Thoughts on Measurement

( With illustrations from the lives of Charlie Parker and our cat.)

. Chan Richardson, later to become Bird’s wife, advised his manager to negotiate with the owner of Billy Berg’s, a club in Hollywood, to pay the group’s drummer scale out of the 700$ offered for the engagement. Everyone else was to get more, although in the case of the bassist not much more. What it did for the cohesiveness of the group is not known since there isn’t a recording with that exact personnel. Scale is, I suppose, a measure of musical competence, although how could it be purely that? The point is that measuring something requires reference to something else which is fixed, at least notionally. The dyadic relationship is completed by the interpretation and perhaps action of a human, in this case the person who pays the band, presumably the club owner. It would have been unwise to give all $700 to Bird, although he had just come out of the Camarillo State Hospital and was apparently intent on keeping straight.

Could an animal make a measurement? Well yes, a calculation anyway. Our little cat met a bigger cat from next door in the garden yesterday. She was furious and made a lot of noise. When the other cat shaped up with a simlar display, our Dité weighed it up, didn’t fancy her chances and shot back through the cat flap.

Can a computer or a geiger counter or a voltmeter make a measurement? Of course not, that requires intention, meaning, a goal. To hold two things in relation and make a judgement. You might say a thermostat controls temperature by comparing two temperatures but it is a proxy action. Too hot or too cold have no meaning for a thermostat. It is more complex with a chess computer but the argument is the same. There is a threefold relationship between two states which are compared and an interpreter who finds meaning in their relationship. See C. S. Peirce, often referred to as America’s greatest philosopher.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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