In the famous double slit experiment, it's often said that the presence of an observer causes the electrons to behave as particles. "The need for the "observer" to be conscious has been rejected by mainstream science as a misconception rooted in a poor understanding of the quantum wave function ψ and the quantum measurement process." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)

Why do some famous scientists and philosophers hold on to this misconception? I don't think it's out of poor understanding of quantum mechanics...

  • 2
    Can you give an example of a famous scientist who continues to hold on to this misconception? I haven't seen one in modern literature, but then that could just be me reading the wrong (right?) material.
    – Tim B II
    Mar 13, 2018 at 0:00
  • 3
    @TimBII No, you're reading it right. The op's statement is just plain wrong (at least with respect to scientists; philosophers will have to speak for themselves:)
    – user19423
    Mar 13, 2018 at 4:25
  • Looked up some writing of Bohr and Schroedinger and no reference to the observer being conscious. Remember that even in the famous 2 slit experiment that it is an inanimate measuring device and not a conscious observer. Mar 13, 2018 at 7:14
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is based on a false premise.
    – WillO
    Mar 13, 2018 at 16:35
  • 2
    The “Consciousness causes collapse hypothesis” (CCCH) is a relatively fringe minority opinion, but “rejected by mainstream science” sounds like it had been disproved or so, which is not the case. Probably the problem that motivates CCCH is that an unconscious apparatus is itself a physical and so a quantum system. But consciousness seems nonphysical so one could entertain the thought that consciousness is finally the point when the collapse occurs.
    – viuser
    Mar 26, 2018 at 3:01

2 Answers 2


From the perspective of experimental design the issue or question seems to be non-testable and therefore does not qualify as a scientific question. The design would need to show that under condition A with observation that collapse is present and under condition B without observation then no collapse is present. But condition B appears to be impossible because we can’t know the outcome without observing it.


A "poor understanding of quantum mechanics" is seen in the exaggeration of the observer's role. But also some confusion from history and philosophy of science. Since antiquity construction tasks have been discussed in geometry, without anybody asking silly questions about the imputed constructor. The coordinate system, a cartesian invention par excellence, has been seen (notably by Kojeve) to embody this otherwise absent subject. Einstein in his youth was an eager positivist and Special relativity became known for its insistence for the presence of an "observer"; actually this is a misnomer. Special Relativity mimicks the ruler-and-compass limitation and it still is mostly geometry while QM is not. There is an unsolved problem about the border separating the quantum domain from the classical. The hazy realm where to it can be conveniently located is consciousness or subjectivity.

Positivistic science which tries to construct "observables" without observers understandably runs into trouble. Philosophers have dabated to no end where is the border between subjective and objective: the observed by many people, by one or by no one.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .