The human mind is an amazing tool, but it does go astray from time to time and some of our logical fallacies trip us up. The world of physics, particularly the physicists who are pushing the edge of physics knowledge, run into a lot of challenges that clash with the way we typically think about and understand the universe. Our physics today shows us where our logical fallacies lie and how we must tread the line of reason and nonsense to understand what is truly taking place in the universe.
One of the challenges that modern physics presents us with is the need to abandon the idea of objective observers outside the system. Everything in the universe is within the universe. That sounds obvious enough, but it means that everything that is, all matter, all energy, and any observer is in the universe itself. This is important because it means you cannot step outside the universe and look in to see what is happening to make observations and measurements. From the moment the universe began, it has been all there ever is, and there was never anything outside the universe as best as we can understand it.
Amanda Gefter tackles this in her book Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn where she writes, “Of course, if that was true, you couldn’t have an observer to make the measurement in the first place. The observer’s got to live in some kind of reality. That was the problem with Bohr’s view. If measurement is the arbiter of reality, then the measuring device has to sit outside reality—which even within the bizarro universe of quantum mechanics, is downright impossible.” Gefter wrote this in response to the challenges of describing particles within quantum mechanics. There are some properties of particles that you can’t define very precisely, or at least that you can’t define simultaneously. We also look at particles within the wave function, indicating that particles follow a general probability pathway until we decide to make a measurement and determine where they are and how they behave.
But, because we are inside the universe, when we make an observation we change the system. We shape the reality that we are trying to measure because we are matter and our measurement tools are made of the same building blocks as the things we are trying to measure, so everything interacts and mutually shapes and has an impact on everything else. There is no way to stand outside the universe and there is no way to observe and measure the system without interacting with it, and when you do, you influence the observations you make.