In Search of Schroedinger's Reindeer

  • Thread starter Evo
  • Start date


This is a classic.


Physics refutes this. From "New Scientist" December 1989:

In Search of Schrodinger's Reindeer.

With the festive season upon us, many scientific minds will yet again
be attempting to solve that perennial chestnut, the Travelling Santa
Problem (or TSP). This problem was first brought to our attention by
the child prodigy, Vernon P. Templeman, in his seminal paper "Please
may I have a bike for Christmas, Daddy" (J. Appl. Window Shopping,
December 1988, vol 7, p 1-122).

In simple terms, the problem boils down to one of speed. How can
Father Christmas visit the homes of all the children in the world in a
single night, albeit 24 hours long? Templeman demonstrated that the
classical (sequential) explanation forces us to invoke
faster-than-light travel, which is somewhat at odds with current

Thus, he argued, we should infer that the Father Christmas effect does
not really exist. This contentious hypothesis was the subject of much
debate at a recent symposium held at the Santa Fe Institute for
Present Research.

Our initial thoughts were that Templeman had over-estimated the size
of the problem, forgetting that Santa only visits good children. This
would reduce the number of visits by a factor of order 10^9.

However, a simple back-of-the-lab-coat calculation shows that this
renders the problem no more tractable. This threw suspicion on the use
of classical physics. At this stage, the teachings of our old mentor,
Erwin Schroedinger, came back to us ("Famous people that we claim to
have known, honest", by Matthew Davies and Martin Slaughter, Annals of
Physics, 1983, vol 12, pp 379-381). From a detailed study of reported
phenomena, it became apparent that Santa shared many of the
characteristics of elementary particles, suggesting a quantum
mechanical interpretation of his behaviour. We have since developed
this theory, and are confident that a quantum mechanical model of
Santa Claus allows many of his observed properties to be explained,
and several interesting predictions to be made.

Clearly, viewing Santa as a waveform removes the apparent paradox of
his "presence" being measured in several locations within a short
interval of time. As the waveform collapses down in a specific
location (attracted, we suggest, by the Goodness Quantum number of
the recumbent child) it becomes perfectly valid to state that a
"visitation" has occurred.

However, our calculations suggest that the process of measurement (for
example, turning on the bedroom light) will almost certainly lead to a
localised, space-time instability which, in turn, will cause the
waveform to relax and render detection almost impossible.

Once again, this ties in with the experimental evidence that Father
Christmas is rarely caught delivering. Indeed, on those few occasions
when a sighting has been claimed in the literature ("Mummy, mummy,
there's a strange man in my bedroom" by S. T. U. Peedo, Journal of
Sleepless Nights, 1979, vol 5, p 35), closer scrutiny has often
revealed it to be an imposter wearing a red cloak and beard.

Moreover, the quantum mechanical model predicts that energies involved
in a waveform collapse will result in the emission of a jet of
sub-atomic particles. Studies of bedroom carpets in the vicinity of
alleged sightings, using an X-mass spectrometer, have often revealed
evidence of mince pion activity; though these have usually been
Hoovered up.

One of the most appealing aspects of our theory is the manner in which
it allows the most likely sites for visitation to be estimated. These
may be identified from the first derivative of the expectation value

d (Spot) |
d (Fireplace) | night

It turns out that the distribution of household chimneys is exactly
that required to act as a diffraction grating for objects of Santa's
predicted wavelengths, focusing the zeroth order onto the bedroom
floor below ("Chimchimmeny, chimchinny, chimchin cheroo", by Bert,
Mar. Popp. 1969).

Yet another predication which agrees with commonly reported
observations concerns the Christmas Stocking effect. Within
the general theory, the stocking would be expected to act as an
infinite potential well, momentarily capturing the Santa waveform.
The resonance within the stocking is predicted to transfer energy from
any batteries within the well (causing them to run out by Boxing Day)
before collapsing back down to a new ground state characterised by
a tangerine in the toe.

Apart from the successes reported above, the theory makes a number of
predictions about rather low probability events; that is, events
expected to occur in fewer than one hundred homes in the world each
year (for example, a full night's sleep for parents of under-8s; no
clothes given as presents; fairy lights still working from last year).
In order to collect the huge volume of data needed to assess these
rare events, we have decided to appeal to the scientific community for

Well as the few observations available fit the theory, a detailed
experiment to provide is now necessary. This
will require a vast amount of data to be collected with observations
from as many global locations as possible.

New Scientist's readers are, therefore, asked to maintain a Yule log
of the events in their domestic laboratories and to send their
results to the authors via the magazine.

Participants are requested to make a note of thefollowing:

(1) Their children's Goodness Quantum number;
(2) The approximate dimensions of their bedroom;
(3) Whether Santa visits and, if so, at what time;
(4) Their address and galactic bspace coordinates (or postcode);
(5) Any evidence of Charm or Strangeness;
(6) Whether Santa is seen to be spinning (needed to check the "No L"
(7) The number of presents left;
(8) The colour of his reindeer's nose (often quoted as red when seen
moving away at speed, but unknown in its rest frame).

On a note of caution, participants are urged not to try to localise
Santa as the delta p. delta x equals or is greater than h
relationship suggests that the energies involved could demolish a
timber frame building.

At a time when Europe is leading the world in fundamental physics
research we hope that this knotty problem can be resolved with this
experiment. The Americans are not far behind, with Senate
approval for the $12 trillion Turkey/ Anti-Turkey Synchronous
Santatron. Let us make sure we cook their goose before
they foil our efforts.

Matthew Davies and Martin Slaughter are physicists
working in the computer industry.
Last edited:
A sad day it will be when little-Bobby-physics-genius is told by his parents:

"Since you're 10 years old now, it's time mom and dad tell you the truth. It turns out the Santa-visitation operator isn't Hermitian. I'm sorry, Bobby, but Santa was just a figment of your imagination."


The truth is always hard.
Hm. Well I thought it was funny.

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving

Hot Threads