measurements of life

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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Measuring Beliefs

Measurement, it turns out, is an essential faculty for our comprehensivity, our emerging approach for reimagining our learning, philosophy, science, and life planning by taking seriously Buckminster Fuller’s guiding virtue of “the adequately macro-comprehensive and micro-incisive” as a principle for our lives. To help us tune in to the nature and importance of comprehensive measurement, this resource examines its application to assessing beliefs.

The previous resource on The Measurements of Life scoped interpretation and introduced the measurements of life schema from “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman. This resource builds on that foundation. As frequently happens in comprehensive practice, the task is facilitated by adding another source to consider, namely, Rebecca Goldstein’s schema of core beliefs and by reviewing techniques from other resources. Our aim is to clarify the treatment of both beliefs and comprehensive measurement for our comprehensive explorations. Although beliefs are only one aspect of any tradition of inquiry and action, they are important enough that limiting our purview to beliefs will not diminish the effectiveness of our toolkit for comprehensive measurement.

Assessing Beliefs

Our approach to comprehensive learning invites us to consider all the experiences and all the traditions of all Humanity since there is no way to know which might provide a key idea or behavior that we might otherwise overlook. When practiced diligently, this broadly sourced approach to learning will challenge us to consider many unfamiliar beliefs. If we are to better understand the world and each other through engaging so many diverse traditions of inquiry and action, the comprehensive explorer is obliged to understand and situate these unfamiliar beliefs. How might we assess such beliefs?

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The Measurements of Life (Tools for Comprehensivity)

This resource examines measurement as an important tool for our comprehensivity, our toolkit of ways to better understand the world and each other. It explores and contextualizes measurement inspired by the broad schema called the measurements of life discussed in Chapter 6 of “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Eric Stolterman.

To provide an exemplar of comprehensive exploration, this resource recapitulates and expands on the idea of comprehensive thinking beginning with experience. The importance of experience was introduced as a source for comprehensive inquiry and action in the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller. Several other resources on experience and our comprehensivity were summarized and expanded upon in the resource on The Ethics of Learning from Experience.

This is the second resource in a series on Tools for Comprehensivity. The first one explored Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox.

The Interpretation of Experience, Information, and Data

R. Buckminster Fuller’s approach to comprehensive thinking starts with Universe: “The universe is the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously-apprehended and communicated experience”. This all-encompassing inclusion of all the experience of all Humanity is the starting point for any comprehensive inquiry or action. In this way experience is fundamental in all our comprehensive thinking and learning.

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