Notes from Robert T. Crease. World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement. W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 2011.

Notes from Robert T. Crease. World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement. W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 2011.

I love the study of standards, scientifically and culturally/spiritually. Standards offer the opportunity to make visible and communicable, enabling the possibility for uplift or oppression. Standards and measures operate together, and The World in Balance is an excellent introduction to concerns with measures, including the science (metrology) and cultural/spiritual significance (metrosophy) of measures. Below are some of my brief notes on selected passages from the book. A

After my notes are a quote from J.T. Roane’s recent article in Black Perspectives, which covers other ways of knowing and being that transcend and transform the Western intellectual tradition. As I prepared to type notes on metrology, this was an excellent read that just came out, and it is so important to address and include works that put measures, standards, and seemingly objective methods in their right place, with needed framing for context and definitions on their limits and relations.


Robert T. Crease. World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

“A measure, most simply, is a standard or mark against which we gauge or evaluate something” (14).

“The result can be both arbitrary and circular: we define a measure by some element of the world, and that element by the measure” (14).

“Accessibility is only one of three important properties of a measure. A second in appropriateness—a measure has to be the appropriate scale for the intended purpose” (19).

“Besides being accessible and appropriate, a measure must also be assured, or sturdy and reliable enough for the intended purpose” (20).

Examples given include: jahrzeit glass, acoustics and Wallace Sabine, and novel The Tailor and Antsy by Eric Cross (20-24) which defines land area in “collops”: “The collop, based on the ‘carrying power’ of land, ‘told you the value of a farm, not the size of it. An acre might be an acre of rock, but you (end page 23, now 24) know where you are with a collop.’ One collop was the area needed to graze ‘one sow or two yearling heifers or six sheep or twelve goats or size geese and a gander’” (23-24).

“A standard is a sample of a particular quantity which we have chosen to specify as having the value of 1 of that quantity. When a standard is created, it embodies the unit, giving it specific, concrete identity as an artifact” (27).

“Weighing and measuring is now a social institution at the center of circles of trust and experience (29).

“The embodiment of measures—the manufacture and maintenance of standards, the networks in which they are involved, and the supervision of these networks—gave rise to the subject of metrology, the science of weights and measures. […] The study of the cultural or spiritual significance of measures and their patterns—such as the tie between the proportions of the Vitruvian Man and the Greek idea of beauty—can be called metrosophy.” (30)

“the Bible equates accurate measuring with justice itself” (31)

 “Abuses of measurement in the modern world tend to take a different form: equating the real with the measurable, and putting too much trust in measurement to establish such fundamentally immeasurable things as intelligence, happiness, self-esteem, educational quality, and so forth.” (32)

Names and measures for land in relation to productivity/yield (how much can be plowed in a day for what type of crop), page 75-76

“One area of land was not equal to another” (77)

Medical records, and need for uniform names for causes of death, page 129

Antimetric movement, page 151

Mocktrology, page 179

Designing for People and The Measure of Man and Woman by Henry Dreyfuss, 228-229

Designing for People and The Measure of Man, provide line drawings of a pair of archetypical human beings, named ‘Joe’ and ‘Josephine’, whose accompanying measurements (the fruit of decades of data collection and research) were intended to allow engineers to incorporate human form and behaviors from the start into products and machinery” (228)

Metroscape, page 231

“Sometimes customer experience has to be integrated into a technology for it to succeed” (235)

“Dark sides of the metroscape” (243)

“According to Goodhart’s law, whenever a measure is selected as a target for a particular policy it soon loses its value as a measure” (246)


J.T. Roane, “Black Queer Writers and the Transformative Possibilities of Queer Sensuality,” Black Perspectives; AAIHS, January 17, 2017: http://www.aaihs.org/black-queer-writers-and-the-transformative-possibilities-of-queer-sensuality/

As Lorde described, attention to these parameters of physical contact and social connection forged the requisite energy and novel capacity for previously impossible action, political and otherwise. Here, Lorde troubled the mind/body dichotomy by routing a different way of forging generative social life and political action through dancing bodies pressed together, as opposed to singularly through the mind. Moreover, unlike the dominant Western episteme that privileges sight or seeing as the only way of credibly observing phenomena, Lorde opened the haptic, or the ability to feel, touch, and be touched, as a route to knowing, subtly reordering the sensorium—the historically produced arrangement of the human senses whose education and acculturation constitute a socially sanctioned way of observing and interpreting “truth.”

The erotic and the related concept sentimentality are radical theorizations of a world unhinged from the ways of knowing that undergird white patriarchal domination and dominion. The erotic and sentimentality remain available as conceptual shifts that take us beyond the dominant paradigms constituted through the mind/body and human/nature divides within the Western intellectual tradition. We can mobilize these Black Queer edits in the realm of epistemology and politics to create the conditions for a different world. This is particularly important in our own moment, in which “If there is an exit, it will be via an exit from the social relation that defines capital.”2