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What is Measurement Theory?

. . . and is it useful in Physics?

William Handley
Part II Experimental and Theoretical Physics (Dated: May 2, 2011) The subject of measurement theory is dened to be The rigorous study of the link between mathematics and science. The history of measurement theory is briey surveyed. Key players are identied from the time of the ancient Greeks to the modern day. The current direction of the eld is surveyed, including the work of Goyal et al. Finally the importance of the subject with relevance to modern physics is considered and some conclusions are drawn. WHAT IS MEASUREMENT THEORY?

of a foot. More generally, a ratio A/ B of magnitudes can be dened by the statement: if A and B are two magnitudes of a quantity and n, m Z, then A/ B n/m i mA nB.[11] Greek thinking diers fundamentally from the more modern viewpoint. This was a view of mathematics pre-Russell & Whitehead [12], when the view of numbers was still along the lines of The number two is that which is common to all pairs of things. Modern thinking sees this as fundamentally wrong, due to Russells paradox. By asserting the existence of relationships between ratios of magnitudes and ratios of numbers, Greek thinking implies that numbers must have an empirical character. Greek theory copes well with extensive quantities like length or mass, but if we consider the more modern idea of Temperature it is far less clear what parts it is composed of. Temperature is an intensive quantity. This will be discussed further in the next section. When Aristotles works were rediscovered in the 11th century, they stirred very strong ideas in the academic community. In the 14th century Oresme [13] postulated the notion that other qualities could be represented in a similar manner to lengths[14]. Four centuries after the discovery of Aristotles works, Galileo stated that; The book of nature. . . is written in mathematical language, and the letters are. . . geometrical gures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. [15] Michell [16] terms this the quantitative imperative, which became almost the dening property of science. Newton applied this in his Principia Mathematica [17], making numbers a fundamental part of physics.
Helmholtz, H older and Campbell

Physics is not about numbers. As physicists we study the phenomena of nature, trying to describe the patterns and principles relating them [1]. Measurement Theory is the rigorous study of the intimate link between mathematics and science [2]. Almost all sciences use numbers. These numbers appear throughout all levels of the complex chain of mathematical, logical, and heuristic analyses that constitute scientic explanation and argumentation. Usually the rst place they appear is in the quantication of empirical concepts. . . . . . This step is usually called measurement. L. Narens [3] For a good general purpose introduction, see Narens [4] [5].

To understand the relevance of measurement theory, it helps to have a survey of its history. Good histories of Measurement Theory can be found in papers [6] [7] or in the introduction of Savage & Erlich [8].
Classical Measurement Theory

The origins of the theory of measurement can be dated back to the Ancient Greeks. Aristotle and Euclid [9] recognised that there were quantities (numbers, lengths, angles and weights, etc.) as well as qualities, and these were seen as fundamental categories of reality. An object was seen to possess a quantity if it was composed of parts. In the case of discrete quantities the parts were seen to be units, and for continuous quantities the parts were simply of smaller magnitudes. [10] This Greek view of measurement is termed classical. Implicit in it are many of the modern measurement-theoretical ideas. Pairs of quantities of the same kind stand in ratio. For example, a yard stick has a length 3 times greater than that

The origins of modern Measurement Theory are often traced to Helmholtz Counting and Measuring [18] in 1887 [19]. In this work, he asks the question;

2 How can the concept of number be logically employed for the purpose of comparing physical magnitudes, and what attribute must the combination of magnitudes possess in order that it can logically be correlated with the addition of numbers? [20] In this, he makes explicit one of the dening questions of measurement theory. Nonetheless, Helmholtz views were still essentially classical, but with more precision. H older [21] is famous for his eponymous theorem (a modern version of it is found in Figure 1), where he made a crucial step in providing an axiomatic treatment of the reason for the use of numbers in measurement. Norman Robert Campbell is considered the father of modern measurement theory. He distinguished in Physics: The Elements [22] [23] two kinds of measurement: Fundamental and Derived. Fundamental measurement requires the existence of a physical analogue of numerical addition. For example; if we take a set of rods together with a concatenation operation dened by laying two rods end to end, we nd that this operation is associative and commutative, behaving exactly like numerical addition. In many ways this renders explicit Greek thinking, but Campbell diered from them in a fundamental way, replacing additivity with the concept of representation as a basis for measurement . Campbell was post Russel & Whitehead, and refers to them as noble. As such, Campbells theory involves no commitment to numbers as an empirical entity. Numbers are used in measurement to represent; they are merely a tool enabling . . . the powerful weapon of mathematical analysis to be applied to the subject matter of science. Fundamental measurement encompasses quantities such as distance, time, mass, etc. since these all have a well dened physical analogue of addition. In contrast, derived measurement includes quantities such as density and temperature. These do not have an analogue of addition. For Campbell, derived measures are the constants relating sets of fundamental measures. Density and temperature therefore depend heavily on fundamental measurement. The successors of Campbell include writers such as Carnap [24], Cohen & Nagel [25] and Pap [26]. All three of these textbooks provide a good coverage of the thinking in measurement theory at the time.
On the Theory of Scales and Measurement

