Observation

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Fiona Johanna Hoppe (18/11/2018, within the course "The Odyssey of Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz)

[NOTE OF THE FACILITATOR: 
(1) The comments of the facilitator will be edited using this style, brackets, 8 pt, color change. These will be introduced in between your own text to discuss and further co-elaborate the content. Whenever the authors consider to have addressed the issue, they can simply remove the comment
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[Dear Fiona, in general what you're plannig to cover is good, but maybe you are planning too many sections. 
In addition, you need bearing in mind that the purpose of the entry is to contribute to the general clarification of the topic. Therefore, the comment of the first paragraph, which in it self is an interesting autobiographical reflection, is something you can put as a footnote] 

Abstract

As I started the course by Mr. Diaz I did not know anything about philosophy. I just had heard famous names like Plato, Aristotle, Galileo, Copernicus and some few more about whom you talk in history class. During the class I got interested in the topic of observation. Due to the fact that everyone had a different opinion about a topic while discussing in class, I wondered if this could be the outcome of different observation.

In the following entry I will deal with the meaning of observation and what it means to observe for the first time. Furthermore, I will present a case I made with fellow students and talk about the relation of observation and knowledge. After this I write about the differences and the common aspects of observation and perception and the question if conscious and/or unconscious observation is possible. After discussing the link between observation and information I will give my understanding of Irvis Rock´s opinion on observation. At the end I will shortly present other opinions of philosophers and draw a conclusion.


(Any entry longer than 700 words needs to start with an ABSTRACT summing up the contents articulated in the proposed entry, and several sections initiated with a titles/subtitles.)


1. My understanding of observation (to see, to think, memory, etc.)

What exactly is observation? What is happening in our heads while observing? What is related to it and what is the difference between observation and perception? What has knowledge to do with observation?

These are all questions I asked myself by thinking for the first time about the meaning and the definition of the word ‘observation’. In a common understanding one can say that while observing you just see something with your eyes. That is also the definition that came to my mind firstly. But when you just see something with your eyes, can you make sense of the things you see? Or do you need other senses in order to process the data in your mind?

Looking up the word ‘observation’ in the internet I found an expression on Wikipedia. “Observation in philosophy: 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 analysed through either rational or irrational thought.” According to second sentence of this definition a human being can observe with all its senses. I will give an example for the necessity of observing with more than one sense: Imagine you hear a noise but you cannot exactly say what it is. By seeing the thing, e. g. a dog, you are able to specify the noise. By now touching the dog you can probably say which race the dog is from and by smelling the typically smell of dog you can be sure that this is a dog.

Referring to the entry of Elin Jonsson, I would like to mention the definition she gives of observation: “Observation is defined as a "detailed examination of phenomena prior to analysis, diagnosis or interpretation"”. Unfortunately, I did not find her reference but I am convinced that this definition os related to tabula rasa, i. e. the original state of mind before receiving impressions from the outside world (Wikipedia, 2018). The definition says that observation is a neutral way of gaining information without a deduction or drawing conclusions. It is just the process of examine a phenomenon or action without evaluation or judgement. In order to find out more about this topic, please read the article about perception in the glossarium BiTri (perception link).

As I read the entry of Elin, I really liked her description of the different types of observation (qualitive and quantitive as well as personal and impersonal), so that I will just refer to her article but not discuss it again in mine. But I would like to write about direct and indirect observation. As stated by Rock (1985, Perception and knowledge) someone observes through all his or her senses. In this case one can say that the someone does not think or uses his or her perception or knowledge. Instead it is the pure observation of information with the independence of perception. In contrast, indirect observation can be described as dependent on perception. The individual compares the observed object to former perception and to his/ her knowledge.

2. The first time seeing and understanding what you see, together with knowledge



3. Perception + understanding= observation/ observation + memory + consciousness = knowledge


definitions of several words and explaining the connections between the words


Talking to fellow students of this course we developed a thesis including all the terms we think that play a role while discussing the meaning of observation. It started with a discussion about the question if one can use observation without knowledge or if these two always go hand in hand with each other (see passage “4. Observation without knowledge: possible or not?”.


