The Tao of Physics

The concept of an observer is what every theory in physics relies on. The observer has the ability to make observations, decisions, and come to logical conclusions. The observer we conclude is not just an abstract concept but must be alive and intelligent.

Consider that what we study in physics are objects that can themselves be observers in some sense but do not themselves make decisions or come to logical conclusions. Molecules, atoms, photons, subatomic particles, etc. do not themselves decide to go through one slit or another in the famous double-slit experiment. Instead we say that they have a wave-like nature. The observer in the experiment that observes the results is presumably made of the same type of matter being observed that in certain configurations does itself make observations, decisions, and come to logical conclusions.

Apparently then the plurality of matter that constitutes the observer in our experiment does make decisions while his or her individual atoms and molecules do not. Somehow the observer decides to move his or her hand and the individual sub-atomic particles in his or her hand, follow those decisions even though they individually don’t make any decisions to move. In other words, these particles are merely probability waves and yet if I decide what I want them to do, their probabilities follow my decisions and are not random. Therefore the observer is no longer detached from what he or she observes but is part of the observation itself like a snake eating its own tail.

A good example is what is missing from the famous Mr. Tompkins book where the speed of light is reduced to 30 miles per hour and Mr. Tompkins sees the light of a receding train turn red due to redshift. What is erroneous here, almost certainly for illustrative purposes, is that in this universe where light speed is reduced, Mr. Tompkins’s brain functions would proportionally slow down and he would not notice any redshift. Therefore the observer is indeed affected by the experiment itself and is not outside of it.

Consider the equally famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. From the observer’s perspective the cat in the box is in a state of flux. It is neither dead or alive if the radioactive material is behaving randomly. Now suppose we place the observer of the cat in a box with similar radioactive material, and we take the place of the cat in the box and observe the first observer’s box who is observing the box with us in it. Again like a snake eating its own tail. The first observer would also be in a state of flux from our vantage point.

We have a circular situation where the observer only knows when we are alive or dead if they open our box, but we only know if the observer is alive or dead if we open the observer’s box. If the first observer opens the box and finds we are dead, we have a paradox because we were observing the observer and did not open their box by virtue of being dead so the observer must also be in a state of flux, but if they were in a state of flux they could not have opened the box and seen we are dead.

This is really a manifestation of Russel’s paradox. This is a real paradox and our thought experiment is showing it in action in quantum physics. The point is therefore that the universe is paradoxical. In physics we try and avoid paradoxes as things that can not exist in reality and yet with our thought experiment we see that the actual physical universe is indeed paradoxical. Therefore an equation or experiment that is paradoxical is no less valid than any other experiment or equation. Furthermore we have a universe in which if time comes to a halt or speeds up or goes backward, no observer is able to detect it. Therefore if time is related to the speed of light (or information transmission), then the speed of light is always the same non-zero number (by virtue of us being able to make observations) even as we think that the speed of light could be zero or infinite or even negative.