the sensory attributes seemed impossible unless the nature of measurement could be properly understood [28] Reading Campbells shift from additivity to representation accurately, Stevens applied this new emphasis to represent other empirical relations with numerical ones. He denes measurement as The assignment of numerals to objects or events according to rules. Stevens recognised four general forms of measurement, detailed in Table I. Stevens measurement scales are really instances of numerical coding, the purpose being to allow inferences to be made by numerical means. Rozeboom in 1966 [29] describes Stevens work as complete nonsense. His argument is that any numerical relation would have an extensionally dened relation which is not in any way empirical. Any relation can be represented numerically, due to the symbolic nature of numbers[30]. Campbells denition is too restrictive, and Stevens too broad.
Representationalism: Suppes, Luce, Krantz & Tversky

Stevens work was formalised by Suppes & Zinnes with a set theoretical treatment [31]. Inspired by this work, Krantz, Luce, Suppes and Tversky wrote the denitive textbook in representational theory: Foundations of Measurement [32] [33] [34] (hereafter termed FOM). This is the most up-to-date, orthodox theory of measurement, and was inuenced heavily by H older as well as Campbell and his successors. A non-technical summary of FOM can be found in Narens and Luce [35], and a much more complete and technical presentation in Narens book [36]. Central to their formulation is the concept of a relational system. This is a class of identiable or empirical entities together with one or more relations on the entities. For example, the class might be rods or weights, together with a comparison operation, of lengths or masses and a concatenation operation, (represented by and + respectively). An example of their formulation of what Campbell called fundamental measurement can be found in Figure 1, which demonstrates their style. (In FOM this is termed extensive). This exemplies their general methodology: 1. Characterise a given type of relational structure, designed to mirror a known one (e.g. rods, probabilities). 2. Prove that there is a way of representing this meaningfully (homomorphically) with a numerical structure the representation theorem. 3. Find the general class of representations - the uniqueness theorem.

S.S. Stevens entered measurement theory as a psychophysicist. Stevens had a special interest in the measurement of sensations of loudness, having invented a sone scale to measure it. He is quoted to have said; My own central problem throughout the 1930s was measurement, because the quantication of

TABLE I. S.S. Stevens scales of measurement [27] Scale Nominal Basic Empirical Operations Determination of equality Mathematical Group Structure Permutation group x = f ( x) where f ( x) is bijective Permissible Statistics (invariantive) Number of cases Mode Contingency correlation


Determination of greater or less

Isotonic group Median x = f ( x) Percentiles where f ( x) is any monotonic increasing function Mean Standard deviation Rank-order correlation Product-moment correlation


Determination of intervals or difer- General linear group ences x = aw + b


Determination of equality of ratios

Similarity group x = ax

Coecient of variation

FIG. 1. An Example of the exposition of Krantz et al. Denition 1 Let A be a set, be a binary relation on A, and a closed binary operation on A. The relational structure A, , , is a closed extensive structure i for all a, b, c, d A: 1. Either a 2. If a 4. a b or b a. c. c b. (Connectedness) (Transitivity) (Associativity) (Monotonicity) (Positivity) b and b b i a c a. c then a

The characteristic of Krantz et als methodology is that all of their arguments are mathematically rigorous, rendering the treatment too time intensive for most physicists. According to representational theory, the mathematical formalism contributes no content to any conclusions obtained; it simply aids the inference process. Krantz et al. were the forefathers and still are the primary writers of modern measurement theory
On the scales of measurement

3. a (b c) (a b) c. b c i c a 5. a b

6. If a b, then for any c, d A, there exists a positive integer n such that na c nb d. (Archimedean) Where a b, a a b i a a b i a b and na are dened by the following: b and b a. a. b and not b

Inductively: 1a a; (n + 1)a na a. Theorem 1 Let A be a nonempty set, a binary relation on A, and a closed binary operation on A. Then A, , , is a closed extensive structure i there exists a real-valued function on A ( : A R) such that for all a, b A (i) a b i (a) (b); (Representation theorem) (ii) (a b) = (a) + (b).

