Foundations of Science

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 213–243 | Cite as

The Observer Effect

  • Massimiliano Sassoli de BianchiEmail author


Founding our analysis on the Geneva-Brussels approach to the foundations of physics, we provide a clarification and classification of the key concept of observation. An entity can be observed with or without a scope. In the second case, the observation is a purely non-invasive discovery process; in the first case, it is a purely invasive process, which can involve either creation or destruction aspects. An entity can also be observed with or without a full control over the observational process. In the latter case, the observation can be described by a symmetry breaking mechanism, through which a specific deterministic observational process is selected among a number of potential ones, as explained in Aerts’ hidden measurement approach. This is what is called a product test, or product observation, whose consequences are that outcomes can only be predicted in probabilistic terms, as it is the case in typical quantum measurements. We also show that observations can be about intrinsic (stable) properties of the observed entity, or about relational (ephemeral) properties between the observer and observed entities; also, they can be about intermediate properties, neither purely classical, nor purely quantum. Our analysis allows us to propose a general conceptual characterization of quantum measurements, as observational processes involving three aspects: (1) product observations, (2) pure creation aspects and (3) ephemeral relational properties. We also discuss the important concept of non-spatiality and emphasize some of the differences and similarities between quantum and classical/relativistic observations.


Observation Quantum measurement Creation Discovery Intrinsic properties Relational properties 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio di Autoricerca di BaseCaronaSwitzerland

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