Crunching numbers

At the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), there are jars of some of the most expensive peanut butter money can buy. The price tag is not due to the scarcity of ingredients or secret bespoke cooking techniques, but is instead because it has been measured right down to the molecule.

In a fascinating article at The Guardian, James Hewitt sets out to explore our obsession with quantifying everything. He writes that his interest in metrology began by asking why standards of measurement are, well, standard. While Hewitt found that “the wisdom of what can be measured” has long been a driver of business, politics and science, our personal lives have been exempt. Until recently, that is. With “wearable” tech and the ability of Big Data to collect endless amounts of information, we can monitor sleep and metabolism and make sure we’re covering 10,000 steps. One critic says this often amounts to a “modern narcissistic quest for uniqueness and exceptionalism”.

Hewitt never really reaches a conclusion about why we can’t help quantifying our lives. He sees that measurement is often arbitrary – if we don’t get the outcome we want, we will tweak the results. Sixteenth-century mathematician and astronomer, Rheticus might be closer to the answer though. He said that what can be measured can be controlled. Just show me the formula and I’ll sort it out.

The motivation to measure has moved beyond the desire to understand and steward God’s creation, for his glory. In the hands of godless men, it becomes a relentless means by which we seek to control others, society and the world. With our computing power and the ease which comes with much of life in Modernland, men labor under the illusion that there is no aspect of life cannot be conquered and improved. Stats, data, and dimensions become part of our self-justification project.

But an honest assessment will reveal – measuring has its limits. Who can measure the value of a vocation? What is the price for your time? What is the worth of a life? How deep is the wickedness in a fallen human heart? Like Rev Fisk has pointed out in the past, the best kind of measuring is that which reveals “where your measuring can no longer go”.  

As Mad Christians, we know that the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to discern (or measure) right and wrong – the best kind of measuring! Through studying the Word of God, we are being changed into the likeness of Christ, The Standard, the fullness of God in human flesh. We are complete, equipped, and trained in righteousness, for every good work. So get back to the Word, get wisdom – for good measure! 

Updated 25th June 2022

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