Month: September 2022

The Standard for All Measurements: Our Judgment

Collaborating for Comprehensivity has the vision of engaging groups of people to compose ever broader and deeper and more integrated understandings of our worlds and its peoples. To facilitate explorations of particular ideas it is invaluable to share relevant resources with participants so they can be better informed for the conversation. It is most convenient for participants if such references are free to read on-line, though this is not always possible. Since not all participants will have time to review the resources, a summary of them should be provided to make each exploration as accessible as possible.

In order to really understand how measurement works, both in physics and in general, this essay begins with a 1927 analysis by Percy Bridgman on the activity of measuring lengths. The first part of his pathbreaking book The Logic of Modern Physics (pp. 3-28 are our current interest) is free to read on-line, so it is an excellent resource for this and other topics about an operational approach to learning which emphasizes the activities and procedures involved in how we come to understand the world. Participants are invited to read the first three sections of Bridgman’s book under the heading “The Operational Character of Concepts”, namely “Einstein’s Contribution in Changing Our Attitude Toward Concepts”, “Detailed Discussion of the Concept of Length”, and “The Relative Character of Knowledge”. This essay summarizes this material for those who do not have time to read Bridgman’s account and organizes it to explore the nature of comprehensive measurement.

This is the third part in a trilogy of essays exploring comprehensive measurement using multiple sources and traditions of inquiry and action. This approach to comprehensive measurement was inspired by Chapter 6 “Interpretation and Measurement” and Chapter 8 “Judgment” in “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman; however, that book is not free to read on-line. The first part of this trilogy was The Measurements of Life; the second part was Measuring Beliefs.

The Nature of Measurement

In our culture, measurement is one of our highest values. Measurement guides our science, our corporations, our organizations, our civil society, and our government. But what is measurement? How does measurement work? How can we scope the nature of comprehensive measurement as an important tool in working to understand it all and each other?

In the resource The Measurements of Life, we used the definition of a measure from Wiktionary: “A standard against which something can be judged; a criterion.” Wiktionary defines a standard as “having recognized excellence or authority”. We might infer that a measurement is an authoritative judgment. Can we justify such a definition in science?

Percy Bridgman, the winner of the 1946 Nobel prize in physics, believed that how the activity of measurement was performed was crucial to our understanding. He called the consideration of activities, doings, or happenings an operational analysis. He used the approach to decisive effect in his Nobel-prize winning research on high-pressure physics where he invented a series of new ways of measuring pressure when all available gauges failed at the pressures he produced.

To better understand this way of understanding measurement, let’s follow Bridgman’s operational analysis of measuring length from “The Logic of Modern Physics” (1927). Bridgman’s full description is fascinating reading. Let me summarize it.

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Posted by CJ Fearnley in Resource Center, 0 comments