In this paper, we examine the history of the idea that noise presents a fundamental limit to physical measuring processes. This idea had its origins in research aimed at improving the accuracy of instruments for electrical measurements. Out of these endeavors, the Swedish physicist Gustaf A. Ising formulated a general conclusion concerning the nature of physical measurements, namely that there is a definite limit to the ultimate sensitivity of measuring instruments beyond which we cannot advance, and that this limit is determined by Brownian motion. Ising’s conclusion agreed with experiments and received widespread recognition, but his way of modeling the system was contested by his contemporaries. With the more embracing notion of noise that developed during and after World War II, Ising’s conclusion was reinterpreted as showing that noise puts a limit on physical measurement processes. Hence, physicists in particular saw the work as an indication that noise is of practical relevance for their enterprise.

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