Perception: As stated in Seland (2016), perception is identified as how we interpret and transform the manifestation of an object into an insight with help of our sensory system. (perception in glossarimBiTri)


4. Observation without knowledge possible? (separated?) Elin: Socrates


In order to discuss the question whether observation can act without the need of knowledge, one has to take a look at the word knowledge. What is knowledge? Here I would like to refer to the entry in the glossariumBiTri about knowledge (knowledge link). To sum up this entry one can say knowledge is


5. Observation and perception? Where is the difference? Where are the common aspects?


6. Is conscious observation/ unconscious observation possible?


7. Observation and information (role of information)


8. Rock´s understanding of observation


9. Other philosophers´ opinions


10. Conclusion and my opinion after reading opinions of different philosophers




Klemen Cesar (13.5.2018, within the course "Odyssey of Philosophy and Information", facilitated by J.M.Díaz at HM)

This entry started as a part of my ''knowledge'' and ''communication'' entries, but turned out to be more than that]. It takes my beliefs on observation and compares them, to some extent to "Perception and knowledge" (Rock 1985).

In the entry, I aim to summarize my thoughts and my understanding of what I perceive to be observation. Starting with understanding how observation works, what it actually is and what are the outcomes of observation. I write about personal self-restructuration in order to observe more objectively. I end with my idea of the outcome, naming it perception. It could be debated if observation is the outcome of perception or the other way around, but that is a topic for another entry.

1.THE BASICS

1.1 How does observation work?

Most people think of visual observation, but in truth we use all of our 5 senses to observe our environment. We sense the space around us and build our reality. 

The way we observe is often very selective. We all have certain interests and beliefs. Therefore we automaticaly observe content in line with those interests, ignoring everything else that might be contrary to our beliefs. A coincidental example of that is the fact that started writing this article and when I was half way done, I researched a bit and soon found the work of Rock, that confirmed most of my ideas. Maybe I found others that dissagreed, but my mind was unconciously selective and decided to look deeper into Rock's "Perception and knowledge" (1985).

1.2 What does it mean "to observe"?

Observing is the best way of getting information from our environment. The item of observation is not feeding information to the observer. The observer forms new information mainly based on 2 things. A) What one can sense (see, hear, feel, smell, taste) about the item of observation. B) What one already knows (about the world, the item...). [B is not proper information, it may cooperate in the process of observation, but is not information which by definition incorporates novelty, refers to what is not know before the information was received. Use the material sense of informing: giving form to a piece of raw material, for instance, wax. If we want to impress a cast with the form of a shell in a piece of wax that already has exactly that form, we could not inform that piece whatsoever; we would just let the cast go against the wax without no resistance.] If the newly formed information would only be based on A, it would be information completely true to every observer, but since it is very hard for individuals to let go of B, everyone is observing their own reality, that fits to some extent to Reality [This is a constructivist or subjectivist sense of reality. What is call the realist or objectivist stance upholds that reality is what is there independently of the observer]. In case a where an individual would totally let go of B, the information could sometimes be incomplete [the beginning of this sentence is incomplete]. One has to know when to use his knowledge and when it is better not to. To sum up "to observe" means to sense your environment and to shape your reality based as much as necessary on your preexisting knowledge.

1.3 What is the outcome of observation?

Outcome of observation is perception [this is very arguable, as I explained in the conclusive session. Perception has been seen typically as kind of autonomous and previous to observation. This is argued by Rock in his paper. In most cases perception works autonomously, however in many cases, and this is Rock's main point,  knowledge influences perception. There are many examples in which no matter we know something has a particular configuration, our senses provides a different percept. This happens for instance, when a visual image offers few ambiguity to its direct interpretation, for instance, in cases of forced geometries that breach symmetries and counteract parallax]. We are always observing, even when we are not doing it intentionaly, our minds simply want to know what is happening around us [but this happens even more with perception]. But there is always a difference when we are observing. Every observation represents information taken from the environment. Observation is the best way of receiving information. If you are a good observer, that observes all the aspects of a situation, received information cannot be false [I think this cannot be uphold. We have a long history of scientific observations to be sure that this is not the case. The information can be ambiguos and we use a knowledge which is a false belief, eve though we can justify in some extent. The history of astronomy for instance is plenty of cases of this kind]. "Those that know how to observe, will never be disinformed."

