GRE Reading Comprehension
Our visual perception depends on the reception of energy reflecting or radiating from that which we wish to perceive. If our eyes could receive and measure infinitely delicate sense-data, we could perceive the world with infinite precision. The natural limits of our eyes have, of course, been extended by mechanical instruments; telescopes and microscopes, for example, expand our capabilities greatly. There is, however, an ultimate limit beyond which no instrument can take us; this limit is imposed by our inability to receive sense-data smaller than those conveyed by an individual quantum of energy. Since these quanta are believed to be indivisible packages of energy and so cannot be further refined, we reach a point beyond which further resolution of the world is not possible. It is like a drawing a child might make by sticking indivisible discs of color onto a canvas.
We might think that we could avoid this limitation by using quanta with extremely long wavelengths; such quanta would be sufficiently sensitive to convey extremely delicate sense-data. And these quanta would be useful, as long as we only wanted to measure energy, but a completely accurate perception of the world will depend also on the exact measurement of the lengths and positions of what we wish to perceive. For this, quanta of extremely long wavelengths are useless. To measure a length accurately to within a millionth of an inch, we must have a measure graduated in millionths of an inch; a yardstick graduated in inches is useless. Quanta with a wavelength of one inch would be, in a sense, measures that are graduated in inches. Quanta of extremely long wavelength are useless in measuring anything except extremely large dimensions.
Despite these difficulties, quanta have important theoretical implications for physics. It used to be supposed that, in the observation of nature, the universe could be divided into two distinct parts, a perceiving subject and a perceived object. In physics, subject and object were supposed to be entirely distinct, so that a description of any part of the universe would be independent of the observer. The quantum theory, however, suggests otherwise, for every observation involves the passage of a complete quantum from the object to the subject, and it now appears that this passage constitutes an important coupling between observer and observed. We can no longer make a sharp division between the two in an effort to observe nature objectively. Such an attempt at objectivity would distort the crucial interrelationship of observer and observed as parts of a single whole. But, even for scientists, it is only in the world of atoms that this new development makes any appreciable difference in the explanation of observations.
The primary purpose of the passage is to
- A discuss a problem that hinders precise perception of the world
- B point out the inadequacies of accepted units of measurement
- C criticize attempts to distinguish between perceiving subjects and perceived objects
- D ompare and contrast rival scientific hypotheses about how the world should be measured and observed
- E suggest the limited function of sensory observation
Correct Answer: A