An Accepted Approximation
by Dwayne Phillips
In order to move on with other matters, from time to time we accept approximations and use them. That is fine as long as we acknowledge such.
Water boils at 212° F. Well, sort of. There have been many experiments performed on various things we call “water.” When is “water” really “water” and really not? There are different degrees of purity of “water” and each has an average boiling point. And, after all, what is the definition of “boiling?” Sigh. This becomes complicated. I thought we had settled on this.
The temperature of a healthy person is 98.6° F. Well, if you thought the temperature of boiling water was complicated, it is nothing compared to this one. This goes back a century to experiments done here and there on these folks and those folks and the thermometers weren’t that good, and … Sigh. This is really complicated. I thought we had settled on this.
You know, 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Okay, enough approximations. I won’t even begin to shred this accepted approximation. I thought we had settled on this.
These are examples of accepted approximations (well, maybe we don’t accept the divorce rate approximation). We could argue and experiment without end on these things. Some folks still make a lifetime career from further experiments and publications and discussions on these. Most of us, however, accept the approximations, use them, and move on.
Until an approximation breaks something we are trying to do. Yes, that happens. The boiling point of water rears its ugly head (does a boiling point have a “head?” Can we call its head “ugly?”) and we try to understand why our system is breaking.
Oh, we accepted an accepted approximation without much thought. Ooooh, the key phrase “without much thought.” Yikes. That is a killer.
Understand the approximations we are accepting. Do they matter in our system? If yes, think some more to understand how the approximation matters. Ignore the approximation at our peril.