Observing and the Observer Effect (was Mindless Thought Experiments)

From: Lee Corbin (lcorbin@rawbw.com)
Date: Mon Mar 03 2008 - 23:41:40 MST

Krekoski writes

> hmmm, lets define this a bit clearer. When Stathis mentioned that it had
> no input or output, I assumed that it was not causally interactive with anything.

But he said it was right in front of him and that he did not
understand its architecture.

> If it has causal interaction, then I take back the statement that its not
> a useful question.

Yeah, well, it at least does reflect photons evidently, and we can
measure its mass :-)

> However we still have to deal with Heisenberg. By tinkering with
> or observing its insides are we disturbing the natural flow of its
> simulation of an apple?

That would be a real danger, all right. It could be so delicate that
as you say, it cannot be observed without changing it.

> Are we disturbing it, in fact, in the exact same way as observing
> a 'real' apple would disturb an apple?

I claim that we never disturb an apple by observing it, though the
word "observe" is too often used by people in unusual ways. To me,
an apple under ordinary conditions is already reflecting light. We
don't do anything to it, just collect those photons later, perhaps
much later, and perhaps very very far away. The point is that
it stays very much an apple regardless.

The observer effect comes up when we have to deliberately
send signals to something to learn about it, and thereby alter it
(to put it as simply as I can in a way that's still relevant).

> If by observing its internal processes we cause different consequences
> for the simulated apple than we would with the real apple, I wonder if
> it can still be said to be simulating an apple.

The question would be, "how different are those consequences"?
They could be sufficiently great so as to violate its "apple nature", i.e.,
it would no longer be in the "space" of all apples. Under such
change, the device could no longer be said to be simulating an apple.


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