Observations about Observations on Observation

Posted on October 20, 2007. Filed under: Philosophy, Science, Spirituality |

Well, this is turning out to be quite a topic for me. This latest post is a response to fellow blogger Stonehead‘s response to my previous post! Whew! His detailed comment generated an idea explosion in my head, so it seemed prudent to create a whole new post about it. If you haven’t already, I invite you to read Stonehead’s comment here, then come back and we’ll chat.

Stonehead, I’m taking this opportunity to comment on several of your points. I am enthralled by your descriptions of “us”, namely humanoid earth-dwellers, as “unreliable instruments”. I don’t know if that term is original with you, but I hadn’t heard it before. I find it tremendously liberating: “Don’t blame me, I’m an unreliable instrument.” Seriously, though, I do know it’s a technical term, as well as a fascinating concept. Compared to a machine, manufactured to collect data but not interpret it, we are unreliable. I never thought of this being the reason that scientists argue about interpretation. I’d thought in their world, most of the time, anyway, it could be established that ‘data x’ plunked into ‘equation y’ yields ‘result z’. Shows you what I know. (NON-engineer, here, in case there was any question).

You believe that the recorded data doesn’t change, but you throw in “leaving aside the issue of built in distortion due to human error or deliberate intent.” Now I must ask for further clarification here. I suspect you mean deliberate intent by an ‘unreliable instrument’ to sabotage the device or experiment? Or do you use the word “intent” to mean something quite else? In which case, please see the next paragraphs:

Are electrical apparati really completely invulnerable to conscious influence? I think of the example of biofeedback devices. I know these measure a person’s heart-rate or breath-rate or some other voluntary or “involuntary” physiological system, which do alter according to the subject’s stress level. But why is it apparently more effective for a subject to watch a real-time graph of her/his skin galvanic response, say, than to just be told to relax and take deep breaths, in order to get his/her heart rate down? Does the machine affect the human, or the human the machine? Or both? It could be argued that all the device is doing is measuring what it has been designed to measure. But I’d add that the human is engaged in relationship with the machine during these events. The human response in turn changes the data being measured.

Then, there is the controversial use of random number generators. Among experiments and studies about whether conscious intention can affect mechanical output, those at Princeton University’s labs are among the better known. There is a lot of argument about whether the “Princeton EGGs” have indeed produced either statistically significant or important results, but in my opinion the fact that they produced any results at all which deviate from the expected at least causes me to want to study them further.

You use the good example of a video camera recording a mugging. I would agree with you that those images would generally be reliable. In most cases, even though there would be a spike in emotional activity nearby during the mugging, the camera is not likely to have a preference for how things turn out, nor is it likely that a surveillance professional is consciously attempting to direct her/his thoughts and preferences towards the camera at all times.

So, a video camera is usually a great eye-witness. I’ve watched enough cop shows to know that even if a completely objective and perfectly observant human were standing next to the camera, the video might be better because images are stored, they can be enhanced, sped up, slowed down, and they capture events in the background that humans wouldn’t notice. So, within the parameters of this agreed-upon reality, camera is king.

I can’t comment on your paragraphs 8, 9, & 10 without repeating them here, but I’ll just say they’re brilliant! What a fascinating way to conceptualize the differences in outlook between us humanoids. I will carry your comments into the world with me, particularly your moving and personal observation that “…understanding the nature of observation is fundamental to being more tolerant of others.”

My conscious inquiry still stretches into as yet undiscovered systems. I sometimes envision that inquiry as a long narrow stream, but your comments have helped me expand the stream into a river in places, and I thank you for that.


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6 Responses to “Observations about Observations on Observation”

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To me, our aspirationa colour our observations. The philosopher Kant argued that we all have a filter that puts our own slant on the ‘real’ world. This is the ‘unreliable instrument’. But that instrument thinks in the abstract and devises ideas of the world that people believe in, such as religions.
So tell me, if a belief in God produces actions in a society as if God was real, wouldn’t that society, in its actions, confirm an observational reality of sorts? Wouldn’t we observe a reality ‘ruled’ by God?
The upshot of answering ‘yes’ is that a scoially held belief provides a consensus that is observable to some degree. A reality thus becomes a result of observation and aspiration.
Now, observational machines provide a correct view of reality. Yes, they appear to do, don’t they? But let’s go to the ultimate observation.
To observe a subatomic particle, it must be bombarded with light. Unfortunately, ‘light’ is also made of particles, and what is actually observed is the result of a collision. Our observational process has directly intervened in reality to provide an observation based upon our actions.
Prior to this ‘observation’, the particle was in a probabilistic state – i.e. any possible position was equally possible. In observing it, it becomes definite. So who has created this ‘definite’ observational fact?
It has been a duality of reality and our observation of it – through a machine!
Okay, this is observation in the extreme, and not a video of a mugging. But the question is: does this particle effect, in existing, bear some relation to observation in the ‘real’ world we experience?
If we say yes, then mayber what the machine observes is also a reflection of the ‘consensus’ of what we expect to see.

Heavy duty intelligent writings from both of u…I will not comment on it right now as the only thing I know is 1+1=2..loll!! I’m kidding… But I will come back to read this post again and will have to read ur discussion on Anthony’s blog too to better understand it…Very interesting subject….

Have a nice weekend u both..

Colourful Vision

Anthony, my you have a mind and a half. I’m pleased you have left some of its contents here. There is a lot of discussion going on these days about whether quantum phenomena have any application to “everyday” experience. You point out that most wouldn’t find such forces at play in a video camera. I maintain, apparently like you, that they must be! A system doesn’t shut down just because consensus instead of focus is chosen. Once we’re aware of the workings of the “extremely small”–and ironically have accepted the consensus that such workings exist, having “observed” them, even using instruments–then how can we expect such workings to shut themselves off at a certain point when “matter” becomes too “macro” to accommodate them?

A reality thus becomes a result of observation and aspiration”. Aspiration! A different word than consensus. I like it for many reasons and definitions. I’m putting that one in my tool box.

“…then maybe what the machine observes is also a reflection of the ‘consensus’ of what we expect to see”. Yes, indeed! Machines measure what they are designed to measure (if working properly) but there is so much intention and expectation designed into every nut and bolt! How can they be else but reflection of consensus?

I read a book review recently (I sure wish I remember which book) which has as its premise the “fact” that little understood or paranormal phenomena is slowly being “proved” by the very science which seeks to disprove it. A new consensus may hover on the horizon.

Colourful V, thank you for sticking with it and being willing to delve more into it all. I’m beginning to think some of my commenters make me work too hard! 😉 But that of course is not the case. They stretch my mind (ouch!) and I love every minute of it. I’m hoping to “lighten up” a little soon…

I keep trying to find time to write answers to you questions and further refine my thoughts, but times does not permit!
I will try, honestly! Just not today…

Argh, and I’m writing so fast my English skills have flown out the window and joined the pigs.

Well, Stone, the pigs need you more than I do at the moment…not to mention the potatoes, and your own blog! I AM grateful for your interest in this subject and eagerly anticipate your further thoughts. Take your time. The post, and the topic aren’t going anywhere (so to speak).

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