The Role of the Observer in Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics

Although quantum mechanics has significantly advanced our understanding of the physical world, it has also been a source of great confusion. Myriad interpretations, and interpretations of interpretations, have been proposed to try and explain away the seeming inconsistencies which lie at the heart of quantum mechanics. All of these attempts at interpretation center on the seemingly intractable measurement problem. In this essay I argue that a number of interpretations of quantum mechanics are plagued by inadequate and misleading assumptions about the observer. These assumptions are based on a naïve “folk conception” of the observer. In discussing two phenomena studied in modern cognitive science, I will argue for a rejection of the naïve conception of the observer and adopt a more sophisticated view which offers a significant interpretational payoff. I argue that although the measurement problem in quantum mechanics appears to be a scientific problem requiring a scientific solution, it is plausible that the problem might be a pseudo-problem resulting from a conceptual confusion. The conceptual confusion is caused by naïve assumptions about the nature of the observer.1 Based on these arguments I will reevaluate a number of interpretations and assess the role of philosophy in interpreting quantum mechanics.
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