Descriptions of measurement typically neglect the observations required to identify the apparatus employed to either prepare or register the final state of the “system of interest.” Here, we employ category-theoretic methods, particularly the theory of classifiers, to characterize the full interaction between observer and world in terms of information and resource flows. Allocating a subset of the received bits to system identification imposes two separability constraints and hence breaks two symmetries: first, between observational outcomes held constant and those allowed to vary; and, second, between observational outcomes regarded as “informative” and those relegated to purely thermodynamic functions of free-energy acquisition and waste heat dissipation. We show that breaking these symmetries induces decoherence, contextuality, and measurement-associated disturbance of the system of interest.
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