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Niels Bohr: distinguishing between 'observation' and 'registration'


Wheeler's drawing of the big U: concept of observer participancy
John Wheeler Scientist
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It's a picture to inspire thought, it doesn't record an experiment or a formula. There's the letter 'U'. The U starts with a thin stem, the beginning of the universe. At the beginning, the universe is small. This stemmed U gets fatter as we go up to this side of the letter. And at a certain point it's terminated by a big circle, and there, there's an eye sitting and that eye is looking back to the first days of the universe. We ourselves can get radiation today, and do get radiation today, from the very early days of the universe. But in so far as the act of observation has anything to do with what we do when we ascribe reality to what we see, then we can say, this observer who was brought into existence by the universe, has, by his acts of observation, a part in bringing that universe itself into being.

John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.

Listeners: Ken Ford

Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).

Duration: 1 minute, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008