Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Perception and operation in the definition of observable

  • 36 Accesses

  • 6 Citations


A discussion of the roles of assumption and abstraction in physics is presented, with emphasis on the fact that if abstractions are used long enough it becomes difficult to disentangle them from what is actually observed. The unclear meaning of the wordsame in the context of two observers measuring the same observable is also discussed. An observable is defined operationally as a list of instructions, and this definition also defines the wordsame in this context. Methods for the combination of these observables are presented. An observer decides whether or not a list of instructions is physically realisable by examining the states of the system, and it is shown how these states are based on the observer's powers of perception. Finally, an account of the operational nature of cellular space-time is given, the fuzzy nature of the cell boundaries is discussed, and it is shown how measuring rods consisting of ‘straight’ strings of cells may be constructed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Antoine, J.-P. and Gleit, A. (1971).International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 4, No. 3, p. 197.

  2. Atkin, R. H. (1971).Quantum Theory and Beyond, ed. Bastin, E. W., Cambridge University Press.

  3. Bohm, D., Hiley, B. J. and Stewart, A. E. G. (1970).International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 3, No. 3, p. 171.

  4. Cole, E. A. B. (1972a).International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 3.

  5. Cole, E. A. B. (1972b).International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 5, No.6, p. 437.

  6. Davies, E. B. and Lewis, J. T. (1970).Communications in Mathematical Physics,17, 239.

  7. Meredith, P. (1966).Instruments of Communication. Pergamon Press.

  8. Mielnik, B. (1969).Communications in Mathematical Physics,15, 1.

  9. Poston, T. (1971).Manifold,10, 25 (Universiy of Warwick).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cole, E.A.B. Perception and operation in the definition of observable. Int J Theor Phys 8, 155–170 (1973). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00680226

Download citation


  • Field Theory
  • Elementary Particle
  • Quantum Field Theory
  • Cell Boundary
  • Operational Nature