One of the most powerful results was given by Narens [3]. In this paper he proves that the ordered scales of Stevens (ratio, interval, ordinal) are in fact the only scales available for measurement. He brought the eld in a new direction, describing the measurement properties of a relational structure by its set of automorphisms (how the structure looks like itself). He showed the fact that we use numbers to represent concepts severely restricts the kind of representations we can make.

Another function satises (i) and (ii) i there exists > 0 such that = . (Uniqueness theorem) The function constitutes a measurement scale and is a homomorphism from the empirical relational structure to a numerical relational structure (in this case additive Reals with ordering R, +, ). Stevens called this a ratio scale.

Since the numerous results of Krantz et al. between 1960 and 1990 there have not been a great deal of advances in the representational theory of measurement (RTM). Indeed, its importance has come into question (see next section). Much of the current work has turned to psychological applications of RTM, and the theoretical footwork has mostly branched into making rigorous the notion of meaningfulness (see [5] for more details).

An alternative to representationalism?

In the 1990s several critics began to question RTM, (see the Papers of Savage & Erlich [8]). Criticisms are summarised in Luces Fifteen problems in the representational theory of measurement [37]. One major problem is that RTM does not have a theory of error. Few have written on it, although a survey of the work is found in chapter 17 of [33]. Michell [16] writes on an alternative to the RTM by a return to a more Greek way of thinking. He views the fact that ratios of structures are isomorphic to real numbers as evidence that numbers occupy an empirical reality. In response to these criticisms Narens wrote a defence of RTM using his arguments of meaningfulness [38].
Quantum Mechanics

Their research is still ongoing, and as far as the writer is aware this is currently the only work being done on measurement theory.

In 1967 Edwin T. Jaynes spoke on the importance of having a theory of measurement [44]. By using case studies from statistical mechanics such as Boltzmanns collision equation and Gibbs methodology, he made the case that the subject had been hampered by imprecisely dened concepts. Unless the conceptual problems of a eld have been clearly resolved, you cannot say which mathematical problems are the relevant ones worth working on; and your eorts are more than likely to be wasted. Measurement theory, by axiomatising and making clear the link between mathematics and science, resolves these issues.
The virtues of Axiomatisation

All of the measurement-theoretical research of the 20th Century was into classical physics. Over the past decade a group of researchers have been working on a reconstruction of quantum theory. This constitutes an axiomatic reformulation of the foundations of quantum theory in an attempt to build a better understanding of it - the whole essence of measurement theory. Goyal summarises the reason for their work in What quantum theory is telling us about how nature works [39]. In this paper he points out that Newtons classical physics was fundamentally bipartite, consisting of (i) a denite, clearly statable conception of reality, and (ii) a mathematical framework which one can regard as a natural translation of this conception into the language of mathematics. The advantages of this structure are clear. First, it provides exibility for modication; because the qualitative conception was present, physicists were able to develop the formalism further as needed. Second, the part (i) is readily graspable by those with no knowledge of mathematics, allowing Newtons ideas to propagate beyond the connes of Physics. Quantum mechanics lacks the above structure, not possessing a clear conception of physical reality. Goyal et al. have focused some of their research on remedying this. For example, in the Origin of complex quantum amplitude and Feynmans rules [40] they show that all the complex rules can be derived from the assumption that a pair of real numbers is associated with a sequence of measurements. In [39] Goyal suggests that this is the mathematical translation of the conception of complementarity originated by Bohr [41]. Other reformulations include an attempt at a complete reconstruction of quantum theory using information geometry [42] [43], a mathematical framework which treats probability space as a dierential manifold, bringing the full power of dierential geometry to probability and information theory.

