Quantum of optimismJuly 11th, 2009 by ftobia
As a child I wondered where units came from — physical units, like amps or pounds or furlongs. I didn’t know what a volt was, and I had this desire to come up with another unit. For that, I needed a quantity that needs to be quantified, and soon discovered that all the good ones are taken.
All the easy ones, that is. But what about qualitative units, the ones that are hard or impossible to quantify? Like love, or happiness? I don’t know how to do it. I got this idea from a book I read: “Great Feuds in Science,” where the author suggests naming the unit of optimism a Leibniz. Because, I guess, Gottfried Leibniz was a really optimistic guy (and with a name like Gottfried, who wouldn’t be?).
So how do we attack the problem of qualitative units? Observability is one problem: one meter is the same length in any reasonable inertial reference frame, but one man’s happiness cannot be easily observed. But subjectivity looks like the biggest stumbling block. A unit of pleasure or pain has to mean the same thing to all people.
Here is my first proposed solution: massively better measuring techniques. And cyborg-quality computer chips in everyone’s head. Scientists first need to become experts at figuring out which brain chemicals make us happy, sad, angry, etc. Then they need to set up a scale based on relative proportions of brain chemicals or something. At last we’ll be able to make statements like “oh man, I am sixteen Leibniz’s optimistic about the future right now!”
I can’t wait.