Observation is the active acquisition of information from a primary source. In living beings, observation employs the senses. In science, observation can also involve the perception and recording of data via the use of scientific instruments. The term may also refer to any data collected during the scientific activity. Observations can be qualitative, that is, only the absence or presence of a property is noted, or quantitative if a numerical value is attached to the observed phenomenon by counting or measuring.
The scientific method requires observations of natural phenomena to formulate and test hypotheses.It consists of the following steps:
Observations play a role in the second and fifth steps of the scientific method. However, the need for reproducibility requires that observations by different observers can be comparable. Human sense impressions are subjective and qualitative, making them difficult to record or compare. The use of measurement developed to allow recording and comparison of observations made at different times and places, by different people. Measurement consists of using observation to compare the phenomenon being observed to a standard unit. The standard unit can be an artifact, process, or definition which can be duplicated or shared by all observers. In measurement the number of standard units which is equal to the observation is counted. Measurement reduces an observation to a number which can be recorded, and two observations which result in the same number are equal within the resolution of the process.
Human senses are limited and subject to errors in perception, such as optical illusions. Scientific instruments were developed to aid human abilities of observation, such as weighing scales, clocks, telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, cameras, and tape recorders, and also translate into perceptible form events that are unobservable by the senses, such as indicator dyes, voltmeters, spectrometers, infrared cameras, oscilloscopes, interferometers, geiger counters, and radio receivers.
One problem encountered throughout scientific fields is that the observation may affect the process being observed, resulting in a different outcome than if the process was unobserved. This is called the observer effect . For example, it is not normally possible to check the air pressure in an automobile tire without letting out some of the air, thereby changing the pressure. However, in most fields of science it is possible to reduce the effects of observation to insignificance by using better instruments.
Considered as a physical process itself, all forms of observation (human or instrumental) involve amplification and are thus thermodynamically irreversible processes, increasing entropy.
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".
The human senses do not function like a video camcorder, impartially recording all observations.Human perception occurs by a complex, unconscious process of abstraction, in which certain details of the incoming sense data are noticed and remembered, and the rest forgotten. What is kept and what is thrown away depends on an internal model or representation of the world, called by psychologists a schema , that is built up over our entire lives. The data is fitted into this schema. Later when events are remembered, memory gaps may even be filled by "plausible" data the mind makes up to fit the model; this is called reconstructive memory . How much attention the various perceived data are given depends on an internal value system, which judges how important it is to the individual. Thus two people can view the same event and come away with entirely different perceptions of it, even disagreeing about simple facts. This is why eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.
Several of the more important ways observations can be affected by human psychology are given below.
Human observations are biased toward confirming the observer's conscious and unconscious expectations and view of the world; we "see what we expect to see".In psychology, this is called confirmation bias. Since the object of scientific research is the discovery of new phenomena, this bias can and has caused new discoveries to be overlooked; one example is the discovery of x-rays. It can also result in erroneous scientific support for widely held cultural myths, on the other hand, as in the scientific racism that supported ideas of racial superiority in the early 20th century. Correct scientific technique emphasizes careful recording of observations, separating experimental observations from the conclusions drawn from them, and techniques such as blind or double blind experiments, to minimize observational bias.
Modern scientific instruments can extensively process "observations" before they are presented to the human senses, and particularly with computerized instruments, there is sometimes a question as to wherein the data processing chain "observing" ends and "drawing conclusions" begins. This has recently become an issue with digitally enhanced images published as experimental data in papers in scientific journals. The images are enhanced to bring out features that the researcher wants to emphasize, but this also has the effect of supporting the researcher's conclusions. This is a form of bias that is difficult to quantify. Some scientific journals have begun to set detailed standards for what types of image processing are allowed in research results. Computerized instruments often keep a copy of the "raw data" from sensors before processing, which is the ultimate defence against processing bias, and similarly, scientific standards require preservation of the original unenhanced "raw" versions of images used as research data.
"Observe always that everything is the result of a change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and to make new ones like them."— Meditations. iv. 36. – Marcus Aurelius
Observation in philosophical terms is the process of filtering sensory information through the thought process. Input is received via hearing, sight, smell, taste, or touch and then analyzed through either rational or irrational thought.
For example, let us suppose that an observer sees a parent beat their child; and consequently may observe that such an action is either good or bad. Deductions about what behaviors are good or bad may be based on preferences about building relationships, or study of the consequences resulting from the observed behavior. With the passage of time, impressions stored in the consciousness about many, together with the resulting relationships and consequences, permit the individual to build a construct about the moral implications of behavior.
Empirical research is research using empirical evidence. It is also a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empiricism values some research more than other kinds. Empirical evidence can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively. Quantifying the evidence or making sense of it in qualitative form, a researcher can answer empirical questions, which should be clearly defined and answerable with the evidence collected. Research design varies by field and by the question being investigated. Many researchers combine qualitative and quantitative forms of analysis to better answer questions which cannot be studied in laboratory settings, particularly in the social sciences and in education.
The many-worlds interpretation (MWI) is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts that the universal wavefunction is objectively real, and that there is no wavefunction collapse. This implies that all possible outcomes of quantum measurements are physically realized in some "world" or universe. In contrast to some other interpretations, such as the Copenhagen interpretation, the evolution of reality as a whole in MWI is rigidly deterministic. Many-worlds is also called the relative state formulation or the Everett interpretation, after physicist Hugh Everett, who first proposed it in 1957. Bryce DeWitt popularized the formulation and named it many-worlds in the 1960s and 1970s.
