Schrödinger’s cat, Symington’s cork and fine wine

It all began with a discussion about Schrödinger’s cat. Why we were discussing the cat has long since been lost at the bottom of a bottle of wine, but there we were trying to explain the concept of quantum mechanics to monkeyAlex. Now, the idea that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time, and it is not until you open the box that you can prove the cat is dead or alive is confusing at the best of times. After a few glasses of wine it proved to be a little too confusing – resulting in many cries of “don’t kill the cat” and “call the RSPCA!”. Confusion reigned until my boyfriend Miguel came up with a metaphor much more understandable for a winemonkey – and a concept that has since been named ‘Symington’s cork’. You don’t know if a wine is corked until you open it, so you can consider an unopened bottle to be simultaneously corked and notcorked. “Aha” cried monkeyAlex (who is well known for her TCA-sniffing abilities) “I get it!”.

Cat in a box (not dead)

This concept of how perception affects reality came up again the other night with a discussion on fine wine. As anyone who has written an MW style essay, or indeed anyone who has written essays in the English school system knows, one of the most important things in an essay introduction is defining your terms. In the MW this could mean defining practicalities such as pruning or packaging or woollier concepts like the wine industry or fine wine. So, how do you define ‘fine wine’? Well, you could argue for a wine that sells well on the secondary market or you could make a more specific statement and say anything over a certain price is fine wine. But for me, fine wine isn’t about these concrete facts, but is something rather more nebulous. I always think of a fine wine as being somehow alive – they have a vibrancy to them and a feeling of joy and for me that is easily distinct from a more everyday wine that whilst may be enjoyable doesn’t elicit such an emotional response. And this brings us back to perception. If this vibrancy in the taste is a key requirement for me for a fine wine, then tasting the wine is what makes it fine. That is to say that in the bottle the wine is both fine and notfine – and it is only on tasting it that the quality level is perceived. Put another way, a bottle of wine has the potential to be fine but cannot be called fine until it is opened and enjoyed. If you’ve ever had a bottle that you kept for a special occasion and were really looking forward to drinking but then on opening found it to be dull and lifeless you might perhaps agree with me. And conversely there are those rare bottles that don’t promise much but on opening prove to be far more exciting and interesting than the outside promised.

And so to conclude with a quote from the Simpsons which nicely illustrates my thinking:

Lisa: If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?

Bart: Absolutely! [makes sound of a tree falling]

Lisa: But Bart, how can sound exist if there’s no one there to hear it?

Bart: Wooooooo…

Wooooo indeed. Here’s to fine wine, drinking it, perceiving it and enjoying it! For really, life is too short for bad wine.

Emma (scientific monkey)

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