Talk:Operational definition

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Overarching issues[edit]

Hey— don't knock logical positivism! It is still an ideal philosophy for keeping scientists honest and real; and it only fails at the extremes (where everything gets fuzzy anyway).

But, seriously, can anyone explain why "Operational definitions are particularly important in quantum mechanics, statistical physics and relativity?" I see operational definitions as critical and equally as important to all science and engineering.

normxxx 17:10, 16 December 2005 (UTC)

"There is no true value of any characteristic, state, or condition that is defined in terms of measurement or observation. Change of procedure for measurement (change of operational definition) or observation produces a new number."

An interesting remark. Anyone care to say who made it?

W.E. Deming made this remark.

Why was relevance to philosophy removed? Will this be replace by something else? CSTAR 22:36, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)


Computation changes the whole of it in ways that will need increasing scrutiny and attention as the interplay of AI (weak or strong or other), human intelligence, and our inevitable (categorical) need for instrumentation unfolds. See Operational definition#In computing and, please, help improve this needed section. jmswtlk (talk) 14:40, 2 January 2017 (UTC)

State preparation process[edit]

Though this article has dramatically improved recently, the following sentence in the 1st paragraph says nothing about preparation:

description of a specific process, or set of validation tests, accessible to more persons than the definer (i.e., said to be publicly accessible), whereby it is (or can be) repeatedly measured or tested.

Operational definitions are important in quantum mechanics, particularly in its historical development, precisely in giving operational meaning to observables. Measurement in QM clearly (and correctly) falls under this definition. However, state preparation processes are also operational; one might regard them as the operational definition of a physical state. As it turns out, measurement and state preparation can be essentially viewed as identical processes (at least when the measurement is regarded as a test of a property). I would suggest adding something about state preparation. Another suggestion: what does theoretical add in the first sentence. The person (or persons) that made the recent changes are in a better position to judge the usefulness of these suggestions, so I will leave it at that.--CSTAR 00:01, 9 February 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for the compliment, if it refers to my adds. As to your objection, won't the second paragraph do? If we cram too much into the first paragraph— which I tried to limit to the canonical three: (some kind of measurement) process, publicly accessible, and repeatable— then I think we risk losing the reader. I believe paragraph two addresses your objections.
I do not deny the primacy of Physics (especially QM) with regard to OD (and especially as Percy Bridgman was one of my heros), but I would argue that OD is equally critical for all of the sciences, especially psychology and the social sciences..
The term 'theoretical' was meant to imply that the term prior to the operational definition had no operational meaning, may have had some theoretical baggage, but was not simply a noumenon, e.g., my mental image of martians or elves. The term electron, for example, as a unit charge of negative electricity had a definition that only gradually moved from the theoretical to the operational, but it was always tied to some empirical phenomenon.
But, hey, this is a definition. If you think the term 'theoretical' is confusing, can you think of a substitute? I just tried, but I think I only confused things more. normxxx| talk email 04:54, 9 February 2006 (UTC)


This article lacks refernces. I have completely rewitten the philosophy section and qualified the paragraph about opetrationism's requiring public accesibility with Daniel Dennett's unusual but important view on the matter. I cna add the referecnes in the body, but there should be reference section at the bottom as is customary in encylcopedia entries. I think I can throw the Web refernces in there as well, if I cabn figure out author, title and date.--Lacatosias 10:18, 9 February 2006 (UTC)

'Twould be greatly appreciated. normxxx| talk email 22:31, 10 February 2006 (UTC)

Peculiar Definition[edit]

Lacatosias: Let's get some contrary opinion going! I would argue that ODs are critical in science, especially psychology and the social sciences, and helps us distinguish History from a Science of History. But, philosophically, things are hardly so clear, primarily because we wind up with an infinite regression of ODs and, finally, nothing but fuzz. normxxx| talk email 23:49, 10 February 2006 (UTC)

I entirely agree. I think it's obvious that such defintions are often indispensable to scientific practice. But when it becomes part of a sort of ideological movement to eliminate all unobservaable entities from human discourse (as it was for the logical positivists) then it runs into the problem of changing procedures which measure what are, in my view, the same really existing entities. So what's the contrary opinion? --Lacatosias 09:23, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

If you think Dennett is peculiar, try reading Gilbert Ryle in the original. The Linguistic philosophers really tortured the language in trying to show that language is arbitrary— and many problems that we think are real, like the matter of the mind-body dichotomy, is merely a result of linguistic failure. I, on the other hand, would argue that the mind-body dichotomy is simply a accident of experience— that things that happen to the brain seem to affect the mind, e.g. I would further argue, that all I can ever know are the contents of my own mind, so solipsism is irrefutable (if a little impractical). So, there can be no dichotomy!