In philosophy, empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. It is one of several views of epistemology, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiricism emphasizes the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas, rather than innate ideas or traditions. However, empiricists may argue that traditions arise due to relations of previous sense experiences.
An experiment is a procedure carried out to support, refute, or validate a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated. Experiments vary greatly in goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results. There also exists natural experimental studies.
A phenomenon is an observable fact or event. The term came into its modern philosophical usage through Immanuel Kant, who contrasted it with the noumenon, which cannot be directly observed. Kant was heavily influenced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in this part of his philosophy, in which phenomenon and noumenon serve as interrelated technical terms. Far predating this, the ancient Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus also used phenomenon and noumenon as interrelated technical terms.
An operational definition specifies concrete, replicable procedures that reliably produce a differentiated, measurable outcome. For example, an operational definition of fear often includes measurable physiologic responses such as tachycardia, galvanic skin response, pupil dilation, and blood pressure elevation, that occur in response to a perceived threat.
A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural world and universe that can be repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method, using accepted protocols of observation, measurement, and evaluation of results. Where possible, theories are tested under controlled conditions in an experiment. In circumstances not amenable to experimental testing, theories are evaluated through principles of abductive reasoning. Established scientific theories have withstood rigorous scrutiny and embody scientific knowledge.
In philosophy of science and in epistemology, instrumentalism is a methodological view that ideas are useful instruments, and that the worth of an idea is based on how effective it is in explaining and predicting phenomena.
Experimental psychology refers to work done by those who apply experimental methods to psychological study and the processes that underlie it. Experimental psychologists employ human participants and animal subjects to study a great many topics, including sensation & perception, memory, cognition, learning, motivation, emotion; developmental processes, social psychology, and the neural substrates of all of these.
Quantitative research is a research strategy that focuses on quantifying the collection and analysis of data. It is formed from a deductive approach where emphasis is placed on the testing of theory, shaped by empiricist and positivist philosophies.
Selection bias is the bias introduced by the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed. It is sometimes referred to as the selection effect. The phrase "selection bias" most often refers to the distortion of a statistical analysis, resulting from the method of collecting samples. If the selection bias is not taken into account, then some conclusions of the study may be false.
Observational astronomy is a division of astronomy that is concerned with recording data about the observable universe, in contrast with theoretical astronomy, which is mainly concerned with calculating the measurable implications of physical models. It is the practice and study of observing celestial objects with the use of telescopes and other astronomical instruments.
In research design, especially in psychology, social sciences, life sciences and physics, operationalization or operationalisation is a process of defining the measurement of a phenomenon that is not directly measurable, though its existence is inferred by other phenomena. Operationalization thus defines a fuzzy concept so as to make it clearly distinguishable, measurable, and understandable by empirical observation. In a broader sense, it defines the extension of a concept—describing what is and is not an instance of that concept. For example, in medicine, the phenomenon of health might be operationalized by one or more indicators like body mass index or tobacco smoking. As another example, in visual processing the presence of a certain object in the environment could be inferred by measuring specific features of the light it reflects. In these examples, the phenomena are difficult to directly observe and measure because they are general/abstract or they are latent. Operationalization helps infer the existence, and some elements of the extension, of the phenomena of interest by means of some observable and measurable effects they have.
Classical Newtonian physics has, formally, been replaced by quantum mechanics on the small scale and relativity on the large scale. Because most humans continue to think in terms of the kind of events we perceive in the human scale of daily life, it became necessary to provide a new philosophical interpretation of classical physics. Classical mechanics worked extremely well within its domain of observation but made inaccurate predictions at very small scale – atomic scale systems – and when objects moved very fast or were very massive. Viewed through the lens of quantum mechanics or relativity, we can now see that classical physics, imported from the world of our everyday experience, includes notions for which there is no actual evidence. For example, one commonly held idea is that there exists one absolute time shared by all observers. Another is the idea that electrons are discrete entities like miniature planets that circle the nucleus in definite orbits.
The ensemble interpretation of quantum mechanics considers the quantum state description to apply only to an ensemble of similarly prepared systems, rather than supposing that it exhaustively represents an individual physical system.
The following outline is provided as a topical overview of science:
Psychological research refers to research that psychologists conduct for systematic study and for analysis of the experiences and behaviours of individuals or groups. Their research can have educational, occupational and clinical applications.
The Romantics, in seeking to understand Nature in her living essence, studied the 'Father of Science', Sir Francis Bacon. The view of Bacon and the 'inductive method' that emerges is quite a different one from that that tended to prevail both before and then after, here mainly due to John Stuart Mill's interpretation later in the 1800s. For the Romantics, induction as generally interpreted 'was not enough to produce correct understanding in Bacon's terms.' They saw another side of Bacon, generally not developed, one in which nature was a labyrinth not open to "excellence of wit" nor "chance experiments": "Our steps must be guided by a clue, and see what way from the first perception of the sense must be laid out upon a sure plan."
Observational methods in psychological research entail the observation and description of a subject's behavior. Researchers utilizing the observational method can exert varying amounts of control over the environment in which the observation takes place. This makes observational research a sort of middle ground between the highly controlled method of experimental design and the less structured approach of conducting interviews.
The von Neumann–Wigner interpretation, also described as "consciousness causes collapse", is an interpretation of quantum mechanics in which consciousness is postulated to be necessary for the completion of the process of quantum measurement.
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