lazily holding its tail and flicking it back and forth.

 A loud peal of ominous thunder is heard and a robed figure walks into the box. The figure has a Scythe which barely fits in the box and a white skull painted face.

Cat: Ah there you are.

Death: Behold! I name you CAT,  I am Death come to end all you are, or could be! I… umm.

(Death looks at the cat, trails off)

Cat: Yes?

(Death seems confused, looks around.)

Death: Pardon, is there anyone else here? 

(Cat looks around the tiny box)

Cat: I don’t see how there could be.

Death: You’re a cat.

Cat: Indeed I am. And you are a particularly observant personification of the existential fears of all humans.

Death: Right. Yes. Look there has to be someone else here. I don’t do cats.

Cat: It’s just me and you in here your Death-ness. Have a seat.

Death: I cannot, I have many mortals to reap and this is a mistake. Goodbye Cat!

(There is thunder and stage lights flash, when it clears Death is still in the box.)

Cat: Hello Death!

Death: What?  I said Goodbye Cat!

(There is thunder again and flashing but it is weaker this time. Death remains)

Cat: And Hello again, Death. I suspect you aren’t going anywhere until the waveform collapses.

Death:(Sputtering) What is this box made of I… What do you mean ‘waveform’?

Cat: (Stretching): Ok, this is confusing but I will give you the simple version because who knows how much time we have.  I am Schrödinger’s Cat. I am a fictional example of how causality, or common sense, breaks down at the quantum level.

Death: You are not fictional, you speak. Most cats do not, but you are real.

Cat: We shouldn’t argue our relative reality here You are a personification of death. With the big old scythe and everything.

Death: (looking at Scythe and speak slightly petulantly) It’s traditional.

Cat: The point is, that glowing thing right there (points to lamp) is a radioactive isotope, and there’s a little device that measures if any subatomic particles have decayed yet. When they decay, that bottle with poison will be broken and I am a dead cat.

Death: So I was early.

Cat: Well yes and no. See the point of this morbid little box is that a physicist named Schrödinger was annoyed about new discoveries in quantum mechanics. He didn’t like the way they made no sense to him. It was proposed that a subatomic particle was not in any set state until recorded. So technically it wasn’t decayed or not until someone measured it. It exists as both yes and no until then. Keep in mind this is a gross simplification.

Death: I fail to see how this affects you cat, outside of your death the instant that particle finally decays.

Cat: Well that’s the trick. The particle is already in both states, it has decayed and hasn’t. It won’t be in a set state until observed.  And since my life in this little box depends on that particle, I also exist both alive and dead at the same time. Until someone observes a portion of the world it can exist as a spread of probabilities.

Death: That’s nonsense, you are alive speaking to me.

Cat: Yes, and do the living often chat with you?

Death: No. They do not. But your example is pointless. Whether or not someone looks in this box has nothing to do with if you are dead or not. It just is.

Cat: That was Schrödinger’s point. The idea was to take a quantum particle and link its state to a real world event, like a dead cat, to show how silly it was. He wanted to show that the idea of causality, and order were more important than this new weirdness. Schrödinger’s had some issues. I mean hell, he could have used a dog.

Death: I dislike dogs. They have a thing for bones.

Cat: Me too, go figure. So I am an example of how the illogic of quantum theory shouldn’t apply to the real world. So I am both alive and dead in the example until the box opens and someone looks in here. At which point in time both my waveform as dead cat, and alive cat collapses down to one or the other. And I don’t think you count as an observer since you are Death and all.

Death: I still fail to see the point of this. Imagining that something can be anything until experienced is hardly that world shaking. It is also rather egotistical.

Cat: True, but it implies that a humans perception of something creates that something as reality when they observe it, an infinite set of possibilities collapse backward into it. So it tweaks a lot of ideas about destiny and reality.

Death: You are speaking of religion and metaphysics.

Cat: (Nods): I could be, but I think this is more about ideas of reality than anything. Schrödinger was irritated with the way quantum theory was flying in the face of cause and effect and common sense. Unfortunately for him, things keep getting weirder and weirder as they study subatomic particles. Heck now they are studying some that appear to travel backward in time. Really.

Death: Why do you know this cat?

Cat: No clue really.

Death: Well then in the space of this example, you are both Dead and Alive until observed. How long have you been in this box?

Cat: I can’t remember not being in it actually. I have a feeling I may never get out one way or another. I think I’m trapped here. Like you.

Death: I am not trapped! I am Death so it is obvious that you are dead when they open the box. The isotope thing has decayed.

Cat: Could be, I would welcome it at this point. But I think you and me might be cruising down the other result. You know, they opened the box and I sprang out happy and meowing.

(Death nods and ponders this)

Death: So I am not here for a cat’s death, but instead for the Death of this “waveform” then. Everything linked to your death in this box. It never happens so this reality stops here. Collapses as you say?

Cat: I think so. So how would you proceed here?

(Death draws himself up and clears his throat.)

Death: Ahem.  Behold! I name you Reality!  I am Death come to end all you are, or could be!

Stage goes dark 


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