III. Abstracting Some Aspects

  • Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. Galileo Galilei

Measuring rocks and the significance of being sufficient

The process of measurement begins long before any data are collected. The starting point is a notion, or even better, a theory about an aspect of a class of things we want to understand better, maybe even do some science on. Successful measurement depends on clear thinking about the aspect and clever ideas for the agents. This is much more challenging and much more rewarding than any mathematical gymnastics that might be performed to fit model to data.

All analogies are limited but some are useful. Considering aspects of things far removed from cognitive traits may help avoid some of the pitfalls encountered when working too close to home. Hardness is a property of materials that is hard to define but we all know what it is when it hits us. Color is a narrow region of a continuous spectrum that non-physicists tend to think about as discrete categories. Temperature is an intimate part of our daily lives, which we are quite adept at sensing and more recently at measuring, but the closely connected idea, heat, may actually be more real, less bound to conventions and populations. If I could scale the proficiency of professional football teams and reliably predict the outcomes of games, I wouldn’t be writing this.

Continue reading . . . Hard Headedness: the importance of being sufficient

 

Previous: II: Measurement in Science         Next: IIIb: The Aspect of Color

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