Observational paradoxes::Observation


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Observational paradoxes In some specific fields of science the results of observation differ depending on factors which are not important in everyday observation. These are usually illustrated with "paradoxes" in which an event appears different when observed from two different points of view, seeming to violate "common sense".

  • Relativity: In relativistic physics which deals with velocities close to the speed of light, it is found that different observers may observe different values for the length, time rates, mass, and many other properties of an object, depending on the observer's velocity relative to the object. For example, in the twin paradox one twin goes on a trip near the speed of light and comes home younger than the twin who stayed at home. This is not a paradox: time passes at a slower rate when measured from a frame moving with respect to the object. In relativistic physics, an observation must always be qualified by specifying the state of motion of the observer, its reference frame.
  • Quantum mechanics: In quantum mechanics, which deals with the behavior of very small objects, it is not possible to observe a system without changing the system, and the "observer" must be considered part of the system being observed. In isolation, quantum objects are represented by a wave function which often exists in a superposition or mixture of different states. However, when an observation is made to determine the actual location or state of the object, it always finds the object in a single state, not a "mixture". The interaction of the observation process appears to "collapse" the wave function into a single state. So any interaction between an isolated wave function and the external world that results in this wave function collapse is called an observation or measurement, whether or not it is part of a deliberate observation process.

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Observational paradoxes
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