Oh, I know, I know. I just meant peculiar in relation to the apparently modern acceptation of the term ("publicly observable" and all that).--Lacatosias 09:23, 11 February 2006 (UTC)


Normxxx, I think your missing my point wrt to Dennett. Of course, he is arguing FOR operationalism. But the preceding definition of operationalism contains the phrase "necessarily publicly verifiable" or something along those lines. Dennett would say that operationalism does not require "public accessibility" or "public verifiability". That's what he means by first-person operaionalism and that's the reason I put in the contarting term "however". "Generally speaking...operationalism requires public access"..."however, Daniel Dennett adopt a first-person operationalism in which public verifiability is not even possible, yet he still calls it operationalism." Do you see what Iìm getting at?--Lacatosias 10:03, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

I would think that the whole point of heterophenomenology is that it's third-person. Alienus 13:34, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

Alright, heterophenomenology or heterointersubjectivalisticperspectivo-clericalism, whetever you want to cal it, the point is that Dennet himelf describes the process as "first person operationalism" and talks about the "writing down" in memory constituing what it is..etc. etc. I think this is an original and disticnt use of the term that doesn't jibe with operationalism as being necesarily a public phenomenon. That's all.--Lacatosias 15:13, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

The point of heterophenomenology is that the mind is studied using the (anthropological) scientific method, which is third-person. The informant's reports are taken seriously, but not authoritatively, and are combined with all other available information instead of taken at face value.
Do you have a reference for Dennett speaking of "first-person operationalism" so I can try to figure out what that might mean? Alienus 15:37, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

If you insist. It's in the chapter called "An Emprirical Theory of the Mind", the title at the top of the page is "Multiple Drafts versus the Cartesian Theater", page 132.--Lacatosias 15:53, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

Uhm, there isn't enough information there. You're giving me a chapter name, page, and even the title on top of it, but that doesn't tell me which book. In fact, all I really want is a quote, or link to a quote, that helps me understand what you mean about first-person operationalism. I ask because, as I understand it, he opposed putting first-person analysis above third-person. Alienus 01:48, 12 February 2006 (UTC)
I think your being deliberately provocative about this for some reason, but here's the whole quote for you from the top of the page:

to resist the diabolical operationalism that says that what happened (in consciousness) is simply whatever you remember to happened. The Mutiple Darfts Model makes "writing in down" in memory criterial for consciousness; that is what it is for the given to be taken- to be taken one way rather than another. There is no reality of conscious experience independent of the effects of various vehicles of content on subsequent action (and, hence, of course, on memory). This looks ominously like dreaded operationalism, and perhaps the the Carteisan theater is covertly cherished as the place where whatever happens in consciousness really happens, wether or not is later corectly remebered....

the Cartesian theater may be a comforting image...becasue it creates the bizarre catgeory of the objectively subjective - the way things actually , objectively seem to you even if they don't seem to seem that way to you ! (Smullyan 1981) What Clifford Stoll calls the astronmer's rule of thumb...We might classify the MDM, then, as first-person operationalism, for it brusquely denies the possibility....

Also, if you look at the refernces in THIS ARTICLE you will find the full refrecne for this quote. You seem to be obsessed with Dennett. Is everything alright with you?--Lacatosias 09:06, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Lacatosias, please don't question my motives. I asked you to provide a reference simply because I didn't understand what you meant. In fact, having seen the quote, I still don't. I'll buy that MDM is operationalism, but I don't see where Smullyan gets the idea that it's first-person. What do you think? Alienus 04:21, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

No, this specific quote only: the way things actually , objectively seem to you even if they don't seem to seem that way to you(Smullyan 1981) is attrubuted by Dennett to Smullyan. Everything else in there constitutes verbatim citation of the words of Daniel C. Denett himself!! Here's what I make of it: there is an ambiguity in Dennett's notion of operationalism. In several places he describes the phenomenon in terms of heterphenomenology, which is somewhat similar to the notion of externalized intersubjecivity, if you like. But here and in various other places, he makes it clear that operationalim does not have to be a public phenomenon. This is why he insists that even those who oppose operationalism should accept it at least with regard to these first-person internal phenomena. As you will admit (and Dennett would probably acknowledge himself), his specific positions on issues are somtimes hard to pin down (though he is certainly writes clearly enough and is not comparable to Micheal Dummet or Wittegsntsin in terms of obscurity). So, the fact that in one place he is emphasizing the third-person character of reports of the phenomenolgical aspests of consciouness (etc,etc,) does not exclude that he also thinks that the internal processes of writing down things in one's own subjective memory constitute a sort of first-person operationalism that everyone can accept. I don't see any real contradiction or problem in all this. The point, for me personally though, is that I don't have time to get bogged down in this question. I just thought that this view, as expressed in one place by Dennett, is different and could add sonething to this particular article with its exclusive emphasis on public accessibity, as an extention of the concept of operationalism and an exception to the general rule.--Lacatosias 10:15, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

