Volume 10 · Number 2 · Pages 227–237
What Can the Global Observer Know?

Diana Gasparyan

Log in to download the full text for free

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Context: The detection of objective reality, truth, and lies are still heated topics in epistemology. When discussing these topics, philosophers often resort to certain thought experiments, engaging an important concept that can be broadly identified as “the global observer.” It relates to Putnam’s God’s Eye, Davidson’s Omniscient Interpreter, and the ultimate observer in quantum physics, among others. Problem: The article explores the notion of the global observer as the guarantor of the determinability and configuration of events in the world. It analyzes the consistency of the notion “global observer” from the standpoint of logic and philosophy, and discusses why application of this notion in some contexts poses challenges and appears to be paradoxical. Method: The paper uses conceptual methods of argumentation, such as logical (deduction) and philosophical (phenomenology) kinds of proof. Its key approach is the engagement of thought experiments. Results: The notion of a global observer is incoherent: “being global” and “being an observer” appear to be incompatible features. It is claimed that from the standpoint of global observation, there are no events occurring in the world. Furthermore, the indefiniteness of the world as a whole is asserted, which is related to the uninformedness of the global observer regarding the “true state of affairs.” “Global observation” turns out to be incompatible with the concept of the observer, blocking, as a result, the opportunity for a determinable configuration of events. It only makes sense to discuss local observations, which are limited to mutual observation or introspections, and not to assume the existence of some absolute truth, reality, or the state of affairs beyond the local observations. Constructivist content: The article emphasizes the role of the observer and observation. It opens up some problematic consequences of the core philosophical assumptions of globally observing existence. Referring to von Foerster’s and Luhmann’s idea that we can only speak reasonably about local observations, the paper argues that reality is neither external to nor independent of the observer. Implications: The paper could be productive for epistemic theories, theories of quantum physics, and theories of non-classical logic.

Key words: Global observer, ultimate observer, omniscient observer, ideal observer, omniscient interpreter, local observer, limited observer, event, truth.


Gasparyan D. (2015) What can the global observer know? Constructivist Foundations 10(2): 227–237. http://constructivist.info/10/2/227

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Gasparyan D. (2015) Author’s Response: Denying the Global Observer
Gasparyan D. (2016) Not to Avoid But Legitimize: Why the Gap Could Be Natural For the Enactive World
Gasparyan D. (2020) Author’s Response: Semiosis as a Systemic Process of Interpretation in Conditions of Indeterminacy
Gasparyan D. (2016) What Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? The Model of Circularity as a Model of Mutual Referentiality
Gasparyan D. (2020) Semiosis as Eigenform and Observation as Recursive Interpretation