2. SELF RESTRUCTURING WITH THE INTENTION OF OBSERVING MORE OBJECTIVELY

Everyone's goal, concerning their perception of reality should be to get their (delta) reality (the amount of deviation between our reality and Reality) as close to zero as possible. [This is a constructivist stance, see the corresponding entries in the glossariumBITri and refer to them].
I claim, our perception stems from previously received inputs. It is due to that, that if we want to change our perception, to a more true version, we are required to look within ourselves and manually restructure our own perception. [Here you are talking about knowledge structures. It is important to make it explicit, because you haven't mentioned what re-structuration are you talking about. Dretske's account and our discussion is worth considering here (Díaz-Nafría & Pérez-Montoro, 2011, in TripleC journal, 2 inter-related articles)] Consider the informational inputs that defined us, not to have existed and to imagine others in their place. To see ourselves as what, in a different environment (slightly or totally different), we could have been. It is impossible to consider all the scenarios and is up to every individual to consider those that will benefit his mind most. One should be capable of looking at one's own life and decisions from a third person's point of view, to be completely objective on any matter. 

3. THE OUTCOME OF OBSERVING IS PERCEIVING

In the previous paragraphs I mostly agree with rock Rock 1984, that says: 

“Perception is a source of knowledge but is knowledge a source of perception? There are two kinds of knowledge that might be considered to affect perception. One is consciously knowing what object or event is now being perceived. The other is information stored in memory based on past experience (or possibly the past experience of phylogenesis). In this study I argue that knowledge of the first kind ordinarily does not affect what we perceive but that there are exceptions to this rule. I further argue that knowledge of the second kind not only governs the final step in perceptual processing, namely recognition and interpretation. but that it also can affect perception itself. However, there are limitations to the effect that knowledge of either kind can have on perception.” [When you use a literal quotation you should indicate the source and the page]

But I have some disagreement with him as well. I claim that knowledge of the first kind (according to Rock) almost always affects our perception. When looking at a penguin for example, knowing that penguins are birds, makes you perceive it as a bird even though it doesn’t fly. When knowing what you are observing, your mind can use its past knowledge to create a representation of what you are perceiving.

The problem is that you cannot be certain of what you are observing. You cannot know what is your item of observation. You can only be very convinced you know. I therefore argue that “knowledge of the first kind” is just a belief that can be more or less true. It can also be completely false. That doesn’t change its role in this article.  For example, looking at a weight that has “1 ton” written on it or somebody tells you it weighs a ton. You can “know” it weighs 1 ton, so you perceive it as a 1-ton weight and if you only rely on your visual sense, for you, it really is a 1-ton weight. But when you try to move it, and are successful, you learn it not heavy at all. Now you are perceiving it differently, and you now know, with higher certainty how much it weighs. A similar situation occurs with knowledge of the second kind. If you saw a 1-ton weight at a previous time, but are now looking at a fake one, you will think it is the same as the one you already saw.

According to what Elin Jonsson wrote in her entry, I am talking about direct and indirect observation. Rock is reffering only to indirect observarion and he is splitting it into 2 parts [not at all, he is primarly talking about direct observation in which you can more properly speak of the alleged independence of perception. In indirect observation, perception cannot be independent, your perception have no direct access to the phenomena at stake]. In one of my previous paragraphs I state, with other words, that the most true representation of our world comes from direct observation and that our goal should be to only observe directly, because it would be ignorant to base new information on previous information. I therefore conclude, I am in agreement with Elin, as I was refering to her concepts even before reading them.

References

  • Rock (1985). "Perception and Knowledge." Acta Psychologica, Vol. 59, No. 1, pp. 3-22.



