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Observer (quantum physics)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In quantum physics, an observer is an entity that determines an observable (a property of the system state) by a sequence of

physical operations. The phenomena of the cosmos require an observer in order to be learned about and understood by us. The observer can take many forms, for example:

1. A person watching amoeba through a microscope;

2. A person watching an ocean sunset;

3. A spacecraft monitoring a distant asteroid (and transmitting data to earth);

4. A person conducting an experiment in a laboratory.

The ideal observer is one who causes no unnecessary perturbations to the system being observed. An observation made by such an observer is called an objective observation. In basic school education of physics and chemistry, we routinely assume that our observations are objective.

But reality seldom, if ever, provides us with ideals. The real observer always causes an unnecessary perturbation of some kind. Scientists must remain alert in their efforts to minimize the magnitudes of these perturbations. The extent to which they succeed determines the level of confidence they can claim in their results and, therefore, the certainty they can expect in their knowledge

of

things.

In

the 20th century, physics was forced into the position of re-evaluating the role of the observer, both in relativity and in quantum

mechanics. In relativity, the absolutes of Newtonian physics were banished, and observations obtained by observers in different

frames of reference became all that was available. These observations were linked through a system of coordinate transformations.

In quantum mechanics, the observer and the system being observed became mysteriously linked so that the results of any

"Let us ask a simple question: When you look up at night and "see" a star, what is "really" going on?A Newtonian philosopher might answer that you are "really seeing" the star, since, in Newtonian physics, the speed of light is reckoned as being infinite. An Einsteinian philosopher, on the other hand, would answer that you are seeing the star as it was in a past epoch, since light

travels with finite velocity and therefore takes time to cross the gulf of space between the star and your eye. To see the star "as it

is right now" has no meaning since there exists no means for making such an observation.

A quantum philosopher would answer that you are not seeing the star at all. [citation needed] The star sets up a condition that

extends throughout space and time-an electromagnetic field. What you "see" as a star, is actually the result of a quantum interaction between the local field and the retina of your eye. Energy is being absorbed from the field by your eye, and the local field is being modified as a result. You can interpret your observation as pertaining to a distant object if you wish, or concentrate strictly on local field effects." [1]

See also

References

The Observer in Modern Physics - Some Personal Speculations Categories : Fundamental physics concepts | Quantum

This page was last modified on 19 June 2010 at 13:20.

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