Define, Define, Define
I was asked this morning to examine a handful of different seeds and try to guess which seed type would grow into the largest plant.
I didn’t bother trying to guess, for racketing around in my brain was a simple command: Define “largest”.
Apart from “Why?”, the word “Define” is perhaps the most useful word in solving problems and avoiding traps, pitfalls and snares in daily life.
“Define Largest”, as it applies to the result of planting a seed in the ground, assuming that you plant it after the last frost, water it not too much, and so on.
Largest could be any one of:
1) Tallest unstaked
2) Tallest when staked
3) Greatest number of flowers or fruits yielded
4) Greatest weight of flowers or fruits yielded
5) Greatest girth six inches above the ground
6) Longest path from the ground to the tip of a branch, leaf or twig
7) Total of all paths from the ground to the tip of a branch, leaf or twig
Area mapped out by the horizontal coverage of the plant (in the case of a regular deciduous tree this area is almost a circle).
And that list just ran off the tip of my fingers. I haven’t sat down to think about it.
I’m sure that you can think of many other definitions. Contact Me.
The problem with “largest” or “latest” or “fastest” or “best” is that in each case, no quantifier is given.
Management Measures, and the four common measurements are Numeric (6, $700, 5,280 feet and so on), spatial or Geographic (M9C 2A6, Toronto Ontario, six blocks South and four blocks East of where we are now, and so on), Boolean or logical (Yes/No, On/Off, True/False and the like) and Date/Time (Sunday, June 14, 2009, Five p.m. EST, The third Thursday of each month, and so on).
Without a quantifier, readily obvious by some sort of unit of measurement, whatever you are reading or hearing is usually useless.
Notable exceptions are relative quantifiers. In When Pure Maths is not Enough I perform some calculations based on CHANGE in velocity, and point out that it matters not whether we measure velocity in miles per hour, kilometers per hour, feet per century, or inches per day, providing that we use the common unit to calculate the CHANGE in velocity, that change will always be 10% (in the case of When Pure Maths is not Enough).
Look closely at the next newspaper or magazine article you read.
Look for quantifiers.
If there are no quantifiers, chances are that your time spent reading the article will be wasted time.
Just as for me, trying to determine which seed would produce the largest plant would have been a waste of my time.
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