You're right; I missed it the first time, but I saw my error when I followed up your references to Dennett— but before I removed the "However" and added the bit about the psychologist— largely to double cue the reader to the easily missed reference to in memory. I felt the "However" was actually too weak and just served to draw the readers attention away from the verb, "has argued" which seemed to be a stronger cue. How about "Nevertheless"? It's a little confusing, since he is actually arguing for a stronger version of OD (and only mainly against the arguments in the preceding paragraph)— though, perhaps not out of line with PWB who, I believe, did not include the "public" requirement. Unless I am mistaken, it was the psychologists, during their internal battles (especially with the introspectionists), who added on that requirement. But, I am sure that public accessibility should be a requirement, and I am sure that the history of the inglorious end of those introspectionists should serve as a warning to later scientists. (They ended up in ignominious wrangling over whose 'mental elements' were truly elemental.)
P.S. I thought your references to Dennett, especially the one about his Multiple Drafts Model of consciousness were spot on, but then, I am somewhat familiar with L. Wittgenstein, G.S. Ryle and, especially that crackpot, Naom Chomsky, who was picketting Lincoln Laboratory (or trying to; he only got as far as the parking lot— the Lab itself is on the grounds of Hanscom AFB) while I was working there on an ABM system (Safeguard II, in the late '60s). I think Naom is still fighting the Viet Nam war; but one doesn't have to believe we were/are unredemptively evil and the Soviets (and now the Shia?) blessedly good to allow that that war (and this one) are wrong.

normxxx| talk email 18:27, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

About Noam Chomsky...[edit]

Don't get me wrong; I think NC is a genius— anyone who could invent mathematical linguistics and take it as far as he did (although ultimately failing to prove most of his points), must be classified a genius.

But, he is still a nut! normxxx| talk email 18:39, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

It's Noam Chomsky, not Naom (in case that wasn't a typo). So I change the title of this section heading.

Thanks for the correction. It wasn't a typo; I know he is Noam, but he is the only Noam I know of— and I know several Naoms, so I "forget." Maybe that was his first eccentricity. 'P.S. ' In searching the internet, I find that I am not the only one who seems to have lapsed into calling him Naom! normxxx| talk email 18:06, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Yes, I agree that he is a genius and also believ that it may be preciely for that reason that he is a bit....eccentric with regard to politics and other matters (see Godel the paranoiac, Wittgenstein who used to beat his students, etc., etc..) But that's neither here nor there. Nevertheless is fine by me.--Lacatosias 08:51, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Second-person Operationalism?[edit]

Alienus and Lacatosias: See my reference above on introspectionists for a discussion of Second-person operationalism and the study of 'mental phenomena(?),' or, as Kant would put it, noumena.! P.S. I have invited Bill Adams (the article's author) to contribute. Hope he does! normxxx| talk email 18:06, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

P.S. I believe the Dennett stuff is excellent for cueing the reader to the fact that the definition (and use within science) of OD is hardly settled within science or philosophy.

I agree. The same is true of verificationism, IMO. There's tremendous confusion: logical positivism is dead, therefore verificationism is....what, useless, pointless, meanignless. But that's sort of a positivistic vision of the meaning of verificationism. I'm somwhwt synpathetic toward the neo-verificationist (or justificaationist) positions of Michael Dummett and think they should, at leats, be teken seriously. but it has become something of an epithet in philosophy to describe someone's position as bordering on verificationism. Some people just find it hard to accept metaphyscial realism (espcially with reagrd to mathematical entities and the TRUE and FALSE of two-values classical logic) without argument. the debate between realism-antirelaims is very deep and intersting.--Lacatosias 10:39, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

Thanks, Norman, for inviting me to participate in this discussion on a topic I feel quite strongly about. My comments on the possibility of second person operationalism are below. Sorry to be verbose. I couldn't explain the idea any more concisely. I hope someone will find a way to take the essential points to the main article on operational definitions. Best Regards, Bill Adams, Badams7 22:16, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

  The idea of a second person operational definition is just emerging in psychology. It is based on the observation that any scientific operational definition ultimately boils down to consensus. (I don't think Dennett's so-called first person operationalism is coherent, but in any case, it is irrelevant to scientific method because it is entirely private).

