Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Rermarks on Aging
1) Establishing the boundary between sense and nonsense
a I started out in life much younger (necessarily true).
b Yesterday, I was eaten alive by a sabre tooth tiger and died (necessarily false).
c Living (believing, choosing, doing, etc.) occurs between that which is certain and that which is impossible.
d Oets Kolk Bouwsma wrote in one of his unpublished journals, “Surely your life must show what you think of yourself.”
2) A person is a complex and dynamic being
a The physical body develops and grows (nosy people say that your nose keeps growing until that hungry sabre tooth tiger catches up with you).
b The mind develops and gains insight and understanding of many things (although evidence suggests that in some cases, such as my own, that one forgets more than one learns).
c Emotions develop and occasionally become more refined and stable (although evidence suggests that there is such a thing as emotional habits which can be psychologically disabling).
d Habits develop and become more or less automatic in many cases (I recall driving from my home across a large city to a remote college campus while trying to solve Fermat’s last theorem - no three positive integers a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two – unsuccessfully and not paying attention to where I was going or how to get there … but the established habitual pattern got me there safely without incident, other than the disappointment of an unsuccessful proof of that theorem, which was later proven – in 1994 … I forgot to mention that I am older than dirt).
e Another one of Bouwsma’s remarks in an unpublished journal is that when a choice is made one becomes more like a person who consistently makes that kind of choice and not a different kind of choice (in my case, I now realize that I am choosing to repeat many things I have said previously, so I am becoming more like a broken record than a spontaneous and creative person … for those born after the golden age of vinyl recordings, also known as gramophone recordings, you are missing the analog recordings of wonderful music, however scratchy, recorded on polyvinyl discs based on devices invented by Leon Scott and Thomas Edison in the 19th century that rotated at various speeds - e.g., 16.67, 33.33, 45, and 78 rpm).
f Regrets at not having chosen or acted differently in particular situations develop over time (sometimes these regrets take the form of crippling guilt but they can also serve as reminders that a different choice or action might be taken in the future – one of these days I will stop repeating myself).
3) Aging is a natural process
a It seems that aging is inevitable and that time moves only in a forward direction (although some scientists suggest that time is neither uni-directional nor incrementally fixed as common measurements of time suggest; I recall traveling back in time to meet that sabre tooth tiger that ate me yesterday to make friends with the hope that the tiger would then recognize me later and not eat me … tigers do not have such good memories).
b Time moves on and some people move on to new and remarkable achievements.
i) Some leave behind “footprints on the sands of time” (from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).
ii) When told that, given the facts of determinism and infinite time, eventually every event that one has experienced will return and repeat itself in the same way over and over again (see the concept of eternal recurrence in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science – a.k.a, philosophy), would such news be devastating or has there been some one event that was so tremendous and wonderful that such news would be most welcome (Bouwsma was asked that question one day in a seminar when he was about 70 years old, and he recalled a time in the winter in Nebraska when he was about 7 and was playing outside in the snow, shuffling his feet beneath a wooden fence at the top of a hill creating a slick spot in preparation for letting go and sliding down the hill and a young girl he had never met came up beside him and smiled at him … her smile was such a tremendous moment, Bouswsa said … he saw her smile, smiled back, let go of the fence and slid down the hill never to see her again … those in the seminar who had responded much differently fell silent … what point had we missed?).
c I have regrets from earlier days before I met that sabre tooth tiger a second time when I had done and said things I should not have done or said … but then I think about what has given me the greatest sense of fulfillment (my family and professional colleagues and friends) and those regrets quickly pass. Perhaps one only wonders about the meaning of life when one is not doing something meaningful.
These thoughts were written in response to one of my professional colleagues and a friend (Kinshuk) who reminded me how old I was this morning. Being the kind-hearted fellow that I am, I then introduced Kinshuk to my other friend, the sabre tooth tiger.