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Observation is either an activity of a living being (such as a human), consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world through the senses[citation needed], or the recording of data using scientific instrument. The term may also refer to any data collected during this activity. An observation can also be the way you look at things or when you look at something.


Observation in science

The scientific method requires observations of nature to formulate and test hypotheses.[citation needed] It consists of these steps:

Observation plays a role in the second and fifth steps. However the need for reproducibility requires that observations by different observers be comparable. Human sense impressions are subjective and qualitative making them difficult to record or compare. The idea of measurement evolved to allow recording and comparison of observations made at different times and places by different people. Measurement consists of using observation to compare the thing being measured to a standard; an artifact, process or definition which can be duplicated or shared by all observers, and counting how many of the standard units are comparable to the object. Measurement reduces an observation to a number which can be recorded, and two observations which result in the same number are equal within the resolution of the process.

Senses are limited, and are subject to errors in perception such as optical illusions. Scientific instruments were developed to magnify human powers of observation, such as weighing scales, clocks, telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, cameras, and tape recorders, and also translate into perceptible form events that are unobservable by human senses, such as indicator dyes, voltmeters, spectrometers, infrared cameras, oscilloscopes, interferometers, geiger counters, x-ray machines, and radio receivers.

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