People often express surprise when they find out how old I am. I’m 62. (Ed. note: Haven is not 62.) There are a number of ways of explaining this confusion, such as genetics, a life spent nearly sun-free, or general clean living. Alas, none of those apply to me, so I have had to turn to Einstein’s Relativity Theory – Special or General, either one is fine.
Pretend I have a twin, and my twin is on an aircraft we call “Addicted To Exercise.” I am on a ship called “Sedentary.” We embark on our respective journeys at the same time, let’s say in childhood. Haven II bikes every morning, loves to hike in places where she might become food, and pounds away at the resistant machinery in a place called the ‘gymnasium.’ Haven I, on the other hand, does – quite simply – none of those things. If you can name it, she is not doing it.
Addicted to Exercise has been traveling at the speed of light; I have been traveling at the speed of resting. Sixty-two years pass. (Ed. note: Haven I is still not 62.) We touch down and reconcile. What does Relativity tell us? Haven II won’t shut up about being old, that’s what, because her knees are shot, she’s about to step on her bladder, her hips are brittle, her spine is compressed, and she has nearly used up the allotment of heartbeats given to her at birth. In star-time she is 62,000 light years old. How is Haven I? Just fine thank you, as I have been taking it easy, while my poor, theoretical alter ego burned up her life force like a hamster on a wheel. I have moved so little and so slowly time stopped for my skeleton at about age 22. My knees only know how old they are if I tell them.
I made the decision not to seek out unnecessary exercise many years ago, after hearing a report on NPR about the effect of excessive glucocorticoid production on the brain. Glucocoritcoids, as many of you know, are a class of steroids naturally produced by the adrenal gland, and they do all manner of things and we would not want to be deficient in their production. One thing they do is flood the brain when we are facing danger, say on a hike in an area where there are grizzly bears, and we see an actual grizzly bear, and we are between a male grizzly and female grizzly during mating season with our tape recorder running. They help trigger the fight-or-flight response. Sadly, neither will help us here. The example is meant to be instructive, but turns out to be academic.
But what happens if you survive that particular tangle – and you would not, but let’s say for a moment that you did – while recognizing that it is best to never, ever encounter a grizzly bear ever, particularly in the manner described above – and live another day? And what if your brain is repeatedly flooded by the fight-or-flight mechanism? The researchers turned to primates, in particular a group, or pod, that had been studied for multiple generations. They were of this variety, the Pan paniscus aberdeen angus, here photographed in its native habitat and employing night-vision camera goggles:
Here is the water-dwelling cousin, Aqua pan paniscus aberdeen angus:
The paniscus angus pod is led by an alpha male, who is responsible for protecting the other members while enjoying the usual privileges. The alphas spend a lot of time fighting other alphas, and thus live a life of bounty and gratification, along with high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes (also known as the Antonius Sopranus Syndrome). They are also subjected to the flood of glucocorticoids on a regular basis, which, it turns out, carve channels in their neuropathways, i.e., they are brain-damaged, regardless of how they die.
The lesser males, especially the ones quite low on the totem pole, live nearly twice as long as their alpha counterparts. To paraphrase one of the researchers, “If you want to live a long and happy life, stay at home with the women and children.” Slow your theoretical jets, as it were.
We run as if something were chasing us. The more affluent we become and the farther from any real danger, the faster we go, when the beauty of civilization might be our ability to slow our heart rates down.
I decided to see what Alfred North Whitehead has to say on this subject, as I have built my life around his philosophy, and therefore hope he is correct in addition to being authoritative and convincing. As I may have mentioned before, the book I hold in highest esteem is Process and Reality, A Cosmology. P&R is a speculative philosophy, which is to say it seeks to cover the whole of reality, using a mathematical, logical, and theological framework. Reading it from beginning to end is a bit like childbirth: one accomplishes it only by means of self-convincement that one will never have to do it again. Some time passes and one says, “But look, I was greatly changed for the better, and I produced a new person,” and so embarks on it again, etc.
I have recently read it for the third or fourth time. (Ed. note: Haven skips the chapters in Part IV, The Theory of Extension: Coordinate Division, Extensive Connection, Flat Loci, Strains, and Measurement. These are geometric, rather than Aquinian, proofs.) I finally found what I was looking for in Part IV, the Flat Loci section. (Ed. note: My mistake.)
“In general, consciousness is negligible; and even the approach to it in vivid propositional feelings has failed to attain importance. Blind physical purposes reign. It is now obvious that blind prehensions, physical and mental, are the ultimate bricks of the physical universe.” (470)
Of course, 469 pages precede this and his analyses of the nature of God follow it, so what I have given you is a bit of a circumscribed, Stupid Sandwich. But it seems that he’s saying: If you are a system that blossoms, like the yellow daisies in my backyard, you will come into Being and you will have a period of concrescence. You will even be beautiful, as all things have the possibility of harmoniously resolving contrasts, such as the daisy in the asphalt, the daisy in the soil, the daisy with a pan paniscus crouched beneath it. And each moment of your life, each unit of time, will be immortalized in the mind of God. If you are a very sophisticated system, as people believe they are, you will think you are in control of your Being – you will dictate your period of concrescence, or believe it so. You will even wish to author your immortality, perhaps by living sweetly, or surrounded by objects, or looking out through your toned musculature. Whatever you choose, you will wilt, you will be run across by dogs and mowers, you will face your grizzly and lose.
Go ahead and run, if you want to. I’ll still be sitting here, at least until my ship gives up and falls apart. By that time my twin will be home from the gym, ropy and exhausted and older than I’ll ever be.*
*Whitehead didn’t suggest the last paragraph in anything he wrote, as far as I can tell.