Friday, October 28, 2011


So, my buddy Jeff sent me this article, with the intention of getting me to write another post.

The article is focused on measurements and measuring.  As the article states, there are two ways of measuring: the "ontic", which relates to a scalar measurement (think of a ruler); and the "ontological", which relates to an experiential measuring.  It may be helpful to describe them as "quantitative" and "qualitative" measurements (despite the fact that these terms are not wholly accurate to what they are describing, I think most people will get the general gist of the distinction between the two types of measurements).

The article goes on to point out the fallacy that we, as a modern society, seem to have fallen into; everything is quantifiable, and by taking the time to quantify, categorize, and analyze our lives, our experiences, we can thus improve ourselves in meaningful ways.  This notion of quantifying and categorizing is illustrated by IQ.  We rank people by a quantity, a score on a test, and categorize them based on predictions related to that score.  However, how can this test really quantify intelligence?  What, exactly, is intelligence anyway?  What are the characteristics of intelligence?

I work in software development, and have spent a fair amount of time doing database development and design.  I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the practical implications of data, of quantifying and categorizing and aggregating data, of scales and descriptors and attributes.  In software, we even have data about the data (called "meta-data", in case you were curious).  Developers need to have distinct rules, discrete types, quantifiable measurements; computer software doesn't work otherwise, because the computer can't think.  But we can.  And we can measure things in different ways.

And this is where the crossover from technology to ourselves becomes most important.  People want to categorize and quantify their lives, their experiences.  My day can become a series of tasks and minutes, tagged and logged and tucked away in a spreadsheet so that someone else can go over it to review my worth, my contributions.  Running becomes data to be analyzed later, a collection of facts that are disassociated from the actual act. 

But there is more to my day, there is more to running and training and racing.  If I want to be the best that I can be as a runner or developer, I need to embrace the experiences, measure those against a different scale.  To be a better person, I can't simply rely on collecting a timesheet; I need to be able to measure the quality of the work I do.  I need to use different scales, different measurements, to really get an idea of where I am, how I'm doing.

Think about it this way: Most of the time, I feel alright.  Not up, not down, nice and level.  Then something happens, and I feel different (happier, sadder, doesn't matter).  How can I measure this?  How do you quantify emotions?  You might be able to put it into a scale, but that scale is rather personal.  Your sense of measurement doesn't have a definitive, definable beginning and end.  You might be happier or sadder, but how do quantify the degree?

And that's where I think a lot of people break down in their approach to training.  Running and racing is not about the data, and it is definitely not a process that can be run through a Six Sigma type of approach to eliminate "defects".  You need those runs where you feel like hammered shit, or blow up completely and limp home.  That's how you learn what you can do.  And you can't really quantify that experience come race day; you gotta feel it, you gotta learn to walk the razor's edge and not get cut to ribbons.  Most of the time, you don't walk it perfectly.  But every so often you can pull it off, that beautiful execution.  And that feeling, that experience, is immeasurable.

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