Against Exercise: A Cosmology

            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.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 11:25 pm  Comments (23)  


  1. Oh, perfect. I find this out after I turn 62. I want do-overs!

  2. This is exactly why I took Juggling for my required gym class in college.


  4. Polly, your shortbread just arrived!! Thank you!

    Webmaster, how do I get a different color quilt square to identify my posts? I want something more like what Jennifer or Polly has, or something that says less ‘sea-foam’ and more ‘big tranny mess.’ Thanks.

  5. I used to wish to author my immortality by looking at my flabby, unused — albeit youthful — flesh, but being a big tranny mess sounds like a lot more fun. Great post!

  6. For now I face the Grey Goose, the Grizzly will come in time for sure !

    It seems every time I read a writing by Alfred North Whitehead. I have to read it at LEAST four times to begin to understand it. Not to mention my head hurts.

    I know I have been bad I hope I am still welcome 🙂

  7. I KNEW there was a cosmological reason that my exercise bike has become the place to drape clothes. Whew. I feel validated.

  8. Michael, of course you’re still welcome! It wouldn’t be the same without you, whatever it is.

    I’d put a little smiley thingy here but I can’t do that sort of thing.

    And speaking of grizzlies, did you read the story about the Kamchatka bears of Russia today? Lawd have mercy. They can reach TEN AND A HALF FEET TALL, and they weigh an average of 1,300 pounds. Thirty of them have circled a camp of geologists and won’t move. They’ve eaten two geologists already (they taste like chicken) and are waiting for the rest to emerge. There are helicopters on their way to reach them, but the site requires thirteen days of travel. Have you EVER?!?

  9. This is a test post, to see if I get my tranny avatar. Please ignore.

  10. Off Topic abridged
    Couple weeks ago there was a bad storm near Ann Arbor MI where I live. I was giddy at the sight of lightning and the sound of thunder on my way home from work at 11pm. This feeling lasted up until I got home and noticed the power was out. I actually did have batteries and a flash light so all was not lost.
    I had recently purchased the audio book of couch.
    I fumbled around with a lighter until I found my flashlight then I had a shrimp salad in the refridge so I knew I would not starve. However my flash light was dimming rapidly DAMN I have some candles but not enough to read by. So Haven can to my rescue. I lit my candles and got into bed put disc one in my battery operated CD player (different batteries than my flashlight)I listened to this for a few hours as I fell asleep the thunder was distant and cool as was Haven’s voice.
    Thanks Haven
    To put a smiley or a wink just use wither your semi colon or colon and then use the Parenthesis key zero on top of the keyboard

  11. I forgot to add here is the link to the story Haven has metion if anyone wants to read it. wow

  12. Here is the story about the grizzly bears if anyone wants to read it

  13. I hope you enjoy the shortbread, Haven. I actually replaced my little red quilt square avatar with my photo a few months ago, and it lasted one day. Then my little red quilt square came back. I have no idea why. I blog in Blogger and it’s a different system at WordPress.

  14. Michael, I’m so glad someone is enjoying the COUCH audio, particularly in a time of crisis. That’s what we’re here for.

    Polly, I’ve had to hide the shortbread from my children. I’ll say no more about the location in case they read this. Thanks again.

  15. Yes Haven well I am sure it was not easy to make a audio book. I used to work a little with sound
    So I just wanted to tell my story.
    Oh and remember smiley equals colon and parenthesis 🙂
    Hope you have a great weekend !

  16. This is the best argument for a sedentary lifestyle ever! Thank you. I’m mentally prepping to begin defending my choice not to go to the gym anymore. Ha!

  17. this post validates my experience, as we say in california. exercise is just wrong. it is something enslaved people were forced to do. imagine any great mind of the twentieth century on a treadmill and you have the making for a New yorker cartoon. the great ones understood. hitler, on the other hand, was a great supporter and enforcer of exercise. the nazis also invented organic farming. i rest my case. exercise imbues one with a false sense of superiority and sanctimony and it pushes one to thoughts of genocide. it’s boring, tedious and we will all die anyway. i never did see the point, but now i see the anti-point, and this is refreshing. walking and sexual congress are not considered exercise, and i cotton to those two events. one need only read JACK AND THE BEANSTALK to recognize that being slim and strong leads to an axe job and becoming mulch. as robert benchley said, “I do my best work sitting down; that’s where i shine.”

  18. I showed this to my family (hiking, biking, running fiends who pass by in a blur of “productivity” as I sit comfortably on the couch, reading) to try and validate the stance I have taken on their insistance to exercise for years: “You are all fools, and no, I do not want to go on a ten-mile hike to celebrate the New Year; that is stupid and morally wrong.” They have read your books, and I thought it would help to have someone they respect on my side of righteousness. Alas, it did not. I was simply given an article in return from some scary health magazine. Don’t worry; I didn’t read it. Thank you for making me realize that I am not alone in being Enlightened.

    I’m road-tripping to Durham on Tuesday! At six hours away, it was the closest of your stops to me. But I’ll be darned if I miss my very favorite author while I am still on summer vacation. I absolutely cannot wait.

  19. Ms. Fennimore Cooper and Dear Kimberly are my two new best friends. Thank you, brilliant and wise people. Look at us! Dewy fresh and bright-eyed! We should form a society.

  20. Haven
    Good luck next week ! 🙂
    I wish I could be there, maybe @ Ball State
    in Sept… thats only 3.5 hours away.


  21. Maybe you should take up golf. Everyone knows that’s not exercise. I suspect you’ll be working out plenty, however, on your upcoming tour. Here’s wishing you safe travels, brilliant reviews, clean sheets at hotels, and coffee-soaked biscuits.

  22. This is the best argument

  23. Hey, cool tips. I’ll buy a glass of beer to the person from that forum who told me to visit your site 🙂

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