Armstrong D. (1997) A world of states of affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1956) Introduction to cybernetics. Chapman and Hall, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Badiou A. (2005) Being and event. Translated by Oliver Feltham. Continuum, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Badiou A. (2007) Being and event. Translated by Oliver Feltham. Paperback reprint of the 2005 edition. Continuum, London. Originally published in French as: Badiou A. (1988) L’être et l’évènement. Editions du Seuil, Paris. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Baldwin J. M. (2000) Thought and things. Volume 1. Adamant Media Corporation, Chestnut Hill MA. Originally published in 1906. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bateson G. (1987) Steps to an ecology of mind. Jason Aronson, New Jersey. Originally published in 1972. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bennett J. (1996) What events are. In: Casati R. & Varzi A. C. (eds.) Events. Aldershot, Dartmouth: 137–151. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Berkeley G. (1957) Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. In: Luce A. A. & Jessop T. E. (eds.) The works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. Volume 2. Thomas Nelson and Sons, London: 163–263. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bishop R. C. (2002) Deterministic and indeterministic descriptions. In: Atmanspacher H. & Bishop R. (eds.) Between chance and choice. Imprint Academic, Exeter UK: 5–31. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bongard J., Zykov V. & Lipson H. (2006) Resilient machines through continuous self-modeling. Science 314: 1118–1121. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bovens L. & Hartmann S. (2003) Bayesian epistemology. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brandt R. B. (1959) Ethical theory: The problems of normative and critical ethic. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brentano F. (1966) The true and the evident. Translated by Roderick Chisholm, Ilse Politzer, and Kurt Fischer. London: Routledge. German original published in 1930. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brueckner A. (1991) The omniscient interpreter rides again. Analysis 51(4): 199–205. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brueckner A. (1999) The super-omniscient interpreter. Philosophical Quarterly 50: 526–528. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cariani P. (1989) On the design of devices with emergent semantic functions. Ph.D thesis., State University of New York at Binghamton. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cariani P. (1992) Emergence and artificial life. In: Langton C. G., Taylor C., Farmer J. D. & Rasmussen S. (eds.) Artificial life II. Addison-Wesley, Redwood City CA: 775–798. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cariani P. (2012) Infinity and the observer: Radical constructivism and the foundations of mathematics. Constructivist Foundations 7(2): 116–125. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/7/2/116.cariani
Cariani P. (in press) Sign functions in natural and artificial systems. In: Trifonas P. P. International handbook of semiotics. Springer, New York: Chapter 42. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Castañeda H.-N. (1967) Omniscience and indexical reference. Journal of Philosophy 64: 203–210. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Chisholm R. (1976) Knowledge and belief: “De dicto” and “de se.” Philosophical Studies 29: 1–20. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Davidson D. (1969) The individuation of events. In: Rescher N. (ed.) Essays in honor of Carl G. Hempel. Reidel, Dordrecht: 216–234. Reprinted in: Casati R. & Varzi A. C. (eds.) (1996) Events. Aldershot, Dartmouth: 256–283. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Davidson D. (2001) A coherence theory of truth and knowledge. In: Davidson D., Subjective, intersubjective, objective. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 137–153. Originally published in 1983. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Davidson D. (2001) Epistemology externalized. In: Davidson D., Subjective, intersubjective, objective. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 193–204. Originally published in 1990. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
de Saint-Just L. A. L. (2004) Oeuvres complètes. Edited by Anne Kupiec and Miguel Abensour. Gallimard, Paris. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ellis G. & Silk J. (2014) Defend the integrity of physics (Commentary). Nature 516: 321–323. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Feyerabend P. (1973) Against method. NLB, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Firth R. (1964) Ethical absolutism and the ideal observer. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 12(3): 317–345. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von & Poerksen B. (2002) Understanding systems. Conversations on epistemology and ethics. Kluwer, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1981) Notes on an epistemology for living things. In: Foerster H. von, Observing systems. Intersystems Publications, Seaside CA: 258–265. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1981) Observing systems. Intersystems Publications, Seaside CA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1984) On constructing a reality. In: Watzlawick P. (ed.) The invented reality. Norton, New York: 41–61. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (2003) On constructing a reality. In: Foerster H. von, Understanding understanding: Essays on cybernetics and cognition. Springer, New York: 211–227. Originally published in 1973. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Frank L. R. (2009) The ultimate observer: quantum physics and god. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Fuller L. L. (1978) The forms and limits of adjudication. Harvard Law Review 92/353: 394–404. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Füllsack M. (2014) The circular conditions of second-order science sporadically illustrated with agent-based experiments at the roots of observation. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 46–54. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/10/1/046.fuellsack
