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Architectural levels of observation

A commonly ignored yet fundamental aspect of time is what we call the architecture level of observation, viz., a non-mathematical description of the principles and processes underpinning any experiment. It is essential to state which architectural level is being used in any discussion involving time. Failure to do so can contribute greatly to confusion and cross-purpose communication, especially in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. We identify at least four distinct observational architectural levels, listed here in increasing order of sophistication.

Level 1: classical observation

In this the most basic level of observation, detailed modelling of observers and their apparatus is ignored, with a godlike, exophysical perspective being assumed for observers. Different observers are differentiated by their individual rest frames, which are identified with laboratories and apparatus. In this level of architecture there is a belief, sometimes stated as the principle of general covariance, that physical processes are independent of observers and their frames of reference. Therefore, states of SUOs are assumed to evolve independently of any processes of observation: however, how each observer describes these states is frame dependent. Observation is cost free at this level, so observers can in principle know everything possible about the current state of an SUO without affecting it in any way. Newtonian classical mechanics operates at this level of architecture. It was a ubiquitous paradigm of observation until advanced technology caught it out and a more sophisticated level of observation, quantum mechanics, was found necessary.

Newtonian mechanics, special relativity (SR), and general relativity (GR) employ this lowest level of architecture, differing only in how different observers’ frames of reference are related. Although SR and GR are based on more sophisticated models of spacetime and its geometry than the Newtonian paradigm, they operate at the same level as far as the processes of observation are concerned.

By definition, metaphysics is conducted below this level of architecture. Some sophisticated philosophical discussions do recognize the importance of observers, but do not go beyond discussion. A characteristic of level 1 statements is that they are contextually incomplete, but not necessarily metaphysical. Our classification scheme discussed at the end of Chapter 2 may help identify this level.

 
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