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  • What does the French Revolution

  • have to do with the time NASA accidentally crashed a $200 million orbiter

  • into the surface of Mars?

  • Actually, everything.

  • That crash happened due to an error

  • in converting between two measurement systems,

  • U.S. customary units

  • and their S.I, or metric, equivalence.

  • So what's the connection to the French Revolution?

  • Let's explain.

  • For the majority of recorded human history,

  • units like the weight of a grain or the length of a hand weren't exact

  • and varied from place to place.

  • And different regions didn't just use varying measurements.

  • They had completely different number systems as well.

  • By the late Middle Ages, the Hindu-Arabic decimal system

  • mostly replaced Roman numerals and fractions in Europe,

  • but efforts by scholars like John Wilkins to promote standard decimal-based measures

  • were less successful.

  • With a quarter million different units in France alone,

  • any widespread change would require massive disruption.

  • And in 1789, that disruption came.

  • The leaders of the French Revolution didn't just overthrow the monarchy.

  • They sought to completely transform society

  • according to the rational principles of the Enlightenment.

  • When the new government took power,

  • the Academy of Sciences convened to reform the system of measurements.

  • Old standards based on arbitrary authority or local traditions

  • were replaced with mathematical and natural relationships.

  • For example, the meter, from the Greek word for measure,

  • was defined as 1/10,000,000 between the Equator and North Pole.

  • And the new metric system was, in the words of the Marquis de Condorcet,

  • For all people, for all time.

  • Standardizing measurements had political advantages

  • for the Revolutionaries as well.

  • Nobles could no longer manipulate local units to extract more rent from commoners,

  • while the government could collect taxes more efficiently.

  • And switching to a new Republican Calendar with ten-day weeks

  • reduced church power by eliminating Sundays.

  • Adoption of this new system wasn't easy.

  • In fact, it was a bit of a mess.

  • At first, people used new units alongside old ones,

  • and the Republican Calendar was eventually abandoned.

  • When Napoléon Bonaparte took power,

  • he allowed small businesses to use traditional measurements

  • redefined in metric terms.

  • But the metric system remained standard for formal use,

  • and it spread across the continent, along with France's borders.

  • While Napoléon's empire lasted eight years,

  • its legacy endured far longer.

  • Some European countries reverted to old measurements upon independence.

  • Others realized the value of standardization

  • in an age of international trade.

  • After Portugal and the Netherlands switched to metric voluntarily,

  • other nations followed,

  • with colonial empires spreading the system around the world.

  • As France's main rival,

  • Britain had resisted revolutionary ideas and retained its traditional units.

  • But over the next two centuries, the British Empire slowly transitioned,

  • first approving the metric system as an optional alternative

  • before gradually making it offical.

  • However, this switch came too late for thirteen former colonies

  • that had already gained independence.

  • The United States of America stuck with the English units of its colonial past

  • and today remains one of only three countries

  • which haven't fully embraced the metric system.

  • Despite constant initiatives for metrication,

  • many Americans consider units like feet and pounds more intuitive.

  • And ironically, some regard the once revolutionary metric system

  • as a symbol of global conformity.

  • Nevertheless, the metric system is almost universally used in science and medicine,

  • and it continues to evolve according to its original principles.

  • For a long time,

  • standard units were actually defined by carefully maintained physical prototypes.

  • But thanks to improving technology and precision,

  • these objects with limited access and unreliable longevity

  • are now being replaced with standards based on universal constants,

  • like the speed of light.

  • Consistent measurements are such an integral part of our daily lives

  • that it's hard to appreciate what a major accomplishment for humanity they've been.

  • And just as it arose from a political revolution,

  • the metric remains crucial for the scientific revolutions to come.

What does the French Revolution

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B1 中級

TED-ED】なぜメートル法が重要なのか - Matt Anticole (【TED-Ed】Why the metric system matters - Matt Anticole)

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    Sh, Gang (Aaron) に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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