Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The measurement principle

One of the first things I learned as a physicist was the Measurement Principle. Roughly speaking (and it will have to be rough because I was never much of a physicist), it states that you can’t measure anything accurately because the measuring process will inevitably affect the thing you are measuring. If you measure a small child with a ruler, for example, the heat of your hands will expand the ruler, and holding the ruler against the small child will make it jump, and so on. Even if you replace the small child with, say,  a piece of wood, the process of measurement will have an effect. Now I agree the effect is minimal and probably would not affect your shelf-building project or the purchase of new shoes, but in the case of sub-atomic particles the effect is more drastic. Instead of using rulers you have to use underground particle accelerators and such things which explode apart the thing you want to measure and (if I’ve understood correctly) you then measure the resulting debris with rulers. Thankfully it is a technique we do not have to use on small children.

This principle also applies to social interaction: whenever you and I interact we are both changed, for better or for worse. As John Donne said, no man is an island — we affect, and are affected by, the lives of others: as they ‘measure’ us, and we them; interpersonal forces connect us and we are changed. The most powerful force in the universe is love. Its nemesis, hate, is also strong, but even hate cannot survive the presence of love, for love is the ultimate victor, the conqueror of all. So I pray daily for the force of love to permeate me, to intoxicate me with her perfume.

As created human ‘particles’, made in the image of God, we have been given a trajectory of life that will end in collision. We have been spun into being by the vortex of love, and are now being drawn inexorably back towards the creator’s heart — a heart which burns with such bright nuclear love that ours in comparison is but a small candle. Yet human lay intelligence dares to hold out a ruler to try and measure God; it is the folly of a mad physicist, shining a weak torch into space at noon, and saying ‘I can’t see the stars’.

The true picture is this: God is holding out his hand to measure us as the trajectory of life brings us daily closer to him. The standard he holds is Love, and it burns with unquenched passion and power. And here the Measurement Principle also applies. As God’s love approaches us, we are changed, we are affected, we are transformed. Here on this earth it seems that God’s love is seen in the penumbra of reality; the glow of the moon, the silver reflection of unseen gold. One day we will see him face to face. For those who have already chosen the embrace of love, the ultimate Embrace will confirm like nature; it will be the embrace of passionate consummation. For those who have chosen darkness, selfishness and hatred, the fire of God’s love will still burn, but for them it will be a dangerous embrace of destruction, at least for the temporary shelters they have called home, leaving them naked and newborn on the shore of eternity.

I pray that God will begin to measure me now, that I might be changed and prepared for the ultimate collision with reality. And in the meantime, that this musician’s journey will, like the moon, reflect the light of the sun of love.

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