Category Archives: international standards

Guenter Wagner : Man-in-the-Middle

ISSN 2567-6458, 27.December 2022 – 29.December 2022, 11:00h
Author: Gerd Doeben-Henisch


This text is part of the text Molecules and Atoms. Late Encounter with Günter Wagner: The ‘man-in-the-middle’.


In computer science the expression ‘man-in-the-middle’ is well known as a term to describe someone who is ‘in the middle’ between two parties which are communicating with each other. The ‘man-in-the-middle’ is in this setting not ‘known’ to the communicating parties. They think they are communicating directly with each other.[1] But this situation of someone ‘in the middle’ between a ‘receiver’ and a ‘sender’ is very common outside computer science too.

When you read a text in a newspaper, the letters of the text you read are not the ‘events ‘about which’ the text wants to report. Between the intended target of the text and the printed letters there is a long and complicated chain of events, which all together are generating a translation from some ‘events out there’ into the expressions of a text which is send out to you as the reader of the newspaper. This long and hidden chain of events is not visible to you as the reader.

While the ‘man-in-the-middle’ in case of a communication with connected computers is understood as a hostile action, in normal life all these different kinds of ‘man in the middle’ are necessary to enable a sufficient communication between an event and you as a ‘reader’ of the transmitted messages.

A special type of communication is the transmission of ‘real properties’ of the real world to researching people during a so-called ‘measurement process’. To understand this a bit better let us have a look to everyday situations which are known to us.

If different persons want to talk about a certain ‘property’ of the real world with the aid of ‘everyday language’ then this can quickly become difficult because the ‘meaning’ of the expressions of our everyday language is not objectively defined in a precise way. When we are sitting at the table during breakfast and you ask someone whether she can pass you ‘the butter’, then the other person usually can associate the expression ‘the butter’ with some object on the table, if there is ‘only one’. But, if there are two different objects which ‘usually are understood’ as being classified as ‘butter’, you would need some additional ‘distinguishing properties’ to be able to decide ‘which one of them’. And if you would receive a phone call while you are sitting at the table and you would — by some reason — talk with the person of the phone call about ‘butter’, then the ‘meaning’ of the expression ‘butter’ could be very broad.

At first glance one could qualify this ‘fuzziness’ of the meaning of everyday language expressions as ‘weak’ or even as ‘bad’, but in the everyday world it is a great achievement to work with only a few words to be able to talk about an almost infinite number of things, properties. This is possible if the situation referred to is sufficiently known to all participating speakers.

Human societies have grown considerably over the past thousands of years, and daily living situations have become increasingly diverse. If you want to sell a certain amount of flour in the market at a certain price, and you travel to different markets, then it would be good if in all markets the ‘quantities’ and the ‘prices’ were the same. It is therefore no surprise that such situations led to the introduction of local ‘standards’ through which the general idea of ‘standards for measuring’ became visible: You have something you want to measure (e.g. the volume of the ‘flour’) and you have a ‘volume standard’ (e.g. a ‘regional certified container’), which will be used to ‘measure’ a certain ‘amount’ of such certified container-volumes.

As we know, this trend to introduce ‘standards for measurement’ has evolved during the times until we have today a global system of such standards.[2,3] Thus, to measure today some property of the ‘real world’ encoded for communication in some kind of ‘language expressions’ you have to associate your language with such ‘measurement standards’ which are glob ally accepted as well as accepted in your country.[4]

In what follows the author of this text will look a bit more in the topic of ’empirical measurement’ realized with the aid of a ‘measurement process’ which is using instruments (= measurement machines) which are able to support ‘mass spectroscopy’. This philosophical investigation will use the experience of a man who has nearly his whole life dedicated to the theory behinds such measurement process, to the development of the technology enabling mass spectroscopy, and who also has actively promoted divers application scenarios; many years he was also a ‘net-worker’ between many research groups (including teams of Nobel-prize winners), scientific and national institutions, small and big companies, and even political missions in the realm of Nuclear Non-Proliferation treatises around the world.

Encountering this broad view of enabling processes of measurement can hopefully show that these processes are not less important than all the end users of such measurement processes. But in the ‘history of events’ these — often wonderful — ‘men-in-the-middle’ have usually no reporter. This is bad in more than one way. The most important bad effect is, that a society is in danger to forget about this dimension and will probably not ‘educate’ enough young people to be able to ‘keep the cultural level’ high enough to continue with technology and science. Cutting the legs of men (cultural education) makes them immobile …


wkp := wikipedia

[1] The ‘Man-in-the-middle’ attack: wikipedia [EN]:

[2] International System of Units, wikipedia [EN]: See also ‘derived units’: Another often used concept, which is not part of the SI-system is ‘parts-per-notation’ relating to a ‘dimensionless’ term:

[3] International Bureau of Weights and Measures (French: Bureau international des poids et mesures, BIPM), see wkp [EN]:

[4] Usually there exists besides the global institute for measurement [3] a national bureau of measurement like the NIST in the USA. See for a first overview wkp [EN]: