Lately I’ve been running across various things dealing with quantification [via Jack/Zen]and qualification and value. I’m engaged with these thoughts and have been reshuffling and retelling them in order to get closer to… something. The heart of the matter? At least, something that feels right.
Questions I’ve been asking myself include:
• Does everything need to be quantifiable?
• Must everything fit qualifications?
• What things naturally resist quantification or qualification?
The quantification questions are easier to answer, easier to quantify, because they obey their own rules. Asking the question in terms of need is subjective, and therefore a bit disingenuous, but the answer to that question adds context to the question: Can everything be quantified? For me, the answer to both is no. I’m even of the opinion that things that can be quantified don’t necessarily need to be quantified exactly. We can’t avoid measuring and judging; distance, how much salt is in a pinch, whether we have time to eat breakfast in the morning, but when the measuring and judging takes precedence over the experience of tossing a football or baking brownies then quantification is getting out of hand.
Questions like: “How much do you love me?” are bad questions because I think this is the area where quantity and quality start to get mixed up. If the answer to “How much do you love me?” is “Bigger than the universe.” then the quantity question has been answered in terms of quantity. If the answer is “More than warm blankets and hot cocoa on a winter’s day.” then the question has been answered qualitatively. Quality arguments [like the main thread of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance] are subjective and therefore slightly different from each other quality argument. Even in groups that supposedly espouse the same set of qualifications there is a lot of elbow room.
Jeff Hess frames a quality argument:
Since the Englightenment the argument has run something like this: Yes, here are fanatics and fundamentalists who committ evil in the name of their god, but that reality should not be allowed to deny the solace of faith to those who do not seek to deny others their freedoms and faiths.
Do you think that argument still holds true, or, as Sam Harris argues in The End Of Faith, is it time to recognize that all faith systems are based on superstition and are inherently damaging to the future of humanity?
This sort of question is a tough nut to crack for several reasons, but the main one I can see is that it takes one set of qualitative criteria [the post-Enlightenment belief in Reason] and sets it against the qualitative criteria of other belief systems. For me at least, this is a question that can never be answered because to me it is apples and oranges. Probably the best explanation of this comes from a MetaFilter comment:
Pure scientific fact is just a meaningless pile of numbers. Scientific theory is just a falsifiable prediction. Humans can’t live on that alone. They can fit those predictions and data into a view of what the world is, who they are, and how those two relate, but that’s a story – that’s a mythology – no matter how you cut it. A prediction about human population dynamics over the next 100 years is a hypothesis; believing that humans are defined and ennobled by the very same faculty of reason that paves the eternal road of progress on which we march is mythology. Not in the sense that it isn’t true, but in the sense that it is unfalsifiable, unscientific, and philosophical. In short, in that it is human.
I’m not trying to create an argument about the veracity of one set of qualitative criteria against another, instead I’m of the opinion that any set of qualitative criteria must be tempered by doubt in the qualifications of the qualitative criteria. This also includes doubt in the qualifications of quantitative data. If you follow me.
Certainty is hubris.