Saturday, June 16, 2007


In science, the observer effect refers to changes effected on an observed phenomena, by the mere act of observation.

For example, in order for an audience to listen to a live performance of Verdi's la traviata, they must be present in the auditorium. By virtue of the presence of all these rustling, sighing (and in my case yawning) people, the acoustics of the auditorium are altered, thereby altering the observed phenomena.

Some performers may get stage fright due to the presence of an audience, altering it further.

I may begin to snore. My snoring has a high-pitched, flute-like consonance that, I feel, can only enhance the auditory experience we are describing. Nonetheless, the observed phenomena would likely suffer alteration.

As an aside, do not be misled into thinking that I am a connoisseur (nor even mildly tolerant) of opera. I enjoy all the meats of our cultural stew, but opera is the diamond in the stew. Everyone loves diamonds, but who wants to break a tooth on a rock when you're trying to enjoy some good stew, am I right?

So, back to the Observer Effect. I have a couple of questions, Mr. Wizard (RIP) :

Does observing evidence of the "observer effect" alter the effect?

Okay, but seriously: What about déjà vu?

Of course you know what déjà vu is, but scientists are still sort of puzzling out how it really works. After we got over accusations of witchcraft, precognition and prophecy, one theory used to be that different visual signals might take different neural pathways from your eyes to your visual cortex, one signal arriving picoseconds after the other, causing the sensation of having "seen" this thing before.

This, of course has been thoroughly dismissed as unscientific nincompoopery. Which is unfortunate, since it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of my most interesting question: If I observe a phenomena (thereby changing it, according to the observer effect), and experience déjà vu (thereby observing the same phenomena again), have I un-changed it? Have I reversed this specific instance of the observer effect, or simply compounded it? Have I un-observed?

How many people have "observed" the Mona Lisa? How many infinitesimal changes does that make?

Is someone observing me right now?

You see now, that I can write about pretty much any claptrap that pops into my head. My ninja master informs me I must use this power for good, not evil.

But before I do, let me draw a depressing conclusion from out of left field: According to the observer effect, perfection can not exist. Because in order for something to be perfect -- let's say, the perfect woman -- it must be subjectively judged by an observer to meet the stringent criteria of perfection. In absolute terms, these criteria are non-negotiable. Either you are (subjectively) perfect, or you're not. There's no such thing as more perfect, because perfection is, well, the best you can do, really.

If I observe this hypothetical perfect woman, my act of observation must change some aspect of her perfection, rendering her imperfect. Since perfection must be perceived in order to exist, and cannot be perceived without being altered, and cannot be altered without being diminished, it can not exist. Ergo liquet, QED.

You're thinking, "Hah, smarty pants! The object or person you deem perfect may not meet my high standards." And you are technically correct. This is, unfortunately, irrelevant. Even if you are the only person who ever observes this mythical perfection (from within, say, the confines of your isolated log cabin in the Jersey Pine Barrens, using a closed-circuit camera), this theory still applies.*

So the next time someone tells you that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, tell them to go fuck their hat.

Soon: Doggerel!

*The theory of non-perfection does not apply to imaginary girlfriends. Rest easy, chess-club.

5 uninformed opinions:

Leila said...

esse est percipi.
George Bishop Berkley

Cool Ranch Luke said...

D'oh! Way to compress my five hundred words of babbling into a concise three-word summary.

In Latin no less!

You know, that "perfect woman" example? That was YOU!

Sometimes I don't know why I bother.

Leila said...

you bother because the universe would be bereft without you ;-)

ps, when we finally get that lunch going i'll sing you my latin song...

Cool Ranch Luke said...

Holy shit. Is that like your Philosophy song?

Leila said...

you've heard it already? on the radio maybe? yeah, it's my latin-philosophy song! wow, it's a hit!