Elin Jonsson (23/5/2018, within the course "The Odysee of Philopsophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz)

Observation is defined as a "detailed examination of phenomena prior to analysis, diagnosis or interpretation". In this voice the subject will be further explained, problems and different subjects related to observation will also be defined and discussed. The voice is introduced by dealing with the phenomena, different types of observation and within which areas the subject is mainly used. Secondly observation and it's connection to information is discussed, followed up by mentioning some examples of using observation in scientific activities. Then knowledge and reality will be described and lastly some own reflections and thoughts about the subjects that have been brought up in this voice. 

1. Introduction to observation

We live in a world full of impressions that we get exposed to every day, such as different sights and sounds. These are interpreted and perceived in different ways. A person's senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) help the person to observe and perceive things, observation is one way to get some form of understanding of reality and relates to the subject "perception"

There are different types of observation and the subject can be used within several areas of study. One type is qualitative observation, which is when an individual note an attribute/something is missing somewhere or note that an attribute/object actually is there. One also talk about quantitative observation, which is defined as a numerical value one could count or measure and is also called the observed phenomena. Further on, observations can be useful in scientific activities, in that case data is collected to formulate and test hypotheses (Wikipedia, 2018) By observing natural and experimentally generated things and effects, scientist are able to collect a huge amount of evidence (Bogen, 2017). However, in philosophical terms, observation is explained as the process of filtering information one get from his/her senses which then goes through the thinking process. The receiver get input via their senses and then the the receiver process and determine these in an irrational or rational way. For example, you see a parent beat his/her kid; then you observe this event as an either good or bad action. Your thoughts about this behavior is based on experiences and thoughts of building relationships, or what consequences that could appear after this event. An observer is the one that observe. It is an individual involved in observation in some extent although could also be someone watching an experiment (Wikipedia, 2008). 

Torretti (1986) describes observation as a physical process, which connects an observed object to a physical system. The physical system is called the receiver, which can be  the individual that perceive. If the observation involves awareness, observation can be connected to knowledge. This might happens if the awareness is based on a person's opinion, in other words if the observation is based on what the person think or believe about the object. The observer can then learn from the observation and derive information from it. One can interpret observations with and without awareness as personal and impersonal observations. In personal observation the receiver could be a person's body, or a part of it (Torretti, 1986). In other words, the receiver could be an individual's senses, although the individual observe things either with one of the senses or a combination of some of those senses. However in impersonal observations the receiver can be different things such as a camera, a voltmeter or a telephone-bugging device or a human being. To make the impersonal observation known and understandable, the observer must observe the receiver by the observer’s own senses (Torretti, 1986). 

It is a clear difference between direct and indirect observation, this difference is relevant for philosophers to determine. The difference could be explained as follows: A direct observation collects information only from an individual's senses and is not affected by thoughts. In indirect observation, on the other hand, the observer bases the information on his or her previous knowledge. Although it is hard to tell at what point observation become indirect, due to one's memory and reason (Torretti 1986; Rock, 1985)Observation takes place through any intermediary, like a mirror. That is why many philosophers state that observation can only be direct observation, in a strict sense (Shapere, 1982). 

2. Observation and Information

Observation requires information from the observed object in the first place, then the observer is described as a system that collects information from something (Wikipedia, 2008). The observer is involved in information due to following definition of information: The probability of selection The first reason is since probability means chance, prediction and useful context. Secondly, the selection can only be understood based on the assumption of someone who selects. Information is defined as a function of the probability of selecting the possible messages. More specifically it is defined as the binary logarithm of the inverse of such probability. This value corresponds to the number of binary distinctions we need to do in order to specify a possible message within a given set. Aguado put in those terms since he wants to highlight that Shannon's definition seem to be objective, namely just referred to the information source, although actually it is encapsulating receptor's subjectivity through that selection (s. Endogenous information, Aguado, 2009)

Further on it is explained that using information as a measure of order creates a connection between information and observation as well. However, trying to distinct information from noise leads to the problem of observation. According to Shannon and Weaver’s theory, variety is an aspect that affects information and noise and might create a disorder. Order is what makes it possible for the observer to understand the difference between information and noise. Information could also be defined as a universal measure of order, for a system where the activity to select implicates a local order. It must be a balance between the order of selection and the observing systems that are involved, which is why there also has to be a functional and structural balance between them (Aguado, 2009).

