Speaking of Numbers: Measurement, Quantification and the Kelvin Dictum

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On 29 May, the IEEE Foundation and the IEEE History Center organized  Speaking of Numbers: Measurements, Quantification, and Kelvin’s Dictum, a virtual lecture focusing on Lord Kelvin’s work. The lecture examined the deep meaning of “The Kelvin Dictum” in its historical context.  

For Kelvin and those he inspired, measurement was just one part of a more extensive quantification program that spanned concept formation, physical theory, mathematics, and metrology. When viewed this way, quantification becomes a central theme that unifies Kelvin’s significant achievements in science and engineering – and is a considerable achievement in its own right.

The video below was presented by Senior Historian Daniel Jon Mitchell, DPhil, from the IEEE History Center to celebrate the bicentenary of Lord Kelvin’s birth on 26 June 1824. Kelvin believed in measurement as a pathway to scientific knowledge and technological progress, famously saying, “When you cannot express what you are speaking about in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.” This reflects Kelvin’s dedication to quantification as a central theme that unifies his significant achievements in science and engineering.

To learn more about past innovators and contributors of critical technological advances in electrical engineering, visit IEEE History Center’s Oral Histories Collection, and continue to keep these impactful stories growing by visiting the IEEE Foundation supporting the IEEE History Center’s programs. By working together, we can preserve our shared history and ensure it is accurately remembered for future generations.

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