Epistemology of Metrology and Language

The seven current, proposed and/or soon to be implemented measures of physics are:

Originally the second was 1/(24 * 60 * 60) of the day ; a problem was the Earth's rate of rotation was found to be slowing down. There were others so now:

"The second, s, is the unit of time; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the ground state hyperfine splitting frequency of the caesium 133 atom, at rest and at a temperature of 0 K, to be equal to exactly 9 192 631 770 when it is expressed in the unit s^-1, which is equal to Hz."

Originally the metre was defined as:

"1/10,000,000 of the distance from the Earth's equator to the North Pole measured on the circumference through Paris."

A problem is the Earth is a ball of liquid rock whose solid surface is 40 km thick and whose diameter is 12,756.32 km ie 0.3% eg imagine a 300mm ball full of a viscose liquid whose skin is only 0.9mm thick and very weak in tension !

So now :

"The metre, m, is the unit of length; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the speed of light in vacuum to be equal to exactly 299 792 458, when it is expressed in the unit m.s^-1"

Originally a kilogram was defined as The mass of one litre of water where a litre is one thousandth of a cubic metre. This was later replaced by a carefully machined Platinum cylinder; metrology problems concerned the security of this object but also the complexity of comparisons, so now:

"The kilogram, kg, is the unit of mass; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the Planck constant to be equal to exactly 6.626 06X x10^-34 when it is expressed in the unit s^-1. m^2 .kg, which is equal to J.s."
"The ampere, A, is the unit of electric current; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the elementary charge to be equal to exactly 1.602 17X x10^-19 when it is expressed in the unit s A, which is equal to C."
"The kelvin, K, is the unit of thermodynamic temperature; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the Boltzmann constant to be equal to exactly 1.380 6X x 10^-23 when it is expressed in the unit s^-2. m^2. kg.K^-1, which is equal to J.K^-1. "
"The mole, mol, is the unit of amount of substance of a specified elementary entity, which may be an atom, molecule, ion, electron, any other particle or a specified group of such particles; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the Avogadro constant to be equal to exactly 6.022 14X x 10^23 when it is expressed in the unit mol^-1. "
"The candela, cd, is the unit of luminous intensity in a given direction; its magnitude is set by fixing the numerical value of the luminous efficacy of monochromatic radiation of frequency 540 x 10^12 Hz to be equal to exactly 683 when it is expressed in the unit s^3. m^-2. kg^-1. cd. sr, or cd.sr. W^-1, which is equal to lm. W^-1 "

from http://www.bipm.org/utils/en/pdf/si_brochure_draft_ch2.pdf.

The two handouts :

Base Units and SI Derived Units were from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SI_base_unit
and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SI_derived_unit

Now at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrology; we discover :

"Metrology is the science of measurement" and it can't be denied that metrology is responsible for the creation, development and acceptance of the above definitions. But it is also somewhat misleading; All this activity carried out by many scientists and a large beaurocacy might suggest that metrology is an integral part of physics; where as physics logically is indifferent to unit systems . That is it is a historical accident that the particular system called the SI MKS system has come to have such dominance.

Logically but not historically physics has always assumed the existence of precise universally agreed definitions of its measures and units. So logically metrology comes before quantitative science; at best one can have a science of metrology but it can't be quantitative. Perhaps the successive development of definitions of measures; which allow greater precision and certainty can be viewed as development of a qualitive science.

Not withstanding ; modern technology which is predominately invented, concieved; designed and produced ; in the process of 'engineering design'; argueably depends more on the measures of metrology , than the laws of physics; principally for precise specification. Yet many politicians, beaurocrats, economists , IT proffessionals and others who express an enthusiasm for 'science and technology' seemingly have no understanding of the underlying system of measures and units.

Digressing perhaps we could excuse the treasurer or economist who expresses enthusiasm or otherwise; for a "nice set of numbers" if we were sure that they meant more to him/her than just 'numbers produced according to the same procedure as the previous set'.

Economics is an area which is crying out for the work of the metrologists; preliminary to a real science of economics. Attempts to define a gold standard for the exchange value of the dollar, could be viewed as an early if unsuccessful project along these lines

But how is all this relevant to philosophy ? Perhaps the whole Anglo-Saxon split from Continental Philosophy can be viewed as an unacknowledged search for philosophical language devoid of ambiguity, obscurity and scholasticism ; a language such as one finds in science ;and metrology must recieve much of the credit for this clarity?

Beginning with David Hume's famous remark: [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding ]

"If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

.. and continuing to the extreme position taken in Positivism and later Analytical Philosophy ; which would excise from serious discourse as meaningless; all subject matter which is not objectively observable: thus all phenomenological description, questions of values; mystical experience, metaphysics (as associations and correlations between the objective and the subjective); so much of the subject matter of traditional philosophy. That is in a Procrustean way declaring most philosophical discourse meaningless

See for example http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/471865/positivism

"......More narrowly, the term designates the thought of the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857). As a philosophical ideology and movement, positivism first assumed its distinctive features in the work of Comte, who also named and systematized the science of sociology. It then developed through several stages known by various names, such as empiriocriticism, logical positivism, and logical empiricism, and finally, in the mid-20th century, flowed into the already existing tradition known as analytic philosophy (also called linguistic philosophy)......"

