Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

On the Necessity of Including the Observer in Physical Theory

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

On the Necessity of Including the Observer in Physical Theory

Article excerpt


1) Requirement for an Observer any Theory of Reality

2) Projecting Measurement Instrument Characteristics into Reality

2.1) Do Bullet-like Photons Exist?

3) Implications of Observer Models in Special Relativity

3.1) Standard Critiques of Special Relativity

3.2) The issue of absolute space

3.3) Looking "through" a Coordinate Frame

4) Summary


All information from which a theory of physical reality is built comes to us through measurements. Measurement instruments interact with reality and produce measurement results as observables. In order to make any statement about the nature of reality it is necessary to apply our knowledge of the operation of the measuring instrument. We must trace the signals backwards from the observables through the measuring instrument in order to identify the physical cause of our measurement results and explore its properties. Though scientific development has provided us with many sensory extensions the ultimate measuring instrument is the human Brain. Here I use capital first letters word "Brain" to symbolically label the mechanism which we assume carries out these calculations in order to avoid the "naive reality" assumption that the observable brain (lower case) is actually the mechanism which performs these calculations. Figure 1 shows a diagram of a human observer who sees an apple in front of his nose shown in a thought bubble to the right of his Head. By applying his knowledge of his own measuring instrument he is able to conclude a real Apple actually exists in front of his real Nose. In order to achieve this conclusion he makes the "naive reality assumption about his knowledge of his measuring instrument. This assumption is that objects are in reality exactly where they appear to be. In other words his Brain does nothing at all so that it acts like a unity operator on the observable data as shown in equation 1.


Eq. 1 Apple = 1 apple

Once this "naive reality" assumption is made it is possible to identify reality as an empty space in which objects move about and develop a physical theory that defines what was believed to the nature of reality. Unfortunately today there is no knowledge of how the brain or its actual Brain counterpart produces the mental observables we normally see. This means our knowledge of reality is purely based upon a convenient assumption that can not be proven. Our actual situation therefore does not resemble figure 1 but instead is more accurately shown in figure 2. We do not know how the Brain works. We do not even know whether the observable brain is in fact identical with the real Brain. All we know is that if we believe things are really where they appear to be and we act as though they where really there then this belief works well to guide our daily lives until it ends. *


The question--"Do we see reality as it is?"--asked by Don Hoffman must be answered with a question mark (Hoffman 2015). We cannot know until we know, or believe to know, how the Brain works. Equation 1 should be replaced with a general explanatory function,

Eq. 2 Apple = X(apple, [alpha], [beta], [gamma], ...),

where "apple" stands for observables and [alpha], [beta], [gamma], ... are currently unknown structural Brain parameters.

Until the advent of quantum theory the implied assumption was that the Brain presents reality as it is. This X() reduces to the unity operator in classic physics mentioned earlier. Quantum theory has replaced objective reality with visualizations of wave functions and probabilities as a working assumption. The role of the observer is obliquely mentioned as the measuring instrument of last resort before the wave function colapses to produce conscious experiences (von Neumann 1955), however no explicit model of the observer is provided. …

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