In the hard sciences, the consensus derives from unquestioned belief in the ostensive, or “point-to” definition. We gather around a strip of litmus paper that has been properly applied and we nod our heads and agree that yes, it is definitely pink. While scientific observation has become enormously sophisticated and specialized, it still rests on the foundation of the ostensive definition. We know that if there is disagreement over scientific findings or their meanings, we can always, in principle, go back to the laboratory and make some simple sensory observations about which we all can agree.

In scientific psychology, the operational definition is also based on consensus, but unlike in the hard sciences, there are no simple sensory observations at the bottom of an explanatory hierarchy to form the consensual validity of the definition. There is nothing we can gather around and point to and say, yes, that is definitely a mental image. While each of us has access to his or her private mental states, that is of no use to science, which is a socially shared, not private, inquiry.

The best we can hope for in psychological science is to infer a person’s mental states, and even mentality itself, from other observations that we agree about, such as behavioral performances and verbal expressions. The problem is that those inferences are often seriously underdetermined and vastly overgeneralized.

A second person operational definition exploits the fact that all scientific operational definitions are founded on consensus, and that it may not matter how that consensus is arrived at, whether from agreement about simple sensory observations or from socio-political agreement about what inferences should be drawn from certain behavioral observations. If it makes no difference,

[ Normxxx Here:  As per the pragmatists!  ]

then it should be possible to establish a second person operational definition based on dialog, that would support an introspective science of mental events.

The second person grammatical form is about we and us. Second person knowledge, by analogy, would be knowledge that we share communally. It is a transpersonal knowledge concerned not with what I know or what you know, but what we know, in common. Examples include the meaning and correct usage of our common language, awareness of our common history, and intersubjective awareness of each other’s feelings and states of mind.

[ Normxxx Here:  As in all science, perfection is not required!  ]

Psychotherapy depends on such intersubjective awareness, as do teaching and learning, parenting, romantic love, and ordinary conversation. No one could seriously doubt that we are aware of each other’s mental states, not in the last detail, but in general. Civilization and even language itself would be impossible otherwise.

[ Normxxx Here: True enough. But we also know that people vary considerably in their ability to monitor/infer/empathize the mental state(s) of another— (I know, because I am particularly deficient in the ability to "read" the "feelings" of others, and have been almost from my beginnings). Is that important? Can that be (objectively) measured? ]

If certain fundamental mental entities and their operations could be agreed upon, it should be possible to conduct a “group introspection” or a “communal phenomenology” (Depraz, 1999) of mental events that would satisfy the need for publicity in scientific inquiry. The key is to reach consensus on basic definitions, and that can be done simply through dialog and negotiation.

[ Normxxx Here:  Ah-h-h; but then would a British set of "basic definitions" differ from the American (I think we all can concede that the Gallic set of "basic definitions" would cleanly differ from everyone elses!)? ]

In a second-person science of mind, we could distinguish between the Experimenter (E), who conceives and conducts the inquiry, and another observer (O) who is the primary observer. As in the traditional psychological experiment, E presents a focus object for mutual study, but it is not a “stimulus.” Rather, the focus object is a physical object, a photograph, or a verbal presentation, such as is typical in cognitive psychology experiments, but it is presented for the express purpose of reaching consensus on its description and meaning.

E and O discuss the focus object until they agree on its relevant features. That constitutes the calibration of their psychological attitudes and descriptive terms. The focus object is then systematically varied by E to manage subsequent dialog about O’s mental experience. O uses introspection as the basis of the report. E asks questions and O explains. E uses the tacit intersubjective and interobjective understandings that E and O have about their common language, culture, environment, and immediate context, until the O’s observations are clear to E and mutually agreed-upon. E does not infer O’s mental experience, but shares it, intersubjectively. E and O come to consensus about what O’s experience has been.

With multiple measurements of this kind, and with multiple Os, ordinary sampling and statistical methods control individual differences. The E’s manipulations thus constitute the second-person, consensus-based operational definition of the mental event described by O.

[ Normxxx Here:  I would also insist on multiple Es. In the 'hard' sciences, we actually do a lot of that (mere replication by the same lab is scarcely enough). In the 'soft' sciences, it has been shown again and again that such 'experiments' frequently reflect more of the mind of the E than of the O (e.g., as in the Rorschach, Szondi, and Thematic Apperception Tests). ]

In this method, dialog connects O’s observations with E’s understanding, via their intersubjectivity. Thus mental observations become inherently public because of social cognition. A second person inquiry into the mind thus has public objects and public process.

