by Antonio Dias

Confronted with a recalcitrant reality we all want to measure.

In measuring we seek control. In the evidence of the failed metrics of others who came before us we see a challenge to do better. Our method will work!


The issue is in scaling, a matter we are confronting on all sides as we run into limits that have been ignored. We can’t bake a cake or make a box without measuring. At least that’s what we believe….

If there might be doubts as to the benefits of measuring – it’s an attitude before it is a technique – even at this scale – not doubts held by many… – what about on larger scales?

What happens is that when we attempt to measure things on a large scale, we run into the limits of perception and struggle with diminishing returns to maintain any sort of useful accuracy.

One of the hardest “lessons” of professional mathematics and science is that it is not only OK to approximate, but that we must do so if we are to grasp and effect anything big  – or so tiny as to be equally beyond our reach.

What if this indoctrination into reductivism is itself an immense error?

I was struck long ago when I first heard about another way of “counting.” It turns out that we have an inherent ability, shared by many other creatures, to tell if a large group, say a flock, has twenty or nineteen sheep. We will notice if one has been added or taken away. There is an accuracy here that is “uncanny.” A term reductivist’s use to dismiss what cannot be counted in the “normal” pedestrian way.

We tend to expect that in the absence of measuring there is no measure. This is a dangerous expectation.

At the heart of our misunderstandings of the nature of thought is the way thought, abstractions of all sorts, attract us and blind us to being. We are easily distracted. We are infatuated by thought and stare after abstractions while the actual world runs away from us.

Better measurements will not “solve” this.

No one can deny that there are real needs lost in the jumble of our desires and projections. These needs can be dire. They can be immediate. They do involve problem solving at some level.

But, if we mistake this specific problem solving and how to deal with specific situations and lump everything into the same framework, we have blinkered our selves and restricted our capacities for interacting with our surroundings. We’ve crippled our selves while at the same time making our selves, and what we do, so much more dangerous than many of the forces we strive to protect our selves from in the first place. We enter into the realm of unintended consequences.

We can’t have this both ways. We insist on having it both ways.

We know that better food is made under artisanal conditions than in a food laboratory. But instead of embracing artisanal practice, we strive to fake it in food laboratories.

There is nothing like actually connecting with a few people directly, some might call this love. We push to have as many people “know” us and “like” us instead. – please hit the convenient “like button” on this post!

As with so much that has been lost or broken, it was powerful, but not in ways that made it impervious to the pernicious effects of the reductivist principle. Read any account of “First Contact.”

Turning the colonization of our selves and our world backwards directly is an impossible task.

David Bohm, as proof of the Implicate Order of the universe posited an experiment. If we take a drop of sticky printers ink and run it through a rolling press – between two wheels revolving against each other under pressure onto a film of glycerine – we can create a thinner and thinner film that tears and breaks up in an apparently random way. Yet, if we run the rollers back the other way, the original ball of ink is restored.

Another of Bohm’s insights compared us to fish in a tank that have learned that we are limited by an invisible glass barrier. Remove the barrier, and the fish continue to remain bound by its previous limit on their movements.

Both of these are at work in our task. No, we can’t shove colonization back into its tube, but that does not mean it is not irreversible. Also, barriers, especially ones that are unseen, unrecognized, continue to function even when they are no longer there, until accident or serendipity led us to discover the true extent of our freedom.

Let’s consider the questions now all tangled up in competing modes of measurement and opinions about their “efficiency,” and look at them in this other light.

This means letting go of an insistence on solution. Here is where the trap captures us! This is not a sneaky new way to be “really efficient!” It does not promise anything but a release from the bounds of futility.

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