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Kilo Crisis Could Bring Down the Universe


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#1    schadeaux

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Posted 03 June 2003 - 08:31 PM

                                                  By Crispin Sartwell, Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.


Each day seems to bring with it a bumper crop of crises. It can be difficult for you, the news consumer, to weigh the relative significance of the events that vie for your attention from the headlines. And yet there is one matter that we can no longer afford to take lightly: the kilogram.

This unit of measurement fundamental to the metric weight system is self-destructing, and it just might take the rest of us along with it.

As usual, [we] are to blame and, as usual, [we] are confused.

The kilogram was initially conceived as the weight of a liter of water, but that turned out to be hopelessly imprecise, in part because the liter itself was vague. The International Committee on Weights and Measures was established in 1875 to address such problems, and to this day hundreds of scientists around the world work exclusively on developing precise measurements.

In 1889, the committee defined the official kilogram by the weight of a cylinder cast in England of platinum and iridium. This standard kilogram is secured in a heavily guarded chateau outside Paris. It is inspected once a year by the only three people who have keys.

Here's the problem: These yearly inspections have apparently shown that the kilogram cylinder has lost weight, about 50 micrograms. That's less than the weight of a grain of salt, but it's enough to send the world of weights and measures into an epic tizzy.

Quantities of human ingenuity are being expended to readjust the kilo and make it eternally precise. For example, German scientists are working in Russian nuclear facilities to produce a perfectly round 1-kilo sphere of silicon. Then, by knowing the number of atoms in the sphere and their distance from one another

All such attempts are, however, based on a fundamental conceptual confusion. The kilogram is defined as the weight of the standard cylinder, whatever it may be. It is logically impossible for the kilo cylinder to lose or gain weight, at least within the metric system of measurement, because it is itself the standard by which all weights must be judged.

Thus it is impossible to "discover" that the cylinder has lost weight. The instruments by which the cylinder is weighed are wrong because the cylinder itself, by definition, is always right. Indeed, it is possible that the rest of the material in the universe, including the silicon atom, has become slightly heavier. But it is not possible that the weight of that cylinder has changed.

The meter used to be defined by the length of a certain bar, also housed in Paris. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out that the claim that the meter bar was itself a meter long was a miserable tautology: It was just saying that the length of this bar was the length of this bar.

If that is a tautology, then this is a contradiction: The kilogram cylinder weighs less than a kilogram. That is just to say the cylinder weighs less than itself, which is absurd. What the authorities have claimed to discover is something that could not be discovered because it simply cannot be true.

Now one suspects that in the long run the kilogram cylinder will continue to shed atoms. By my calculations (or rather, those of my wife, who can do stuff like multiply), at a rate of 50 micrograms per century, the cylinder will disappear entirely in 200 billion years.

Then the kilogram itself will disappear, which entails that all objects will weigh an infinite number of kilograms: Any given feather or dust mote will be infinitely heavy. And, at that point, the universe will collapse under the influence of infinite gravity into a disk about the size of a lentil, inhaling everything into a dimensional wormhole. And that will suck, with infinite force and acceleration.

In other words, that standard kilo platinum-iridium cylinder is the smoking gun, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

The destruction of the universe can be avoided only by the immediate destruction of the kilo cylinder and, with it, the entire oppressive metric system, something that can be accomplished during the liberation of Paris by U.S. armed forces. Lord knows what else they will find in that chateau.
                                                  

"To study and not think is a waste.
To think and not study is dangerous."
Confucius

#2    FreyKade

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Posted 03 June 2003 - 09:30 PM

                                                  well, by 200 billion years we would have found a better way of measuring weights. but it is a cool magic trick....."Behold! My Amazing Disapearing Kilogram Rod Of Titanium And Irridim"....please not: willl take 200 billion years to complte. not very funny, but stil.. laugh.gif                                                  

"isn't that intresting Dave, i mean every step you take down that chain, takes you one step further from your imagination"

i said
"you're right! youre a bit of a hippy, but you're right"
- Dave Gorman

"Wanna buy some pegs Dave?"
"I got some pegs belonging to you"
- Papa Lazarou

#3    schadeaux

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Posted 03 June 2003 - 09:47 PM

                                                  
QUOTE (schadeaux @ Jun 3 2003, 01:31 PM)
The kilogram cylinder weighs less than a kilogram. That is just to say the cylinder weighs less than itself, which is absurd.

Do "they" call "us" "them?"  If "we" are "them," then who are "they?"  "They" cannot be "them" because "we" are "them."  Maybe "they" are "us?"  That would mean that "we" are not "us!"  "They" must be "us."

blink.gif                                                  

"To study and not think is a waste.
To think and not study is dangerous."
Confucius

#4    FreyKade

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 09:33 AM

                                                  yes, 'they' are 'us' and 'we' are 'them'                                                  

"isn't that intresting Dave, i mean every step you take down that chain, takes you one step further from your imagination"

i said
"you're right! youre a bit of a hippy, but you're right"
- Dave Gorman

"Wanna buy some pegs Dave?"
"I got some pegs belonging to you"
- Papa Lazarou

#5    Kismit

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 11:29 AM

                                                    Wow !! I need to step my aerobics program up a level ......


  In highschool my math Teacher taught me that 1cm cubed of water held at exactly 4 degrees celsius wieghed 1 gram .  Was the cylinder the right temperature ? unsure.gif                                                  





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