[ Normxxx Here:   Perhaps; but are the E"s who are observing the E and O themselves part of the experimental procedure, as would be required by every modern physical experiment? ]

The method is not so different from how qualitative research is done today in psychology, especially forms such as the phenomenological interview. The innovation of conceptualizing second person operational definitions is to bring the process under the aegis of the scientific method.

Similar ideas have cropped up from time in the past. David Bohm (1996)

[ Normxxx Here: Who has proposed the most subjective version of physics of modern times! ]

described a kind of dialog that led to “participatory thought.” Hermans (1996) advocated “dialogical interchange” as a method of investigating the self. More recently, Roepstorff and Jack (2003, 2004) have proposed an experimental procedure similar to my description above, as a paradigm for a science of mental events. All depend on social consensus about the descriptions and meanings of simple mental events, negotiated through dialog.


Bohm, D. (1996). On dialog. N.Y.: Routledge.

Depraz, N. (1999). The phenomenological reduction as praxis. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, (2-3): 95-110.

Hermans, H. J. M. (1996). Voicing the self: from information processing to dialogical interchange. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 1, 31-50.

Jack, A., & Roepstorff, A. (2003). Editorial introduction, Special Issue: Trusting the Subject? (Part 1). Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, 9-10, v-xx.

Roepstorff, A. & Jack, A. (2004). Trust or Interaction? Editorial introduction, Special Issue: Trusting the Subject? (Part 2). Journal of Consciousness Studies, 11, 7-8, v-xxii.

Public versus Private[edit]

Ribes-Inesta, Emilio: ABSTRACT With S.S. Stevens, operationism became an important influence in psychology. In this paper I discuss the differences between Bridgman's and Stevens' proposals on operationism and the role that operational definitions play in scientific theory. I discuss how Stevens' notions of the basic act of discrimination and of the relation procedure-outcome influenced B.F. Skinner's criteria under which the main conceptual distinctions in operant psychology were formulated. The operational origin of the dichotomies between respondent and operant behavior, contingency-shaped and rule-governed behavior, private and public events, and verbal and nonverbal behavior are examined.[1]

Apparently, I misremembered about the public vs. private debate; the "public" requirement did come from psychology, but from S.S. Stevens... normxxx| talk email 06:06, 13 February 2006 (UTC)


Well, see, I divide my deep thoughts in science and philosophy largely between science and philosophy. My first love is philosophy of science, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about the subject (at least the last 20 years or so, and for about 5 years at the U. of Mich. in the '60s).

In science, I believe that to make progress, we must be pragmatic. Take renormalizationwhere you essentially just cancel out infinities on both sides of the equation. Entirely without mathematical justification— Dirac went to his grave predicting dire consequences to our understanding of theoretical physics. Dick Feynman called it hocus-pocus. But it works!

Similarly, I believe that the only workable worldview in Physics (and science) is the Copenhagen interpretation: WYSIWYG, or What You See Is What You Get. Anything deeper is metaphysics!

But, that does not mean I will not explore metaphysics (as related to science or not) as best I am able; it just means that when exploring the philosophy of science, per se; I will eschew metaphysics as much as I am able.

but it has become something of an epithet in philosophy to describe someone's position as bordering on verificationism. Some people just find it hard to accept metaphyscial realism (espcially with reagrd to mathematical entities and the TRUE and FALSE of two-values classical logic) without argument.

I learned early— fortunately before I returned to school, and so avoided getting my mind bent like Pirsig—

Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry Into Values (P.S.) (Paperback) (2005; reprinted from 1974)

that the last place to look for philosophical understanding is in the philosophy department of any large university. I figured the best place would be at the leading edges of science; which, in the early '60s was either in particle physics (for which I figured I was too old— I was 29 at the time), or in psychology. Genetics had not yet exploded (the paper by Watson and Crick had just been published some 8 years earlier). So, I "dropped out" of being an E.E. (it was the '60s after all) and returned to school to work on a Ph.D. in Mathematical Psyshology.

All of which is by way of explanation, that the last people I am likely to be impressed by are academic (or so-called 'professional') philosophers! Anyway, with Popper, I fully subscribe to the notion that all valid empirical propositions of science must be falsifiable (since they are inductive), but not yet proved to be false. I also adhere to the notion that all valid logical propositions of science must be verifiable (since they are deductive), but not yet proved to be false. To that extent I suppose I am a verificationist!

