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Measure the Measurable
Dr. KS Raghavan Bookmark and Share

Galileo, who is considered to be the Father of Modern Physics and the Science of Observation, has gone on record saying “Measure the measurable and make measurable what is not so”. This would have been about four hundred years back. That was the beginning of systematic scientific investigations, and efforts have been steadily on ever since for quantifying parameters of consequence in all branches of science and engineering. There are units which quantify day-to-day happenings like wind, rain, humidity, temperature etc. The state of one’s health is described in terms of body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, RBC count etc.

The parameters which can be described numerically are steadily increasing in scientific as well as medical world. For example as late as 1935 Charles Richter devised a magnitude scale which measures the intensity of earthquakes. The Richter scale is universally accepted today. Likewise HIV tests are of relatively recent origin.

Measurements and proper documentation of the measured parameters are of extreme importance. A popular quality slogan used in engineering circles is “what gets measured gets improved”. Quality metrics are used as benchmarks for enhancing productivity, quality and reliability and reducing the cost of products and services. The number of turn backs and rejections, efficiency in terms output upon effort, client feedback etc are the metrics used to monitor and thereby improve the overall quality of the product or service and to make it competitive.

This philosophy, of measuring the measurable, is equally relevant in personal and home life also. For example, just a regular usage of bathroom scale will go a long way in keeping track of one’s health and taking corrective action where necessary. People with chronic ailments will do well to use handy home devices for monitoring sugar levels, blood pressure etc. This way it is possible to avoid visits to the doctor which would be time consuming and consequently such visits tend to become infrequent. There are also many advanced gadgets like pedometers which are useful in recording effort put in (a measure of calories burnt) during walking or jogging routines.

Similarly by using stop watches, proper measuring jars and weigh machines in kitchens one can maintain the quality of cooked food. Such devices are normally not found in Indian kitchens. (I can recollect my mother telling me long back that the depth of water needed for cooking rice is equal to the length my middle finger above raw rice).

However not all things are measurable. In Einstein’s words “All that can be measured may not count and all things that count may not be measurable.” The latter part is important here. The entities which cannot be measured are either intangible or may be dependent on subjective judgment. A person’s general attitude, considered to be of paramount importance, is intangible. Beauty, which is said to lie in beholder’s eyes, is highly subjective. These two attributes, which do count a lot, can hardly be quantified. Sound is measured in terms of decibel level, frequency and wavelength of waves. But there is no way to numerically distinguish noise from desirable sound.

I wish very much that there exists a unit to describe the sweetness of human voice. What I mean is the desirability of an index which would be high for the voices of singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar, and low for the voices of lesser mortals.

Let us hope that science would someday come out with such a sweetness unit and a measurement scale.

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Thanks Ms. Leela. It is just a wishful thinking on my part that there my be something which may be called Melody Meter. There are in fact many things connected to human behavior which may never get quantified. My niece, who is a speech therapist in the United States, says most of the decisions are compulsorily taken on qualitative assessment. In fact quantification of many subjective parameters may even be misleading. One of my sisters asked me whether Happiness can be measured. Perhaps not. Possibly it is next to impossible.Happiness is a state of mind which iis not only subjective and depends on one's attitude to life in general.

03/30/2013 01:08 AM

Comment To Dr. K.S. Raghavan, The article Measure the Measurable is very interesting. Need time to think about it in depth !! May get back to you if I come out with some solution !! Look forward for more such interesting writing from you. Have a good day

03/28/2013 10:57 AM

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