Beauty, Meaning, and Measurement

Abstract: What lessons could beauty and meaning possibly have for measurement? A good place to start is in Plato’s account of Socrates’ meeting with Diotima in the Symposium. She says that the god of love, Eros, is the child of wealth, Poros, and poverty, Penia. As the child of these opposites, in love we desire the beauty of the beloved in a way that violates the law of the excluded middle: no amount of possession removes the desire, and no distance apart removes the awareness of the feeling of closeness. So we see that it

“is through this extraordinary phenomenon of love that we thereby come to understand how meaning can be thought about. For in thinking about meaning, we neither fully possess the perfect form of meaning (e.g., the ideal state), nor are we totally unaware of it” (Gelven, 1984, p. 132).
Plato founded philosophy on the distinction between name and concept, word and idea, figure and meaning. He accordingly made the point that mathematical ideals do not exist in nature, and that geometric figures symbolize and represent, but cannot themselves embody, proportionate mathematical relationships. In exactly this same way, in social and psychological measurement we are drawn into involvement with meaningful constructs that neither perfectly possess the ideal form of the model, nor are completely disconnected from it.
Plato's distinction between the inevitably imperfect, drawn geometrical figure and the ideal mathematical relation, between the word and the concept, informed the design of the Parthenon. This classic of architectural brilliance was constructed with none of the parallels and orthogonal angles expected of physically engineered stone buildings. The absorbing complex unity of unique and diverse curves and angles embodies not only Plato's perfectly imperfect model of beauty, it also symbolizes the democratic political integration of individual citizens joined in common purpose.
Social processes of creativity and innovation may be enhanced in research and practice deliberately applying Diotima's lessons of beauty and meaning. Everyday language provides a model that separates and balances things, words, and concepts in intuitive ways. Science extends that model in the way it separates and balances experimental data, standardized instruments, and explanatory theories. In the context of social and psychological measurement, great potential benefits may follow from more closely attending to the systematic coherence of individual data KIDMAPS, scaling result Wright maps, and explanatory model construct maps.

William P. Fisher, Jr. received his doctorate from the University of Chicago, where he was mentored by Benjamin D. Wright and supported by a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship. Dr. Fisher is recognized for contributions to measurement theory and practice that span the full range from the philosophical to the applied in fields as diverse as special education, mindfulness practice, clinical chemistry, and survey research. His articles have appeared in journals spanning a similarly wide range of fields, from education and psychology to nursing and occupational therapy to physics and metrology. Dr. Fisher’s entry on metrology and measurement in the 2011 World Standards Day paper competition won third prize, which is notable given the focus on engineering and natural science topics usually emphasized by the competition sponsors, SES, the Society for Standards Professionals, and the US National Institute for Standards and Technology. In efforts toward this same end of fostering more informed dialogue between the natural and social sciences, Fisher began contributing in 2008 to an ongoing conference hosted by the International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) on the human and social value of measurement. Work in this area ultimately led to an IMEKO Joint Symposium co-hosted by Fisher and Mark Wilson at UC Berkeley in August 2016.

Date: 
Tuesday, October 30, 2018 - 2:00pm
Building: 
2121 Berkeley Way
Room: 
1217