As an inductive scientist, I believe that a sighting of a green beatle is an affirmation of the empirical proposition, "All crows are black" (which yields the transposition, "All not black things are not crows.")

P.S. In 'professional' philosophy, denigrating the more recent philosophers is frequently mistaken for progress (it's permissable to say good things about the 'ancients'— but not too much).

P.P.S. Yes, with old age has come a considerable degree of cynicism.

normxxx| talk email 22:41, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

Ohh, I don't think the academic arm-chair philosopshers are all that bad. Philosophy of sceince, itself, seems to have become much more pragmatic and scientificlly-informed in recent years, I think, probably as ea result of incerasing specializition. There are people who really do know their molecular biology working on the philosphy of molecular biology; peopl who really do know, and have extensively studied, quantum mechanics working on the philosophical imlication of quantum theory (most of them accpet the Copenhagen interperation or something close to it, BTW). There is an excellent entry which I was just reading on the histoyr of the gene in the Standford Encyopledia of Philosophy which exlains very throughougly how differents intertepration of the concept "gene" (realist, instrumentalist and what ave you) have all contributed at different times to the evoluton in our undersanding of the concept: a winderful example of interaction between metaphical ssumumptions and pratical application.

At any rate, this page has truned into an intersting discussion forum. I don't even have time to read theough everything right now. The second-person operationalist view seems clear enough to me .I also agree that Dennett's first-perosn operationalism is basically incoherent but I'll leave that alone for now. I don't want to offend anyone and the 'pedia is just supposed to repesent views without toosing in personal jusgement, so I still think it belongs in there.

One more observation: over here (Italy), there are some outstanding philosphers of physics (see Giancarlo Ghirardi and Mauro Dorato) who are actually both working physicsts and phlsophers (so these things are not mutually exclusive). But much of what you ssay is correct: there is still a great deal of division into schools of thought, where the speculcation about the nature of numbers, e..g., comes first and the practical reality comes later. But the post-modernist philosophers are far worse with respect to science and they are still dominant on European telvision and popular culture, doing much serious damage.--Lacatosias 11:25, 14 February 2006 (UTC)

Empirical term[edit]

I still suggest that any adjective such as theoretical or empirical in the definition is unnecessary. Aside from this, what about the word "term" used in the definition? Is the term a property of an object (e.g. x-coordinate of object is in the interval [a,b]) or more generally an n-ary relation between objects (e.g. x-projection of object1 is to the left of x-projection of object2). This is in the spirit of the operational definition of an observable in quantum mechanics.--CSTAR 18:33, 14 February 2006 (UTC)


I simplified the opening definition a bit and removed this: empirical term (i.e., a descriptor of some element of physical experience)...
That wild bit of word-slinging is mouthful enough to confuse an Einstein. We need to state things, at least in the introductory definition, in simpler terms that the regular population can access. As it was (and likely still is to a large extent), I think many readers will come to this, scan half of the first paragraph, and immediately move on. Trying to squeeze too much info into a line makes it too dense and inaccessible to the common reader.
It should also be noted that processes are not the only things that an OD is used for. All scientific studies have to have an OD for all the variables they use as well. I didn't see the word "variable" in the intro anywhere. It would likely do as a replacement for the above sentence fragment I quoted.
I'm just trying to improve quality here, so feel free to simply take my edits and such as mere suggestions. --DanielCD 21:58, 16 February 2006 (UTC) is not the specific weight of the specific object which is operationally defined..."
Keep in mind that, while generalities are not assigned ODs, variables are. Researchers must have precise definitions of the variables being tested as part of the repeatability concept. This may be clarified further down in the article, so forgive me if I'm stating the obvious or getting ahead of myself. --DanielCD 22:07, 16 February 2006 (UTC)

This article is very over specific in the opening definition, and I'm tempted to slap in a cleanup tag because it (at least the intro) needs some re-conceptualizing. Many other things besides techincal research use ODs. When people write books, they often have to define their terms, which is technically assigning them an OD.

If I'm wrong or missing something, please let me know. When working alone, it's easy to get boxed into a mindset and miss things.

The definition given is correct, I'm just saying it needs broadning. Even if I am totally wrong, the parameters and limits of the usage of an OD should be solidly defined in the intro, including addressing any misconceptions. After that, we can move on to all the particulars of each field. --DanielCD 22:20, 16 February 2006 (UTC)

When people write books, they often have to define their terms, which is technically assigning them an OD.

