Observations form the basis for our most important scientific experiments, as well as some of our most important human experiences. But 20th century physics taught us that the structure of observations is full of surprises. For example, the strange world of quantum theory taught us that putative quantities like "the position and the momentum of a particle at a given time" are in fact unobservable. This is not just a practical limitation: it is a fundamental feature of quantum reality that position and momentum cannot be exactly and simultaneously measured by anyone, ever! Thus, quantum theory gives rise to a number of open philosophical and scientific questions about the nature of what is observable, as well as the limitations of observations.
Now, philosophers of physics Nicholas J. Teh (Notre Dame) and Bryan W. Roberts (London School of Economics) have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study the general nature of observables. Their project focuses on the mathematical language that we use to represent our observations, and will explore both the historical and philosophical development of the concept of observables in quantum physics.
The grant will take place from September 2017 until August 2019, and will involve both specialist and public events at the University of Notre Dame and at the London School of Economics and Political Science.