Observer Quotes (48 quotes)
[There is] some mathematical quality in Nature, a quality which the casual observer of Nature would not suspect, but which nevertheless plays an important role in Nature’s scheme.
A favourite piece of advice [by William Gull] to his students was, “never disregard what a mother says;” he knew the mother’s instinct, and her perception, quickened by love, would make her a keen observer.
A good ornithologist should be able to distinguish birds by their air as well as by their colors and shape; on the ground as well as on the wing, and in the bush as well as in the hand. For, though it must not be said that every species of birds has a manner peculiar to itself, yet there is somewhat, in most genera at least, that at first sight discriminates them and enables a judicious observer to pronounce upon them with some certainty.
All true science must aim at objective truth, and that means that the human observer must never allow himself to get emotionally mixed up with his subject-matter. His concern is to understand the universe, not to improve it. Detachment is obligatory.
An intelligent observer seeing mathematicians at work might conclude that they are devotees of exotic sects, pursuers of esoteric keys to the universe.
As a reminder to the prospective observer of extraterrestrial radio noise, I shall conclude by offering the following motto for radio astronomers (with apologies to Gertrude Stein): Signals in the grass, alas!
Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.
Everybody firmly believes in it [Nomal Law of Errors] because the mathematicians imagine it is a fact of observation, and observers that it is a theory of mathematics.
For nearly twelve years I travelled and lived mostly among uncivilised or completely savage races, and I became convinced that they all possessed good qualities, some of them in a very remarkable degree, and that in all the great characteristics of humanity they are wonderfully like ourselves. Some, indeed, among the brown Polynesians especially, are declared by numerous independent and unprejudiced observers, to be physically, mentally, and intellectually our equals, if not our superiors; and it has always seemed to me one of the disgraces of our civilisation that these fine people have not in a single case been protected from contamination by the vices and follies of our more degraded classes, and allowed to develope their own social and political organislll under the advice of some of our best and wisest men and the protection of our world-wide power. That would have been indeed a worthy trophy of our civilisation. What we have actually done, and left undone, resulting in the degradation and lingering extermination of so fine a people, is one of the most pathetic of its tragedies.
History shows that the human animal has always learned but progress used to be very slow. This was because learning often depended on the chance coming together of a potentially informative event on the one hand and a perceptive observer on the other. Scientific method accelerated that process.
Hypotheses are cradle-songs by which the teacher lulls his scholars to sleep. The thoughtful and honest observer is always learning more and more of his limitations; he sees that the further knowledge spreads, the more numerous are the problems that make their appearance.
I don’t think there is one unique real universe. ... Even the laws of physics themselves may be somewhat observer dependent.
I have an old belief that a good observer really means a good theorist.
If we imagine an observer to approach our planet from outer space, and, pushing aside the belts of red-brown clouds which obscure our atmosphere, to gaze for a whole day on the surface of the earth as it rotates beneath him, the feature, beyond all others most likely to arrest his attention would be the wedge-like outlines of the continents as they narrow away to the South.
Imagine that … the world is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. … If we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules…. However, we might not be able to understand why a particular move is made in the game, merely because it is too complicated and our minds are limited…. We must limit ourselves to the more basic question of the rules of the game.
If we know the rules, we consider that we “understand” the world.
If we know the rules, we consider that we “understand” the world.
In a sense [for the Copenhagen Interpretation], the observer picks what happens. One of the unsolved questions is whether the observer’s mind or will somehow determines the choice, or whether it is simply a case of sticking in a thumb and pulling out a plum at random.
In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it.
In the end, science as we know it has two basic types of practitioners. One is the educated man who still has a controlled sense of wonder before the universal mystery, whether it hides in a snail’s eye or within the light that impinges on that delicate organ. The second kind of observer is the extreme reductionist who is so busy stripping things apart that the tremendous mystery has been reduced to a trifle, to intangibles not worth troubling one’s head about.
It then came into my mind what that most careful observer of natural phenomena [Amontons] had written about the correction of the barometer; for he had observed that the height of the column of mercury in the barometer was a little (though sensibly enough) altered by the varying temperature of the mercury. From this I gathered that a thermometer might be perhaps constructed with mercury.