By the term books, I presume you're referring to technical scienctific books. If you mean things like definitions in dictionaries, novels, non-fiaction, or what have, then I would just point out that if everything is an OD than nothing is an OD. I have never heard ANY of these odd defintions of operationalism that people are using in this article and on this talk page. An operational deifntion, as tradtionally intended in philosophy of science is the reduction of some term (predicate, relation or whetver) to a concrete laboratory procedure,set of expreiments, etc.. It's really no more compicate than that. I can't make head nor tail of the lead section after he recently introduced changes. Leave it to the poor layman to struggle his/her way through it?? Good luck.--Lacatosias 08:32, 17 February 2006 (UTC)

If I'm wrong or missing something, please let me know.
so feel free to simply take my edits and such as mere suggestions.
So much for trying civility. The mockery is crude, but quaint. Try to make some suggestions and make it crystal clear that that's all they are and everyone's gotta play the meanie card. If you think that paragraph was acceptable... I'm not going to go there... --DanielCD 13:02, 17 February 2006 (UTC)
An operational deifntion, as tradtionally intended in philosophy of science is the reduction of some term (predicate, relation or whetver) to a concrete laboratory procedure,set of expreiments, etc.. It's really no more compicate than that.

We are in agreement on this. If you think we're writing a technical manual here, you've got another thing coming. You want to mock the idea of accessibility? I'd like to question on what grounds you do this. --DanielCD 13:18, 17 February 2006 (UTC)

My intent here is to simplfy the definition. I guess this was overlooked or I was dissociated and only thought that's what I was doing. If there are specific problems, let's address them and not crack skulls. (Though don't think I wouldn't be more than happy to oblige you in that regard, but not in this forum.)

If there are specific problems, please address them or make the corrections you see fit and discuss them. Accessibility is not to be mocked but by pure egoism. To return to where I was before I introduced such roudness, my recent rearragement of the intro is a suggestion to see if others agree that it might be more appropriate. The monstrosity that was masquerading as an introductory definition before this was sloppy, dense, uninformative, and just plain bad. --DanielCD 16:22, 17 February 2006 (UTC)

I intended no mockery. Period. I asked some questions and got a hysterical overreaction in response. The lead section of this artcile is a bit clearer to me now, in any case. I still do not undertand the first sentence and would just eliminate it. In the second, remove "in research" and it would seem fine to me. And I am not the one who wrote the previous version, so don't get on my case for that.--Lacatosias 16:44, 17 February 2006 (UTC)
Bad habit I must break. Apologies.
Thank you for that comment, that's something we can work with. I'm just referring people here who have never heard of the concept and am trying to see things from their persepective. --DanielCD 17:02, 17 February 2006 (UTC)
I think it's now quite simple and understandable in any terms that may come to bare. A good compromise. --DanielCD 17:09, 17 February 2006 (UTC)
Hey guys, take it easy! If OD were all that easy to define, then the Logical Positivists would not have so meekly folded their tents and departed the scene. I think the current change is a great improvement on my last change. I agee my last change was terrible, but it was in response to a particular objection, and I was in a hurry. normxxx| talk email 01:31, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Labored writing[edit]

I'm not very happy with the comprehensibility of the article as it currently stands. I understand operationalism, but when I read the article, I don't understand it anymore. The text is so labored and confusing that it throws me off. I think we need rewrite this in plain English.

The difficult language also has the problem of concealing errors. For example, the stuff about behaviorism vs. operationalism is either incoherent or just plain wrong. I can't understand the text well enough to say which it is, and I can't see any way to fix it that doesn't involve a major rewrite. Alienus 01:41, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

I have done a little "cleaning-up." Does that help? normxxx| talk email 02:29, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Somewhat, but not enough. I realized that I wouldn't get far complaining, so I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty with a major clean-up. I tried hard to avoid repeated text, excessive italics, and other common defects. However, since I was painting in broad strokes, it's possible that some detail was lost. Therefore, I ask that you (plural) dive in and work to ensure the correctness of what's there now. Alienus 03:50, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

An operational definition is a third-person description of a something — such a variable, term or object — in terms of the specific process or set of validation tests used to determine its presence and quantity. Properties described in this manner must be publicly accessible so that others (than the definer) can independently measure or test for them at will.
This is horrid to start with. Elementary school grammar (such a variable? Others (than the definer)?). God help us all. Also "third-person" implies publicly accessible, obviously. The previous formulation was infinitely better. I will restore it and then go throuhg and rewrite the rest of the arctile at some point, which I now find completely unintelligible, if not meanignless.--Lacatosias 08:11, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Ok, how about now? Alienus 17:07, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