3. Observation within scientific activities 

Since the time of Aristotle who mention several sources of observational evidence, reasoning from observation has been essential to include in scientific activities. However philosophers did not reflect that much about the meaning of observation until the 20th century, which was when logical empiricists started to think philosophically about observation. Most people thought of observing as monitoring and noticing unusual details of things that one perceive under quite natural conditions, or things perceived during the performance of an experiment. For example it would be to observe to look at a berry and notice its shape and color. Then to manufacture juice from the berry and apply reagents to test if there is copper compounds existing would be to perform an experiment. Although there where some philosophers, philosophically minded scientists, historians and socialiogists of science (Rober Boyle, John Herschell, Bruno Latour, Jim Woodward, Peter Galison are some of those) who considered the distinction between observing and experiments and saw the importance of the difference. This difference was firstly ignored by logical empiricists for a long time (Bogan, 2017). 

However, features from the linguistic change in philosophy made researchers to shift and concentrate on the logic of observation reports instead of observing things in natural and experimental ways. This shift is based on the fact that a scientific theory is a system made of sentences/structures such as propositions, statements, claims et cetera and those are to be tested by compare them with observational evidence (Bogan, 2017). 

The fact that reality is what you choose it to be has been demonstrated through an experiment in space made by some researchers. They demonstrated that a quantum of light is going to react just as a particle or a wave depending on how the physicists measure it. Through get photons from satellites, it is proved that an observer can make that decision even after a photon has made its way almost completely through the experiment, however well past the point at which it would become either a wave or a particle (Cho, 2017).

An additional example of using observation in an experiment was when some researchers proved how a beam of electrons was affected while being observed. It was shown that once an observer/quantum began to watch these electrons going through openings in a barrier, the picture changed clearly. If an electron can be seen going through one opening, then it’s obvious it didn’t go through another. In other words, when the electrons being observed they getting forced to act like particles and not like the waves. Therefore the experimental findings is affected by the process of observation (Weizmann institute of science, 1998). 

However, scientists do not often interact the objects they investigate with the perceptual systems of the human, which is a must in order to create perceptual experiences. Although the scientists believe the evidence they are in need of to obtain should rely without their perceptual experiences (Bogan, 2017).

4. Observation, Reality and Knowledge

One view of knowledge and how it is affected by observation is following: Knowledge one attains by the intentional actions is not knowledge by observation. However, knowledge by observation  can contribute with knowledge in intention, which is G.E.M’s opinion (Haddock, 2015). Further on she means that knowledge in intention is not knowledge by observation, although it can be supported by that kind of knowledge. When an individual attains knowledge from a happening it has to be stated by something, in order to create an intention. Observation though can aid an intention to be known in some sense. Although there are cases where knowledge of intention can also be known by observation, which is almost impossible to deny. One problem more related to reality is the perception of ”happenings in objective reality”. The main point of this kind of happening is the main point of ”an instance of a kind of thing whose instances are knowable observationally” (Haddock, 2015).

Mason (2018) describes the relation between the sensing or the observation and knowledge. She believes the combination of our brain's capacity to understand information together with our abilities to sense is the process that makes it possible for us to learn and gain knowledge. However, Socrates is a philosopher that does not agree upon that our senses contribute to get an understanding of the reality.  

Socrates lived a philosophical life through examining both his, other people's behavior, studying the soul and wanted to improve the human beings' moral nature. He believed in a personal God and reflected over what's the truth and his different view of reality was not appreciated by the inhabitants of Athen (Futter, 2013). One of his view of life that differed from the other people was that Socrates denied a connection between a person's body and the soul. Further on that the body does not contribute to attain knowledge (Mason, 2018). The reason according to Socrates is that a person's needs (food, drinks, sex, material acquisitions and wealth) is an obstacle when searching for knowledge. This since no persons have the same needs, people feel everything in different ways, they will see and hear everything differently and therefore the senses cannot be connected to gain knowledge. However, this position can be extended to the idealist tradition from Plato to the German idealists.

5. Own reflections about the subject

I have read several interesting articles about observation and it's related subjects. Furthermore I have got a wider understanding of the subjects and realized observation is more than just monitoring and noticing things in one's surroundings.

