You can measure

Perhaps the solution to the quest for total harmony is for each of us to invent our own system of measurement.

A friend of mine was recently required to give evidence in a court case following a minor car accident.   He was asked by the learned counsel for the prosecution how far his car had travelled from a set of traffic lights before it was hit by another vehicle.

Thinking for a moment my friend then answered in a clear voice (as he had been so instructed), “About twenty metres.”

There was, he later told me, a stony silence in the court.  The judge looked up from his notes and peered at the barristers for the prosecution and defence, looking from one to the other.  Eventually one of the learned gentlemen ventured, “About 65 yards sir?”

The question mark at the end of the suggestion was perfectly audible, and all in court waited until the judge had got a slight nod from the other barrister, and thus it was decided.  In this court of law, on this day, twenty meters was around 65 yards.  In other courts, or indeed in this court before another judge, it might well be something quite different, but for now, that’s what it was.

This notion of having to turn the rather logical metric system into the wholly haphazard imperial approach to measurement for the sake of a court hearing suggests that the idea of random measurement systems, upon which I have touched in the past, is still with us, and will be for a long time to come.

Indeed there is now the growing use of the FMW measurement of distance, with FMW standing for the “five minute walk”.

Of course, the distance which people can walk in five minutes varies hugely from one person to another, and so it seems a suitably vague system for measuring matters that have to be converted to something else.

Certainly the “foot” (from which the yard was derived) has been used in many measuring systems in countries ranging from England to Greece, Ancient Rome to China.   The only problem with it is that it means something quite different in each and every place – and not just country to country.  A foot in one village could be quite different from a foot in a nearby town.  It all added to the fun, not to mention disputes with carpet salesmen.

The FMW is obviously part of this tradition, and it is rather interesting to note that one of the first distances to be recorded in FMWs was the journey across the straits of Dover – which is apparently 68 FMWs.  Who worked that out, and whether they survived the experience, we don’t actually know.

It all raised (in a very roundabout way) the notion that if we are to go around measuring things we often measure in units that we have never heard of, how about measuring other things that we never measure, in units we are quite familiar with.

Take for example, free will.  How much free will do you have?  Is it above or below six gallons, which I have just established as the fundamental adequacy level of free will for a normal functioning adult.  Although my opinion might be changed now, having just seen an advert from a firm of solicitors which proclaimed “Free Will, worth £180”.

The problem is made more intense by any attempts to measure the probability that something might or might not happen.  For example, the website of the Irish Lottery used to point out that you could improve your chances of winning the Lottery by taking a good look at the STATS section of the Lottery web site which has information in it based on previous draws.

Now working on the perhaps naïve belief that lottery draws are actually random this suggests that the Irish government has made some important discoveries relating to probability – which up to this point told us that the winning numbers being declared as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, coming out in that order, were the same as for 48, 22, 1, 19, 3, 44 coming out again in that specific order, which were exactly the same as…  well you get the general idea.

So we can now measure probability in new ways, refuse to accept metric in an English court of law, pay £180 for free will, and travel to France in 68 five minute under water walks.

But perhaps this is just the issue of measurement and order seeking to keep up with human progress.   Actually I rather suspect so.

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