University of Chicago Application Essay Prompt Two: You Wanna Schroedinger’s Cat? I Got A Schroedinger’s Cat.

If the title of this post on Chicago’s application essay, prompt two, seems obscure, let’s first take a look at the prompt itself:

Essay Option 2.

Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).

Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS’07 Chemistry and Mathematics.

While the prompt allows and even suggests that you write about fields outside of physics, it is still helpful to know a bit more about the background to this prompt.   This might help you better identify an analogue, and if not, at least you have a better idea of what Heisenberg was talking about. In this post, I’ll give you the scientific context to the prompt, with both Hiesenberg’s idea and Schroedinger’s response, with links that offer detailed explanations that are easy to comprehend (with a little effort).  I will also discuss the genre of this prompt and errors that this prompt may lead you into, with an example.    I’ll end with some humor.

Background and Context of the Prompt:  Physics

Let’s unpack this prompt a little more and give it some context, as we did with the first U of C prompt.  The concept outlined in this prompt is usually called Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  You can find a good explanation of it on a number of websites.   This page on PBS gives a brief summary of the problem and Heisenberg’s proposition:  Heisenberg on PBS.  This next site also offers a quick and clear explanation, but offers much more detail about the mechanics of the idea; those of you with a mathematical aptitude will appreciate the annotated explanations of the math associated with the observations.  Go here to have a look:  hyperphysics.

Another good place to look is on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here.  In addition to concluding that you cannot know an electron’s position and momentum, Heisenberg also proposed that the path of an object comes into existence when we observe it.  Think about that, for awhile, and you may come up with a number of analogous ideas to write about.  For more on this and on quantum physics, along with some biographical dirt, go here: Quantum Mechanics 1925-1927.

As for Schroedinger’s Cat.,  Schroedinger, in response to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, proposed a thought experiment to illustrate the problem uncertainty raised.  Let’s just say that Schroedinger was not thrilled with uncertainty, and then . . .This post continues with a link to Mr. Schroedinger’s cat, then examines the genre of this prompt, after which it explores some problems you should consider before addressing this prompt.  If you like this post so far, you can access it as well as other protected or sample information on this blog by choosing one of the two options I explain below.  Future posts also fully available only to subscribers or clients will include analyses of prompts from Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other elite universities. 

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