I actually wrote that about...let me see ...11 hours ago. I was in an aweful mood then and expressed myslef a bit hyperbolically. The first paragraph scared me off with some bad grammar, the rest of the artcile was mostly fine in that regard. I changed several things which I thought important in terms of content, as I recall. --Lacatosias 18:50, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

So I gathered. Yes, there was a missing word in the first sentence. I went over your changes and fixed one or two words. I think that the article as it stands is acceptable now. Alienus 18:52, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Please do something with the section: "Relevance to philosophy." The lengthy third paragraph is unintelligible and quite possibly meaningless as stated. normxxx| talk email 23:45, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

How is operationalization related to this subject?[edit]

Just synonyms? Or is it the process of translating abstract concepts into observable and measurable quantities? Andries 19:32, 1 February 2007 (UTC)

Exteremely closely related, indeed. These should probably be merged. Operational definition == operationalization, from everything I've ever read in the philosophy of science and from common sense. being Wikipedia, however....there are mergists, anti-mergists, expansionists an other such meta-meta-meta-encyclopesists who like to spend their time arguing about these matters for several centuries. Not for me!! --Francesco Franco aka Lacatosias 10:27, 2 February 2007 (UTC)

Merge proposal 2009-Oct[edit]

There appear to be conflicting definitions of conceptual definition. Some make it indistinguishable from operational definition, while some contrast them. See wikt:conceptual definition AND this --JimWae (talk) 22:13, 6 October 2009 (UTC)

"working definition"[edit]

What is the difference between a "working definition" and a "Operational definition"? It should be explained in the article! — Preceding unsigned comment added by Moooooooon (talkcontribs) 15:43, 25 February 2011 (UTC)

Duck Typing[edit]

I'd suggest we remove Duck Typing from this article, as without citation it is largely unrelated to the term... Though I can see a link between it and how in Object Oriented Programming Objects are defined in terms of their methods (operations), it is a little tenuous. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:54, 29 August 2012 (UTC)

Merged this into the "In computing" (Operational definition#In computing) section. Though, there may be various specific interpretations, the whole meme deals with not knowing except through attributes some of which may be less observable than others. Or, they are such so as to be provided by a computational run, but not necessarily repeatable. In short, we might see a pattern and match it with something prior. Yet, overemphasizing convergence is a potential problem (machine learning, to wit). Operational definition applies quite heavily to computing in many ways. jmswtlk (talk) 21:08, 1 January 2017 (UTC)


I think "Shore scleroscope" is wrong. The Shore hardness measurement is used for measuring the hardness of softer materials such as rubber. It is measured with a durometer. The scleroscope is used to measure the hardness of hard surfaces such as metals. john f (talk) 08:02, 19 October 2012 (UTC)

Problem with the peanut butter sandwich example in the beginning[edit]

I know as far as priorities go, this problem is fairly low, but i feel it needs to be said. In the beginning of the article, there is an example of an operational definition using a peanut butter sandwich. The problem is that the picture that demonstrates the peanut butter sandwich is actually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so the operational definition does not actually fit the example. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:55, 23 October 2012 (UTC)

just chiming in to second this. the picture needs to be changed or the text does. Platypusjones (talk) 16:24, 14 May 2013 (UTC)

Richard Boyd quote up for discussion[edit]

{{Non-free review}}

Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 13:48, 22 February 2014 (UTC)

I'm clearing the quote as an excessively long quote that fails our copyright violation policy - it is far too much copyright taking for something that can be paraphrased. You can paraphrase most of what Boyd said, using short quotes for anything that is a subject opinion of his but most of that quote is not in that style and expressing details of the past. --MASEM (t) 15:18, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Also note that the source is wrong for the quote, it is now located here [2]. --MASEM (t) 15:22, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Turned it into paraphrase with a much, much briefer quotation. That's pretty much the heart of the source. :/ --Moonriddengirl (talk) 15:30, 1 March 2014 (UTC)

External links modified[edit]

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In computing[edit]

On request (, updating this section. This list of references is a minor start: -- Computational Thinking in Science - very recent overview of the issues; Peter Wegner (1994) on computable functions (and Turing's tarpit); K-12 Interest (Operational definition of Computational Thinking); Theory and Operational Definitions of Computational Memory Models ...; ...

At the same time, will merge the Duck Typing section to this one.

This subject needs its own page. jmswtlk (talk) 21:10, 1 January 2017 (UTC)

Done. (Operational definition#In computing) Note, the section is long. Needs to be longer. Hence, a new page is recommended with a synopsis here. There is no doubt of the suitability of this subject. jmswtlk (talk) 22:23, 1 January 2017 (UTC)