Re: Metric Time (was Re: Why not 13 months? (Was La Systeme Metrique))

Whittet (
22 Oct 1995 20:38:03 GMT

In article <>, says...
>In article <46cr4q$>,
> (Whittet) wrote:
>>It is interesting that the meter seems to be based on the Belgic Germanic
>>system where the measures are in triple decimal intervals
>The point everybody seems to miss about the metric system is that it was
>the product of a rationalist revolution.

If this means independently invented in a vacum isolated from all
previous set and setting, well I doubt it. I think you need to allow
that even scientists are influenced by the systems with which they have
grown up.

It seems odd for example that the BG system is geocommensurate with the
diameter of the earth and has a unit the same size as the meter and is
then replaced by the French with a similar system.

Do you think they might have considered the social and commercial
repurcussions of changing a standard of measure?

Just for example consider buying replacements for something manufactured
to a different scale. Nothing fits. If you doubt me try laying out
commercial casework made of plywood and laminate which intermix metric
and english measures. Try working on an American car with metric sockets.

>They started like everyone else. The metre is a human scale measurement-
>like the yard. Its size is immaterial; it was just convenient, so it's no
>surprise if it is similar in length to other "yards". After that, they
>related it to some "objective" size, and came up with with a 40,000,000th
>of the circumference of the earth. Why not? It was a classic piece of
>backwards rationalisation.

What I suspect is that merchants trying to obtain an edge on their customers
by giving them short measure on their contracts had a rather large vested
interest in any such change. Just imagine the lobbying which went on. Do you
think any one faction could really pull off any major changes?
>From there onwards they did the truly revolutionary work, and related all
>the quantities in a rational and simple way.

That's what really ticks me off. The evidence indicates that the original
measures had a far better and much more coherent rational to begin with.
The "revolutionaries" successfully propagandized a major commercial
con game, not a scientific advance.

>And that's why the metric
>system has conquered the world- not because of the size of the metre, but
>because the French Revolution provided the context for a radical, logical
>system, that unlike its predecessors was related to what had become a
>universal way of counting.

What boat did you just get off?
>I guess in that way, the French Revolution will prove to have been the most
>influential in history.

For those who actually study the history of things like the French Revolution,
less the propaganda and with some knowledge of the behind the scenes games
people play, the major impact of a change in standards of measure is not
scientific advance, but big orders for retooled machinery.