05: An unquantifiable reality.

- July 3, 2016 -

There is a wonderful quote by William Bruce Cameron that I so often find myself returning to: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

His words, for me, are like a breath of fresh air. They are a reminder that success is not something which can always be quantified or made visible, and they are a reminder that so much of our lives exist beyond the surface level of understanding.

This is precisely the type of thing which we have seen evidenced again and again throughout human history: the now-famous artist who was unable to sell even a single painting during their lifetime, or the book which is now regarded as a classic but was unmarketable in its time. Back then, the value which was assigned to these works was very close to zero — but, these days, their worth is beyond measure.

I think about this strange phenomenon of valuation whenever I pick up a book and hold it in my hands. How little it is that books cost, yet how great the benefit we derive from them. I don’t think that the wealth of knowledge, guidance, and understanding which we receive from books is something that can be quantified in any terms, but I know for certain that it’s not something which the $12 or $15 price tag of a book can do justice to.

For me, though, what most clearly encapsulates the sentiment behind Cameron’s quote is something that my favourite English professor once said. He was telling us how students, especially those who are new to the humanities, will often complain that the marking process is too subjective. Unlike, say, math or science, in which there is often a more clearly defined right or wrong answer, work that is done within the realm of the humanities tends to be much more open to interpretation.

What my professor said to us that afternoon remains with me to this day: “Yes,” he said, “The marking process is subjective. But so are some of the best, most important things in life: love, happiness, friendship.. these are things which can’t be quantified.”

If you ask me, the majority of the things which we experience in our lives, both good and bad, cannot be reduced to a quantifiable value, a set of statistics, or a tidy explanation. Why, then, do we so often try to do that?


– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.