There are some subjects I will dig deeper into and discuss a bit further, also I will give my opinion about some of those.     

I believe the individual derives information or noise from observation in different degrees depending on how involved he or she is in the situation. According to my opinion every little particle in our surroundings give some type of information or noise that is possible to observe. I believe it is possible to observe things everywhere in all situations although it is not assured we observe it depending on our current mood and condition. One individual might during it's morning walk observe a cat sitting in a tree, another individual walking the same stretch although might not observe the cat at all. This due to one of those listen to music or to the news in their headset, then this person is not as observant as the person without headset who directly noticed and observed the cat.  

I will now tell my opinions about information, noise and knowledge since I find the differences interesting. After observing an object the individual/observer/receiver first get information or noise. Then the information can become knowledge if the information is completely new for the person, since he or she learn something from the observed object. Although if the information is not new and the person has observed the object or a similar object before then it is not knowledge for the person, however still information according to me. Is the object unclear and kind of a "disorder" then it is noise, for example when you hear a very bruising noise hard to describe what it comes from. I can to some extent understand the problem of observation, which is to distinct noise from information. Although it might not always be that hard to differ those aspects. I think if something is really unclear, you know it is noise since you cannot really understand what it is or what it comes from. Also if you can develop a thought about the observed object and get an understanding then you know it is information. Therefore you are able to know the difference if you are observant and listen thoroughly to your senses. Also if someone explains for you what the noise is and what it comes from, then it can turn into information for you. However, I would say the individual probably get more information and a clearer picture if one observes an object with more than one sense at the same time, it will also be easier for the individual to differ between noises and information. I mean if you only can hear with your ears a noise, it might be hard to tell what it is. Although if you also can see with your eyes what the noise comes from, then you might understand and it is not noise anymore.  

Another interesting subject I find interesting is the sensing process,. One could discuss whats behind our senses. Who sees through my sight, who decide what I should observe and how I should observe it. Is there anyone or something behind my soul? Or is it my soul who sees through my senses and decide what I should perceive, think and understand? Those questions are interesting to consider although I believe that I have a soul and that it in many situations help me to perceive and interpret things. It would be too easy if I only consists of a body, I definitely believe it is a soul within me.   

References

  • Torretti, R. (1986). "Observation". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 37, No. 1,  pp.1-23. [online] <https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.bjps/37.1.1[accessed 11/5/2018]
  • Futter, D. (2013). Socrates' Human Wisdom. Dialogue, Vol. 52, No. 1, p. 1-61.
  • Mason, M. (2018). Socrates, the Senses and Knowledge: Is there Any Connection?. [Online] MKM Rese@rch <http://www.moyak.com/papers/socrates-truth.html> [accessed 11/5/2018]
  • Wikipedia contributors. (2018, May 22). Observation. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:14, May 24, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Observation&oldid=842363576  [accessed 22/5/2018] 
  • Shapere, D. (1982). THE CONCEPT OF OBSERVATION IN SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY. Philosophy of Science,49(4), 485-525.
    [accessed 17/5/2018]
  • Rock (1985). "Perception and Knowledge." Acta Psychologica. Vol. 59, No. 1, pp. 3-22.    
    [accessed 18/5/2018]
  • J.M. Aguado (2009). "ENDOGENOUS INFORMATION". GlossariumBITri 
    [accessed 18/5/2018] 
  • Weizmann Institute of science (1998). [Online] ScienceDaily Edition place: Responsible organism
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/02/980227055013.htm  [Consulted: 27/02/1998]
    [accessed 20/5/2018]
  • Adrian Cho (2017). [Online] Science Edition place: Responsible organism  http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/quantum-experiment-space-confirms-reality-what-you-make-it-0  [Consulted: 27/10/2017] [accessed 20/5/2018]
  • James Bogen (2017) "Theory and observation in science"  [online] Stanford Enclypedia of Philosophy  
    Edition place: Responsible organism https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/science-theory-observation/ [Consulted: 28/03/2017]
    [accessed 22/5/2018]

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