Reducing life to math

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By Rex Alphin

We can measure the speed of the earth’s elliptical rotation around the sun and thus determine its exact location next Nov. 18 at 7:36 p.m. We can measure the speed of light and thus determine the time at which a beam emitted from Anchorage, Alaska, will first encounter the planet Neptune.

But can we measure the depth to which a mother loves her child?

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We can measure the monthly mortgage payments with an annual percentage rate of 5 percent, paid monthly for the next 20 years, to the exact penny. We can measure the level of friction acting against water flowing through a four-inch pipe three miles in length and know how much the pressure will be reduced as a result.

But can we measure the level of pleasure a song gives a human being?

We can measure the worth of your 401k in 13 years if it increases in value proportionate to the increase in stocks the last 20 years. We can measure the maximum weight a bridge must support in order to be safely crossed by 56 cars and 13 trucks at any one time.

But can we measure the level of ecstasy to which one rises during a worship service?

We can measure the number of products that will be sold if presented to the public between the first and second quarter of the Super Bowl. We can measure the precise temperature at which the material aluminum will melt.

But can we measure the quality of one’s laugh at a Udell Butler joke?

We can measure the heat units required to mature a Bailey peanut planted in the sandy loam soil of Southeast Virginia, provided adequate moisture is available. We can measure the exact time it will take a signal emitted from a handheld device in Zuni, Va., to travel into space to an orbiting satellite and return to Oxford, England.

But can we measure the beauty of an art piece?

We can measure the strength of the heart precisely with an electrocardiogram that reads the electrical impulses. We can use an X-ray machine to produce an image of the heart to diagnose cardiac diseases. And we can use a simpler, handheld device to measure the systolic and diastolic pressure of the arteries through which the blood from that heart flows.

But can we measure the anguish of a heart that has been broken?

Perhaps such things are best left unmeasured.

Rex Alphin of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is