Galton A. (2006) Processes as continuants. In: Pustejovsky J. & Revesz P. (eds.) 13th international symposium on temporal representation and reasoning (Digital Publication). ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gardner M. (2009) When you were a tadpole and I was a fish: And other speculations about this and that. Hill and Wang, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gasparyan D. (2014) Mirror for the other: Problem of the self in continental philosophy (from Hegel to Lacan). Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 48(1): 1–17. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gasparyan D. (2014) Who thinks inside of me? Some aspects of Merab Mamardashvili’s theory of consciousness. Studies in East European Thought 66(1–2): 149–162. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Genova A. (1999) Davidson’s omniscient interpreter argument or the very idea of massive truth. In: Hahn L. E. (ed.) The philosophy of Donald Davidson. Open Court, Chicago: 167–191. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gill K. (1993) On the metaphysical distinction between processes and events. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 23: 365–384. Reprinted in: Casati R. & Varzi A. C. (eds.) (1996) Events. Aldershot, Dartmouth: 477–496. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von & Varela F. J. (1987) Problems of knowledge and cognizing organisms. Methodologia 1: 29–46. Originally published in 1985 in Aprendizagem/Desenvolvimento 2(6): 17–23. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/089
Glasersfeld E. von (1988) The reluctance to change a way of thinking. Irish Journal of Psychology 9(1): 83–90. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/111
Glasersfeld E. von (1990) An exposition of constructivism: Why some like it radical. In: Davis R. B., Maher C. A. & Noddings N. (eds.) Constructivist views on the teaching and learning of mathematics. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education Monograph 4: 19–30. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/127
Glasersfeld E. von (1996) Cybernetics and the art of living. Cybernetics and Systems 27(6): 489–497. http://www.oikos.org/Vonglas2oct.htm and http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/192
Godehard L. (2004) One hundred years of Russell’s paradox. de Gruyter, Berlin. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Goldberg N. (2003) Possibly V. Actually the case: Davidson’s omniscient interpreter at twenty. Acta Analytica 18(1–2): 143–160. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Goodall J. (1986) The chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of behavior. Harvard University Press, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Grim P. & Plantinga A. (1993) Truth, omniscience, and Cantorian arguments. Philosophical Studies 71: 267–306. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Grim P. (1985) Against omniscience: The case from essential indexicals. Noûs 19: 151–180. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Grünbaum A. (1967) Modern science and Zeno’s paradoxes. Connecticut Wesleyan University Press, Middletown. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hacker P. M. S. (1982) Events and objects in space and time. Mind 91: 1–19. Reprinted in: Casati R. & Varzi A. C. (eds.) (1996) Events. Aldershot, Dartmouth: 429–447. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hayek F. A. (1994) The road to serfdom. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hegel G. V. F. (1977) Phenomenology of spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford University Press, Oxford. German original published in 1807. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hibbert C. (1982) The French revolution. Penguin, Harmondsworth. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hintikka J. & Halonen I. (1998) Epistemic logic. In: Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy. Volume 1. Routledge, London: 752–753. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1973) Experience and judgement. Translated by J. S. Churchill and K. Ameriks. Routledge, London. German original published in 1940. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1997) Psychological and transcendental phenomenology and the confrontation with Heidegger (1927–1931) Translated by T. Sheehan and R. Palmer. Kluwer, Dordrecht. German original published in 1932. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Janssens C. J. A. M. & van Brakel J. (1990) Davidson’s omniscient interpreter. Communication and Cognition 23: 93–100. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kant I. (1905) Critique of pure reason. George Bell & Sons, London. Originally published in 1781. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kant I. (1998) Critique of pure reason. Edited by P. Guyer & A. Wood. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kelly G. A. (1969) Man’s construction of his alternatives. In: Maher B. (ed.) Clinical psychology and personality. The selected papers of George Kelly. John Wiley, New York: 66–93. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kim J. (1988) What is “naturalised epistemology”? Philosophical Perspectives 2: 381–405. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Klein P. D. (1982) Radical interpretation and global skepticism. In: Lepore E. (ed.) Truth and interpretation: Perspectives on the philosophy of Donald Davidson. Blackwell, Oxford: 369–386. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kowalski R. & Sergot M. J. (1986) A logic-based calculus of events. New Generation Computing 4: 67–95. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Laplace P. S. (1951) A philosophical essay on probabilities. Translated into English from the original French sixth edition by F. W. Truscott and F. L. Emory. Dover, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leibniz G. W. (2002) The labyrinth of the continuum: Writings on the continuum problem, 1672–1686. Translated and edited by Richard T. W. Arthur. Yale University Press, New Haven CT. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Levesque H., Pirri F. & Reiter R. (1998) Foundations for the situation calculus. Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence 2(3–4): 159–178. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lockwood M. (1996) Many minds interpretations of quantum mechanics. The British Journal of the Philosophy of Science 47(2): 159–188. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lombard L. B. (1986) Events: A metaphysical study, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1990) Essays on self-reference. Columbia University Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1995) The paradox of observing systems. Cultura Critique 31: 37–55. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2000) The reality of the mass media. Stanford University Press. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Manning R. N. (1995) Interpreting Davidson’s omniscient interpreter. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 25(3): 335–374. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1988) Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. Irish Journal of Psychology 9(1): 25–82. http://www.enolagaia.com/M88Reality.html
