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Quantified Self – Back To Front

Such a frustrating programme on Radio 4 Analysis.

The quantified self: can life be measured?

The “quantified self” movement promises that life-logging and data-tracking can make us smarter. Frances Stonor Saunders asks whether by measuring what we do we miss who we are.

You can listen to the MP3 Podcast Here.

In this programme we have people who like logging every aspect of their life set up against Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury). The programme leans towards the life-loggers trying to measure the self whilst Rowan argues you can’t measure the self at all without killing it or missing the point.

What is so frustrating is that both sides are arguing from the wrong direction. The essence of Christianity is the existence of a soul. Without this indivisible unit of measure there can be no redemption. Christ can’t have died for me if there is no solid me to be saved. From the perspective of the fire and brimstone branch of the religion some “thing” has to be judged as being worthy of heaven or hell. Christianity is fundamentally about counting in or out.

On the other side we have the life-loggers who lean much more to the side of no solid self at all. We are just the nodal point at the centre of a set of measurements. This is much closer to the Buddhist anatma. Not necessarily no-soul but definitely no-soul to be found.

What I find particularly frustrating is that the opportunity for spiritual growth in life-logging is missed. The Buddha would instruct his followers to meditate in the charnel grounds on the decomposition of the body to bring home the message of impermanence. This is all we are. Life-logging is like that. It can be used to explore our inter-being and utter dependence on everything around us. All five skandhas are empty.

One could argue a Christian message from this point. Without God we are nothing. Look at the figures. You don’t find you.

What makes me sad is the programme comes across as yet another shallow C.P. “The Two Cultures” Snow approach to a subject. Poetry and the arts have a monopoly on Insight whilst anything to do with numbers is “just” technology. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are both equally valuable for spiritual growth.

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