Schrödinger’s GIF

Let’s have a look at this this tweet from about two weeks ago:

Mom: Lemme answer your questions about life, baby 5YO: If no one’s there to see it, does a GIF keep moving? M: 5: M: Play your video game

Good Question! We can ask Schrödinger for help.

One can set up a common case: We have some thumbnails of GIF images on a website, for example a page that presents a GIF collection. One of those GIFs is opened in a new background browser tab by the user. We don’t know how the browser preferences have been set by the user. Thus, we cannot be sure whether the content in the new tab will already load in the background or just when the user switches to this tab. Furthermore, there is a chance that the image is not even an animated GIF. But perhaps it is. There is no way to determine which kind of GIF is opened in the background tab until it is opened. It is both possible that the image in the background tab has finished loading or has not even started to load.

So, we have a GIF opened in a tab, but no knowledge about its animation status. We can resolve this by a direct observation and open the background tab and see if the GIF is animated. But until then the parameters are uncertain and therefore the GIF animation is both playing and not playing (just like Shrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive).

On top of that, the state of the GIF animation is distorted by our observation process. When we open the tab that before was only in the background, its state might change. According to the browser preferences it may be loading only when it is opened or beforehand (or never, e.g. when the URL is on a blacklist). When the tab is opened, it starts loading (if it isn’t already fully loaded). And we can not directly observe the loading state it had as a background tab, we can only assume it from our observation of the now opened tab.

So, next time when you want to practice some philosophy or brain acrobatics, just open a GIF in a new background tab.



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