# Building the Observer into the System: Toward a Realistic Description of Human Interaction with the World

## Abstract

**:**

The theory of the Black Box is merely the theory of real objects or systems, when close attention is given to the question, relating object and observer, about what information comes from the object, and how it is obtained.— W. Ross Ashby, 1956 ([1], p. 110)

## 1. Introduction

## 2. The Black Box Model

#### 2.1. Systems and Separability

#### 2.2. Definition of the Black Box

**Definition**

**1.**

#### 2.3. The Black Box as a Model of Physical Systems

#### 2.4. The Epistemic Cut and Decompositional Equivalence

#### 2.5. Observer Dependence and “Subjectivity”

## 3. No-Go Theorems for Black Boxes

#### 3.1. Moore’s Theorem (1956)

**Theorem 1**(Moore, 1956)

**.**

**Proof (Moore, 1956).**

#### 3.2. A Black Box Cannot Be Bounded

**Theorem 2**(no-boundary)

**.**

**Definition**

**2.**

**Proof.**

#### 3.3. Corollaries

**Corollary 1**(no-communication)

**.**

**Proof.**

**Corollary 2**(no-external-reference)

**.**

**Proof.**

**Corollary 3**(observer-box equivalence)

**.**

**Proof.**

**Definition**

**3.**

**Corollary 4**(holographic-encoding)

**.**

**Proof.**

**Corollary 5**(free-will)

**.**

**Proof.**

#### 3.4. What is Physics about?

## 4. “Objects” within a Black Box

#### 4.1. Object Identification in Practice

- simultaneously accessible to many observers,
- who are able to find out what it is without prior knowledge about the system of interest, and
- who can arrive at a consensus about it without prior agreement.”

#### 4.2. Superpositions Encode the Unresolvable Ambiguity of Object Identification

#### 4.3. Objects as Internal Reference Frames

## 5. The Black Box as a Cross-Disciplinary Paradigm

#### 5.1. Formal Semantics, Device Independence and Virtual Machines

#### 5.2. Cognitive Science and AI

#### 5.3. Evolution and Development

## 6. Conclusions

## Acknowledgments

## Conflicts of Interest

## Abbreviations

AI | Artificial intelligence |

FAPP | For all practical purposes |

ITP | Interface theory of perception |

LOCC | Local observations, classical communication |

SGP | Symbol grounding problem |

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**Figure 1.**The Black Box model and two related concepts. (

**a**) An observer interacts with a black box by exchanging information with the box through a classical channel of fixed, finite capacity; (

**b**) The “environment as witness” formulation of decoherence permits observers to access information about a physical system only via the mediation of a surrounding environment; (

**c**) Decompositional equivalence requires an observer’s interactions with a composite system to be independent of the placement of subsystem boundaries within that system.

**Figure 2.**The observer within the black box. (

**a**) The observer is embedded within “the rest of the observable universe”, which by Theorem 2 is a black box; (

**b**) The observer is embedded within the environment postulated by the environment as witness formulation of decoherence, from which any information about systems embedded within that environment must be obtained; (

**c**) The observer is embedded within an observable universe that satisfies decompositional equivalence. Subsystem boundaries (other than the observer’s) within that universe have no effect on the information that the observer can obtain.

**Figure 3.**(

**a**) Two observers, Alice and Bob, interact with a black box; (

**b**) It is equivalent to regard Alice as interacting with a black box that contains Bob, and Bob as interacting with a black box that contains Alice. It is clear in this latter picture that Alice cannot determine by observation that an output from her box is a message from Bob, nor can Bob determine by observation that an output from his box is a message from Alice.

**Figure 4.**(

**a**) Alice interacts with a black box containing Bob, as in Figure 3b; (

**b**) Bob’s boundary within the box can expand arbitrarily without affecting the box’s interaction with Alice; (

**c**) In the limit, Bob and the box are identical.

**Figure 6.**(

**a**) An observer equipped with a meter stick and embedded in a world of multiple objects. The meter stick reports an outcome of “1” whenever an object with a linear dimension of 1 m is placed in contact with it. The observer has no ability to observe any features of the objects other than the linear dimension reported by the meter stick; (

**b**) The meter stick reports an outcome of “0” whenever an object with a linear dimension other than 1 m is placed in contact with it; (

**c**) A mechanism that places successive objects in contact with the meter stick produces a stream of binary outcome values.

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Fields, C.
Building the Observer into the System: Toward a Realistic Description of Human Interaction with the World. *Systems* **2016**, *4*, 32.
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Fields C.
Building the Observer into the System: Toward a Realistic Description of Human Interaction with the World. *Systems*. 2016; 4(4):32.
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**Chicago/Turabian Style**

Fields, Chris.
2016. "Building the Observer into the System: Toward a Realistic Description of Human Interaction with the World" *Systems* 4, no. 4: 32.
https://doi.org/10.3390/systems4040032