In 1900 Hilbert [45] famously presented 10 of his list of 23 problems, the sixth of which was a call to axiomatize all of physics. In 1905 Hilbert gave an extensive lecture series on what he meant by this and why he called for it. According to Corry [46], the lecture notes show that he believed that axiomatic analysis adds conceptual clarication and can prepare the way for the improvement of theories (if they are shown to be empirically wrong). By axiomatising, one clears away all superuous premises and possible contradictions.
The Unreasonable Eectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

Wigners 1960 paper [47] with the above title comments at length on the surprising notion that mathematical structure often directs further advances of a physical theory, and even provides empirical predictions. Wigner believed that this is not just coincidence, but a property of a much deeper truth about mathematics and physics. Serious philosophical explanations of Wigners observations are few and far between. Narens and Luce [48] comment that the Unreasonableness is really a product of gaps in our knowledge about the justied use of mathematics in science. In the third section of their paper, they put forward the suggestion that measurement theory can provide a route to an explanation: In many empirical situations considered in science (particularly in classical physics) there is

5 a good deal of mathematical structure already present in the empirical situation. Measurement produces numerical correlates of that structure. They go on to claim that what is unreasonable is that science often uses mathematical methods for which no empirical correlates exist. Further advances in measurement theory may be able to provide a greater degree of correlation between empirical systems and mathematics.
Experimental Physics Education

The entire subject is also written too technically, with too much rigour and not enough clarity.
Much of the literature is now of historical interest

When reading and analysing measurement theory, it is difcult to appreciate important these ideas were at the time. Before Stevens work, psychology and economics were not quantitative subjects. The work of Goyal et al. shows how potent the subject can be in providing relevant results today.
Is this subject useful in physics?

Martins believes: An acquaintance with measurement theory can provide a more adequate view of the nature of experimental science, and it can also provide an effective help in discussing and searching for systematic errors in the physics laboratory. [49] Both Helmholtz and Campbell believed that the theory of measurement could be useful in physics courses. However, neither of these l were successful in disseminating those ideas among physicists and physics teachers.
CONCLUSIONS Measurement theory is noticeably underdeveloped

In physics we can normally get by on the assumption that the formalism we use is empirically valid. For example, we dont stop to question why you can take dierences of temperatures in formulae such as; Q1 Q2 = mc(1 0 ), but never nd a formulae in which two temperatures are added together. The fact that temperature is of an interval- rather than a ratio-scale type does not play much part in how we actually do physics. This suggests that measurement theory is not very useful in classical mechanics, since the subject can be taught and understood happily without it. However, when it comes to quantum mechanics the subject is far from clear. As Goyal suggests, we desperately need a structure akin to that of Newtons classical mechanics. The writer strongly believes that many of the modern problems in physics (such as quantum gravity or string theory) are struggling to be answered due to the lack of clear concepts. The problems are exactly analogous to Jaynes case studies in statistical mechanics (see page 4). However, it is unlikely that the current players such as Krantz et al. are equipped with the correct background to deal with these questions. What we need are more physicists in the eld.
Final conclusions

The overwhelming impression that one gets from reading around the subject of measurement theory is the subject is surprisingly underdeveloped. Why this is is somewhat of a mystery. As Ellis [2] states, since it is the link between mathematics and science, it should be of central concern in the philosophy of science.
Psychophysics has had a strong inuence

Although the modern branch of the subject was begun by physicists such as Campbell and Ellis, the bulk of work is by Krantz et al. who have a background in psychology and economics. In these subjects the quantities (such as auditory sensation, utility or desire) appear to be much less clearly measurable. The study of psychological measurement is called psychophysics. The inuence of psychophysicists on the eld of measurement theory is clear. Mundy [50] comments that the subject is decidedly piecemeal. There are few reviews where the entire subjects is written up neatly, and the major books on the subjects read more like collections of papers than textbooks. The writer cannot help but feel that the subject needs a body of physicists working on it, similar to Goyal et al. who would examine it as a more consistent whole.

(i) Measurement theory is noticeably underdeveloped. (ii) Modern problems in physics are in desperate need of a measurement-theoretical angle. (iii) By its property of clarifying the use of mathematics in science, measurement theory has the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool in a physicists arsenal.

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I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be. Lord Kelvin [51] I would like to say a big thank you to Steve Gull for pointing me in directions I wouldnt have otherwise explored.

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