Measurement is not something new. It has been around since the beginning of time. In primitive, self-contained villages, there was little requirement for measurement. Advances in measurement were driven by
Powerful needs, such as the needs for social interaction and to move beyond subsistence living, which led to trade and commerce, and the need for understanding and mastery of the physical environment, which led to science. Trade and commerce have been such a crucial part of world history that they have become virtually hard-wired in our DNA – and it is trade and commerce that gave rise to most of early practical measurement, including weight, size, quantity, and monetary measures. Early measurement was based on human body parts – for example, the ancient cubit was the length of the pharaoh’s arm plus the width of his hand – and a variety of natural artifacts (such as flowers, stones, and shells), which were used in exchange for goods and services. Over the centuries as more sophisticated needs emerged, more sophisticated measures were developed.
Thus, measurement arose because of the uniquely human needs for social interaction, trade and commerce, and the drive to understand the world around us. Most measurement today continues to facilitate the formation and operation of our current social activities and institutions. An important thesis throughout this book is that measurement is, at its roots, a social phenomenon – not a detached calculation of numbers. In fact, measurement was created to facilitate socialization, and its further development and effectiveness depend on a socialization process.
The social nature of measurement is well exemplified by how the measurement of time evolved from social need. In early cultures, time was not very important, and the position of the sun in the sky was sufficient for the level of time-consciousness needed at that time. As people became more conscious of time, they started valuing it more, requiring more time discipline. This led to more precise measurement of time, including the appropriate measurement tools, such as clocks and watches. David Landes said, “It can be persuasively argued that improvements in the measurement of time. . . were the most important physical advances in the history of Western Civilization, without which few of the other advances would have been likely.”
In fact, all scientific and industrial progress has depended on measurement and the continuing development and refinement of increasingly more sophisticated measurement devices – telescopes, microscopes, x-rays, atomic clocks, etc. As Louis Pasteur said, “A science is as mature as its measurement tools.”