Mathematicians deal with possible worlds, with an infinite number of logically consistent systems. Observers explore the one particular world we inhabit. Between the two stands the theorist. He studies possible worlds but only those which are compatible with the information furnished by observers. In other words, theory attempts to segregate the minimum number of possible worlds which must include the actual world we inhabit. Then the observer, with new factual information, attempts to reduce the list further. And so it goes, observation and theory advancing together toward the common goal of science, knowledge of the structure and observation of the universe.
Mathematics is a structure providing observers with a framework upon which to base healthy, informed, and intelligent judgment. Data and information are slung about us from all directions, and we are to use them as a basis for informed decisions. … Ability to critically analyze an argument purported to be logical, free of the impact of the loaded meanings of the terms involved, is basic to an informed populace.
No thinking observer was there at the “beginning,” [of the universe] although most of our personal nucleons, borrowed only for our lifetime from the nuclide pool, must have been there shortly thereafter
O, what a precious book the one would be
That taught observers what they’re not to see!
That taught observers what they’re not to see!
On the most usual assumption, the universe is homogeneous on the large scale, i.e. down to regions containing each an appreciable number of nebulae. The homogeneity assumption may then be put in the form: An observer situated in a nebula and moving with the nebula will observe the same properties of the universe as any other similarly situated observer at any time.
People declare as much, without, apparently, looking into the matter very closely. They seem able to dispense with the conscientious observer’s scruples, when inflating their bladder of theory.
People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that—and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I have spent more time than many will believe, but I have done them with joy, and I have taken no notice of those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?—but I do not write for such people but only for the philosophical!
Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated “building blocks,” but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole. These relations always include the observer in an essential way. The human observer constitute the final link in the chain of observational processes, and the properties of any atomic object can be understood only in terms of the object’s interaction with the observer.
Science began to be powerful when it began to be cumulative, when observers began to preserve detailed records, to organize cooperating groups in order to pool and criticize their experiences.
Science has taught us to think the unthinkable. Because when nature is the guide—rather than a priori prejudices, hopes, fears or desires—we are forced out of our comfort zone. One by one, pillars of classical logic have fallen by the wayside as science progressed in the 20th century, from Einstein's realization that measurements of space and time were not absolute but observer-dependent, to quantum mechanics, which not only put fundamental limits on what we can empirically know but also demonstrated that elementary particles and the atoms they form are doing a million seemingly impossible things at once.
Science no longer is in the position of observer of nature, but rather recognizes itself as part of the interplay between man and nature. The scientific method ... changes and transforms its object: the procedure can no longer keep its distance from the object.
Select such subjects that your pupils cannot walk out without seeing them. Train your pupils to be observers, and have them provided with the specimens about which you speak. If you can find nothing better, take a house-fly or a cricket, and let each one hold a specimen and examine it as you talk.
Suppose that you are in love with a lady on Neptune and that she returns the sentiment. It will be some consolation for the melancholy separation if you can say to yourself at some possibly pre-arranged moment, “She is thinking of me now.” Unfortunately a difficulty has arisen because we have had to abolish Now. There is no absolute Now, but only the various relative Nows, differing according to their reckoning of different observers and covering the whole neutral wedge which at the distance of Neptune is about eight hours thick. She will have to think of you continuously for eight hours on end in order to circumvent the ambiguity “Now.”
The chemical or physical inventor is always a Prometheus. There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. But if every physical and chemical invention is a blasphemy, every biological invention is a perversion. There is hardly one which, on first being brought to the notice of an observer from any nation which had not previously heard of their existence, would not appear to him as indecent and unnatural.
The discovery in 1846 of the planet Neptune was a dramatic and spectacular achievement of mathematical astronomy. The very existence of this new member of the solar system, and its exact location, were demonstrated with pencil and paper; there was left to observers only the routine task of pointing their telescopes at the spot the mathematicians had marked.
The experienced observer does more than merely report and recite. He guides the eager student to an understanding of the earth. He may chart the scientist’s steep, barren road of sober observation and strict deduction, or the artist’s gentle road of contemplation and empathy. And, finally, he may point out his own unique way, the path of the initiated, which leads him from the laboratories and libraries to the meadows and flower gardens of the living earth.
The great art consists in devising décisive experiments, leaving no place to the imagination of the observer. Imagination is needed to give wings to thought at the beginning of experimental investigations on any given subject. When, however, the time has come to conclude, and to interpret the facts derived from observations, imagination must submit to the factual results of the experiments.
