philosophy science

measuring value

There are at least two kinds of ‘value’ – a) the kind science can measure, and b) the kind that science cannot.

Science measures certain kinds of ‘values’ that can be measured, because it is by nature a metrical enterprise.  It (among other things) makes measurements.

It recently occurred to me that all of our units of measure are derived by a relation to something else.  Here are a few:

  • distance: units of measure related to things like a human ‘foot’, or ‘hand’ (horses are often measured by ‘hands’), ‘meter’, ‘yard’, ‘mile’, etc.  My favourite example is a ‘light-year’, which is saying ‘this’ star is as far away as ‘these’ waves/particles of light can travel while ‘this’ particular planet orbits ‘this’ particular star.  Try to tell someone how long/tall/wide/thick/far away something is without using a unit of measure.
  • area: like distance, but add a dimension…
  • size: a more general term that is very fun to think about
  • weight: units of measure related to whatever thing was originally a ‘pound’ or ‘kilogram’.  I could just as accurately say that my son weighs 150 ‘this’-sized rocks, as I could any other unit of measure.  Try to tell someone how heavy/light something is without using any units of measure.
  • volume: units of measure related to some amount of liquid, whether an ‘ounce’, a ‘gallon’, a ‘cup’, a ‘tea/table spoon’, etc.  How many barrels of milk do you take in your coffee?
  • heat: units of measure related to however we got a ‘degree’.  BTU’s (british thermal units) are the amount of heat required to raise ‘x’ (liter?) amount of water one of ‘these’ (degrees).  Who would have ever thought that we’d measure the heat of the sun with a unit of measure we got on this planet?
  • brightness: unit of measure I don’t know the name of…
  • voltage: how much is a volt?  why not a little bigger/smaller?
  • time: a ‘year’ (how long it takes ‘this’ planet to make one circle around ‘that’ star); a ‘month’ (let’s not go there here); a ‘day’ (how long it takes this planet to spin ’round once); an ‘hour’ (why not 24 of them?  good number as any…); a ‘minute’ (why not 60?); a ‘second’ (it worked with minutes, why stop a good thing?).  I’m 30 earth-trips ’round the sun old at the moment, and my son is a bit over three ‘moon cycles’ old.  We’re so sophisticated.
  • speed: you’ll need an arbitrary standard of distance and an arbitrary standard of time for this one.  How many light years per minute will get me a ticket driving on SH1 in Auckland?

And – there are other kinds of value.  Like ‘goodness’ and ‘honour’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘dignity’.

“Ahh… but these are totally subjective values…”, you might say?

Compared to which ‘objective’ value?  ‘Distance’?

As subjective as things like ‘beauty’ and ‘dignity’ may seem – they’re just as real as anything, I reckon.  The value of life and the dignity of human beings, for example, is immediate and obvious – you don’t need a unit of measure to know that slavery (the “humans = property/objects” kind of slavery) represents a failure to respect human dignity.

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(post-post observation: it is now ‘time’ for me to feed Thomas; not because I have any affection whatsoever for the the number 11 or the letters ‘p’ and ‘m’, but because I want him to sleep through the night, and because I value the sleep of my wife and I! :)

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