Reiterating; much of the clarity, semantic precision etc of scientific and technological language can be attributed to the definitions of the metrologists. Which whilst certainly 'boutique' compared to common usage; are apart from the arbitrary choice of base unit essentially choiceless..

But what if the clarity. precision and non-arbitraryness of those definitions; lies not in their objectivity but in something else ?
In a very general sense; what is the 'nature' of the measure of something ? Objectively it seems easy enough when it's something simple like length; but what about more complex qualities like: the thickness of a liquid'; the strength of an electric field; 'disorganisation' of a collection of atoms the One very general thing we can notice about these definitions of measures; is that the quantitiy being measured needs to be objective; thus describing the level of my phenomenological pain "on-a-scale-of-one-to-ten"; has little prospect of forming the basis of an international unit of pain ; (even if helpful to the doctor, trying to decide the amount of morphine hydrochloride to dispense).

Another thing is that the chosen 'artefact' needs to incorporate the quality to be measured in a very invariant way. Notice thus the progression from 'physical' artefacts to the rationalisation utilising physical constants; the velocity of light, Planck's constant etc
What if the clarity. precision and non-arbitraryness came about because the requirement was a "concise, precise, exhaustive and reductive description" of the ontological order of the category , which was the referent of the particular words ,( ie the measure); in order that precise objective factuality, falsification and perhaps quantification should be implicit ? The fact that, those categories necessarily
concern objective phenomena, because science is concerned with such ; can mislead one to believe that only descriptions of objective phenomena can be semantically clear. precise and unambiguous. It is important to emphasise that the " clear, precise and unambiguous"; here relate to word meaning not sentence meaning.

Consider the following exchange:
George: "I haven't got much energy this morning ?
John: "Really; how many joules less than usual ; would you say that is ?

Illustrating nicely :
1/ the way common usage of words includes both the subjective aka phenomenological, and the objective
2/ the 'boutique' usage and definitions of words in physics; relative to common usage
3/ yet the way in which objective usage leaves little freedom of choice; in the construction of
such 'boutique' definitions - or perhaps that John is either an Asperger personality or dubious of George's statement !

Here is a theory of what a language is ; in which dictionaries and their definitions have a very central role. This theory explains in a linguistic sense; why the definitions of the metrologists are so successful and why this success, is not simply because of an objective subject matter .

:language [tentative]
A 'social artefact', consisting of the set of words (vocabulary) and rules of sentence construction; shared by some social sub-group; one of whose purposes is the conveying of meaning, between members of that group.

Commenting on above definition
-with the possibility that the vocabulary could be merely the set, shared by the social sub-group, consisting of the person and and themselves at a later time.
the complexities of sentence structure/grammar and sentence semantics are considered secondary to vocabulary.
What kind of thing is a word and how should it be defined?

word:[tentative]
" is a material / objective symbol ; a visual mark (eg. written word), a physical sound (eg. a spoken word), a gesture (eg. hand movement in deaf and dumb language);
whose referent is a category of subjective experience."

Commenting on above definition
- Notice the theory here explicitly states that the referent of any word (symbol actually) is "a category of subjective experience". So whilst traditional semiotics and semantics seems ambiguous in this regard; here the referent of a word is regarded as irreducibly a subjective phenomena.
- Notice also 'a category of subjective experience' shares some properties with a 'a set of of subjective experiences' in the mathematical sense.In that it can be described by listing those experiences or specifying the condition for their inclusion.
- As an association between a material / objective symbol and a category of subjective experience; a word is thus a metaphysical entity in the peculiar sense of 'a relation between subjective and objective

What kind of thing (ontologically ) is a 'definition of a word' and how should it be defined ? .
:definition of a word;[tentative ]:
"is a description of the ontological nature of that category, of subjective experience, which is the referent of the word' as a material / objective symbol; such that it specifies the condition for inclusion by all intended usages and explicitly or by implication excludes all others"
Commenting on above definition
- So the implied contention is that the process of ontological enquiry and definition are one. What is the purpose of a dictionary definition of word and how should it be defined ?

So combining the notions of words as social artefacts and words as metaphysical entities 'To the end that a word is a social artefact', in particular a tool; one of whose purposes is to convey meaning between members of it's social sub-roup, the purpose of a dictionary definition is to provide that description of the ontological nature of the category of subjective experience, which is the referent
of the word;(sufficient condition) most preferred by members of it's social sub-group;

- subject to the necessary conditions that it is:
- concise (using as few words as possible),
- precise (being as unambiguous as possible),
- exhaustive ( including all intended usages and excluding all others) and
- reductive ( using only words simpler than that being defined)'

In conclusion , it is contended:
1/ the metrologist's definitions of the measures of physics which come about probably because of the requirements of falsifiability (in a certain sense) are consistent with the above theory and this rather than their objective subject matter is responsible for the unambiguous, clarity and semantic precision of scientific and technological language
2/ It will be noted that there is an implied contention that the processes of ontological enquiry and construction of dictionary definitions are one.

Presentation to The Philosophy Forum, April 5, 2015