The number of fixed stars which observers have been able to see without artificial powers of sight up to this day can be counted. It is therefore decidedly a great feat to add to their number, and to set distinctly before the eyes other stars in myriads, which have never been seen before, and which surpass the old, previously known stars in number more than ten times.
The observer is never entirely replaced by instruments; for if he were, he could obviously obtain no knowledge whatsoever ... They must be read! The observer’s senses have to step in eventuality. The most careful record, when not inspected, tells us nothing.
The observer is not he who merely sees the thing which is before his eyes, but he who sees what parts the thing is composed of. To do this well is a rare talent. One person, from inattention, or attending only in the wrong place, overlooks half of what he sees; another sets down much more than he sees, confounding it with what he imagines, or with what he infers; another takes note of the kind of all the circumstances, but being inexpert in estimating their degree, leaves the quantity of each vague and uncertain; another sees indeed the whole, but makes such an awkward division of it into parts, throwing into one mass things which require to be separated, and separating others which might more conveniently be considered as one, that the result is much the same, sometimes even worse than if no analysis had been attempted at all.
The observer new to the scene would perhaps be first struck by the varied yet symmetrical trunks, which rise up with perfect straightness to a great height without a branch, and which, being placed at a considerable average distance apart, gives an impression similar to that produced by the columns of some enormous building. Overhead, at a height, perhaps, of a hundred feet, is an almost broken canopy of foliage formed by the meeting together of these great trees and their interlacing branches; and this canopy is usually so dense that but an indistinct glimmer of the sky is to be seen, and even the intense tropical sunlight only penetrates to the ground subdued and broken up into scattered fragments. There is a weird gloom and a solemn silence, which combine to produce a sense of the vast—the primeval—almost of the infinite. It is a world in which man seems an intruder.
The sculptor does not work for the anatomist, but for the common observer of life and nature.
There is already overwhelming evidence that the visible matter within galaxies may account for less than 10 percent of the galaxies’ actual mass: the rest, not yet directly detectable by observers on the earth, is probably distributed within and around each galaxy.
There is no art so difficult as the art of observation: it requires a skillful, sober spirit and a well-trained experience, which can only be acquired by practice; for he is not an observer who only sees the thing before him with his eyes, but he who sees of what parts the thing consists, and in what connexion the parts stand to the whole. One person overlooks half from inattention; another relates more than he sees while he confounds it with that which he figures to himself; another sees the parts of the whole, but he throws things together that ought to be separated. ... When the observer has ascertained the foundation of a phenomenon, and he is able to associate its conditions, he then proves while he endeavours to produce the phenomena at his will, the correctness of his observations by experiment. To make a series of experiments is often to decompose an opinion into its individual parts, and to prove it by a sensible phenomenon. The naturalist makes experiments in order to exhibit a phenomenon in all its different parts. When he is able to show of a series of phenomena, that they are all operations of the same cause, he arrives at a simple expression of their significance, which, in this case, is called a Law of Nature. We speak of a simple property as a Law of Nature when it serves for the explanation of one or more natural phenomena.
These insecticides are not selective poisons; they do not single out the one species of which we desire to be rid. … Scientific observers at Sheldon described the symptoms of a meadowlark found near death: “Although it lacked muscular coordination and could not fly or stand, it continued to beat its wings and clutch with its toes while lying on its side. Its beak was held open and breathing was labored.”
We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds.
We have seen so many, and those of his [Leeuwenhoek] most surprising discoveries, so perfectly confirmed by great numbers of the most curious and judicious Observers, that there can surely be no reason to distrust his accuracy in those others which have not yet been so frequently or carefully examined.
When we speak of the picture of nature in the exact science of our age, we do not mean a picture of nature so much as a picture of our relationships with nature. The old division of the world into objective processes in space and time and the mind in which these processes are mirrored … is no longer a suitable starting point for our understanding of modern science. Science, we find, is now focused on the network of relationships between man and nature, on the framework which makes us as living beings dependent parts of nature, and which we as human beings have simultaneously made the object of our thoughts and actions. Science no longer confronts nature as an objective observer, but sees itself as an actor in this interplay between man and nature. The scientific method of analysing, explaining and classifying has become conscious of its limitations, which arise out of the fact that by its intervention science alters and refashions the object of investigation. In other words, method and object can no longer be separated. The scientific world view has ceased to be a scientific view in the true sense of the word.
Who will observe the observers?