The invention of measurements and perception

This is going to be pretty airy-fairy. Sorry.

Let’s talk about how measurements get invented, and how this limits us.

One of the great works of engineering, science, and data is finding signals in the noise. What matters? Why? How much?

My background is in computer science, and a little in electrical engineering. So the question of what to measure to make systems (audio and computer) "better" is always on my mind.

What’s often missing in measurements is "pleasure" or "satisfaction."

I believe in math. I believe in statistics, but I also understand the limitations. That is, we can measure an attribute, like "interrupts per second" or "inflamatory markers" or Total Harmonic Distortion plus noise (THD+N)

However, measuring them, and understanding outcome and desirability are VERY different. Those companies who can do this excel at creating business value. For instance, like it or not, Bose and Harman excel (in their own ways) at finding this out. What some one will pay for, vs. how low a distortion figure is measured is VERY different.

What is my point?

Specs are good, I like specs, I like measurements, and they keep makers from cheating (more or less) but there must be a link between measurements and listener preferences before we can attribute desirability, listener preference, or economic viability.

What is that link? That link is you. That link is you listening in a chair, free of ideas like price, reviews or buzz. That link is you listening for no one but yourself and buying what you want to listen to the most.


Showing 3 responses by millercarbon


Thank you for your most excellent question, and subsequent persistent follow-up questions! Thank heavens I bothered to read all of them (and even scan a bit of others, uh, posts) before posting or I might have made a codenamegeoff of myself. Whew! Close one!

The incredibly rigorous tome that definitely answers all your questions from first principles can be found here:

But that seems a bit much. Made my eyes glaze over. Even with 400 level courses in symbolic logic and philosophy of science. Which I enjoyed. And aced. But still. A mans got to know his limitations.

But when you say, " Volta, Watts and Ampere all started from not having a number, to having a number. Those numbers made math and engineering possible. I love numbers, but just because I have a number, does not mean I have a quality associated with it." Actually, in layman’s terms, I have to say we do have a quality associated with it.

Volta had the quality of electrical pressure. Ampere has the quality of electrical volume. The Principia goes exhaustively into the logical foundations of these but in plain language it comes down to there being genuine physical realities underlying observation. There is the quality of distance. We may measure it in inches or meters, that part is invented and arbitrary. But the reality of distance, the irreducible quality we are after, that much is not invented. That quality is inherent in the universe. It wasn't invented. It was discovered.

How we understand and use measurement, there’s the rub. Measures are tools. Helps to know how to use them. A hammer is a great tool for driving a nail. Not so good for repairing a helicopter. Now some codenamegeoff will pipe up with some helicopter hammer repair story. Whatever. You get the point.

Buying a new Herron VTPH 2A recently led to a few conversations with Keith Herron. Keith is a terrific example of the intelligent and appropriate use of measurement. He both listens and measures. One thing he found, people are unbelievably sensitive to frequency response. He found in double-blind testing that he could influence listener preference by changing frequency response as little as 0.03 dB. No that is not a misprint. Three one-hundredths of a decibel!

Now you may well wonder why we measure sound pressure in these particular units, why log not linear, etc. Fair enough. But present before the measure was the reality of pressure. Had to be measured one way or another.

Come at it from another direction. World famous psychologist Jordan Peterson has hours of lectures available on YouTube. A recurring theme is the Big 5 personality traits: extraversion,agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Fascinating subject, fabulous speaker. Anyway, point is, one could be forgiven for thinking there are a near infinite number of human personality traits. Rigorous statistical analysis of thousands of studies across dozens of nations and cultures demonstrates they are all reducible to only these five.

Nature somehow seems to have limited us to these 5 measures of the psychological world. My bet would be we are roughly no more free to invent measures in the physical one.

"In the strictest scientific sense, there is no such thing as music, or sound, or color, or hot or cold".
utter nonsense!

Just the opposite. I'll explain by giving the one correct answer to a well-known riddle: when a tree falls in a forest, if there is no one there to hear it then does it make a sound?

The answer is no.

The tree falling vibrates the air. It does not make a sound. For there to be sound requires an organism with hearing. No organism, no sound. Nor heat, nor cold. Nor hardness nor softness. Its not nonsense. Its the truest most sensible thing in this whole thread.
stevecham, What I believe in is a thing called reading comprehension. The ability to read and comprehend the meaning in the writing. Comprehend means understand. Like, understand that "organism" does not necessarily mean "human" maybe it actually means, you know, "organism".