Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Unit proliferation

I have no praise for this mess, but I find its intricacies interesting. Different units of length developed for different applications in historically contingent ways. I find it equally interesting that, the French revolution not withstanding, units have continued to proliferate. For reasons completely orthogonal to idiosyncratic America, the SI just can't get to universality. For simplicity, just consider units of length used by modern scientists. We have (at least) angstroms, light years, Planck lengths, Bohr radii, astronomical units, and parsecs. All of these are convenient in certain contexts. All but the first of these also have appealing definitions (some theoretically appealing; some operationally appealing).

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