McCarthy J. & Hayes P. (1969) Some philosophical problems from the standpoint of artificial intelligence. In: Meltzer B. & Michie D. (eds.) Machine intelligence 4. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh: 463–502. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Metzinger T. (2009) The ego tunnel: The science of the mind and the myth of the self. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Miller G., Galanter E. & Pribram K. (1960) Plans and the structure of behaviour. Henry Holt, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Miller R. & Shanahan M. (1999) The event calculus in classical logic. Alternative axiomatisations. Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence 3A: 77–105. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Nagel T. (1989) The view from nowhere. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Neisser U. (1976) Cognition and reality. Principles and implications of cognitive psychology. W. H. Freeman, San Francisco. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Penrose R. (1990) The emperor’s new mind. Concerning computers, minds and the laws of physics. Vintage, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Plutarch (1920) Lives IX. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Heinemann, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Poerksen B. (2004) The certainty of uncertainty: Dialogues introducing constructivism. Imprint Academic, Execter UK. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Putnam H. (1981) Reason, truth and history. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Putnam H. (1990) Realism with a human face. In: Putnam H., Realism with a human face. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA: 3–29. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Putnam H. (2007) Truth and convention: On Davidson’s refutation of conceptual relativism. Dialectica 41(1–2): 69–77. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Richmond F. L. (2009) The ultimate observer: Quantum physics and God. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rickert H. (1962) Science and history: A critique of positivist epistemology. Translated by George Reisman. Princeton University Press, Princeton. German original published in 1899. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rockmore T. (2005) On constructivist epistemology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ross W. D. (ed.) (1928) The works of Aristotle translated into English. Second edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Royce J. (1900) The world and the individual. Macmillan, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Russell B. (1929) Our knowledge of the external world. W. W. Norton, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Segal L. (1986) The dream of reality. Heinz von Foerster’s constructivism. Norton, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Sider T. (2011) Writing the book of the world. Clarendon, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Silcox M. (2007) On the conceivability of an omniscient interpreter. Dialogue 46(4): 627–636. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Smolin L. (1999) The life of the cosmos. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stalnaker R. (1991) The problem of logical omniscience I. Synthese 89: 425–440. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Swinburne R. (1993) The coherence of theism. Revised edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Taylor C. C. W. (1999) The atomists: Leucippus and Democritus. Fragments, a text and translation with commentary. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thomson J. J. (1977) Acts and other events. Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Uexküll J. von (1926) Theoretical biology. Harcourt, Brace & Co, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1979) Principles of biological autonomy. North Holland, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1992) Autopoiesis and a biology of intentionality. In: McMullin B. (ed.) Proceedings of the workshop on “autopoiesis and perception.” Dublin City University: 4–14. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/pub/mcmullin92
Vision G. (2004) Veritas: The correspondence theory and its critics. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ward A. (1989) Skepticism and Davidson’s omniscient interpreter argument. Critica 21: 127–143. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wertheimer M. (2012) On perceived motion and figural organization. Edited by Lothar Spillmann. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wigner E. P. (1967) Symmetries and reflections: Scientific essays. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wilson N. L. (1974) Facts, events, and their identity conditions. Philosophical Studies 25: 303–321. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wittgenstein L. (1961) Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. Humanities Press, New York. German original published in 1921. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Zeh H. D. (2000) The problem of conscious observation in quantum mechanical description. Foundations of Physics Letters 13: 221–233. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Zeh H. D. (2003) Basic concepts and their interpretation. In: Joos E., Zeh H. D., Kiefer C., Giulini D. J. W., Kupsch J. & Stamatescu I.-O. (eds.) Decoherence and the appearance of a classical world in quantum theory. Second edition. Springer, New York: 7–40. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Žižek S. (1989) The sublime object of ideology. Verso, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Žižek S. (2005) Interrogating the real. Continuum, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.