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The Truth About The Schrodinger Equation From Criminal Minds

With an episode reminiscent of the classically enigmatic film Donnie Darko, Criminal Minds gets weird. In a twist on the usual disturbing serial murders, the Season 15 episode "Rusty" calls in a giant goat-like person and delves into the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics. While it's far from the most chilling episode of the series, it certainly stands out as more than a little strange, even going so far as to reference the Schrödinger equation.

In "Rusty," the team flies to Denver, Colorado, to investigate the beheadings of several fathers. There, they find the man responsible is experiencing delusions of a strange goat man encouraging him to kill in order to bring his son back to life from a parallel universe. Symbols from the Schrödinger equation, an integral part of quantum mechanics, are found on the bodies before they catch the unsub. While the episode starts to sound like science fiction before it crashes back to reality, there is actually a theory about parallel worlds that has its roots in the Schrödinger equation.

There could be a world where Schrödinger's cat is alive, and one where it's dead

In popular culture, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger is most well known for his Schrödinger's cat thought experiment in which a cat exists in a closed box with a poison that has a 50/50 chance of killing it. At this moment, the cat is said to be both dead and alive at the same time. Thankfully, he did not actually subject cats to this, as it was merely a way to think about small particles like atoms, which are what quantum mechanics is all about.

Schrödinger's equation therefore looks at the probability that a particle is in a particular state, or, sticking with the cat, the probability that the cat is dead or alive. However, there's a gap of knowledge between that state of limbo and the moment when the particle is observed (aka when we find out the fate of the cat). The "many-worlds" theory supposes that all options do actually happen, sprouting off into different versions of the universe. There would then be a world where the cat is alive and one where it is dead. So, according to this complex physics theory, there is another world where the unsub's son isn't dead. However, sacrificing a bunch of people is not what's going to get him there.

Seasons 1 through 12 of Criminal Minds are available for streaming on Netflix, while the last three seasons may find their way there eventually.