Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ursula K. Le Guin has long been fascinated by the notion that our world sees reality through a particularly dense set of glasses, fashioned by people who dote on reason as the only legitimate mode of expression, and who see themselves as the world’s only true intelligence. “By climbing up into his head and shutting out every voice but his own, ’Civilized Man’ has gone deaf,” she notes in her introduction to a short story collection. “He hears only his own words making up the world.”

In “Schrödinger’s Cat,” Le Guin takes on the reality humankind constructs by having both the narrator and the cat participate in a subversion of humanity’s rational experiments. Rover makes the fatal mistake of believing that his own mind can encompass all the realities of the universe. He engages in a search for certainty, even if the only certainty available is the cold comfort of knowing that God plays dice with the world.

The story alludes to Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), a famous Austrian physicist who helped develop quantum mechanics and who wrote a mathematical equation that purported to represent the possibilities that can occur in a system. Because this equation was based on a mathematical rather than a visual model of the atom, Schrödinger was able to reduce the possibilities of the universe to a finite number. Albert Einstein admired Schrödinger’s work, but said, “an inner voice tells me it is not yet the real thing.”...

(The entire section is 563 words.)