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(A kind of) Eternal Youth

From around 16 to 19 years I old I played in a band. I was lead singer and wrote about half the songs. We were called Serotonin and we were all about big melodies. It was only a matter of time before we got “signed” – meaning when we got our record deal. Every other sentence began with “when we get signed…”. I used to write out the titles of our songs in lists. This list would be the first album – which also already had a name; this would go on the second album etc… We literally lived a dream. We had a small following as we played pubs and clubs around West Yorkshire. Some of the folk that followed us perhaps also thought there was a chance we would get signed – in a sense they bought into the dream. But for various reasons the moment passed and at 19 I left the band for University, just a year late. The end of that particular dream.

Have you had a dream, and to what extent did you live it?

I feel fortunate, truly, because I have always had one. Aged 34 I realised a very different dream when I won a scholarship to do my PhD at the University of Leeds. However, as mentioned in the previous blog now I’m approaching 40 and a different awareness is creeping in just now. The symbolic half-way point? I’m now older than footballers when they retire. All downhill from here? On Friday I headed out to a bar in Huddersfield, where we had first played in the year 2000. Our drummer was himself turning 40. Everything was going so well. There was a band playing upstairs whilst we remained downstairs reminiscing and laughing at the silly things we once did and feeling connected again. Then one of our number pointed out that some of the young adults who were watching the gig upstairs HADN’T EVEN BEEN BORN when we played our first gig there. Ouch.

So I didn’t become a rock star but I have sung at four beautiful weddings. I can’t tell you how much it means that I was able to give that as a gift to friends on that most important of their days. If I died tomorrow, that’s something that I was able to do and that means a lot. But it’s almost as though as we get older we recalibrate – dreams are converted into realities (which often don’t look much like the original dream), or we move on and dream about something else. Perhaps more dispiritingly as we get older we feel our horizons narrowing and our dreams being extinguished. And I guess that last point has a real truth about it from an existential perspective – as we get older all the big decisions that shape the course of our lives are being or have been made. We increasingly run out of options.

What’s so good about being young? It might not be being young per se – I actually think I’m much happier now than I was then. But youth is full of possibility and potential – all that time ahead of us, a subtle and implicit awareness of what we can be; what lives we might live. That prospect can be thrilling; it can also be utterly daunting.

Lets go into this a bit more. When we think about time – literally our location within the fourth dimension – I think there are two blind spots which are part of the human condition. The first is that because we only move in one direction through the fourth dimension (whereas we have freedom to roam in the other three) we fail to think of it as a dimension in the first place. The second blind spot I think springs from the first – that we think of the present, this present moment, as more real than the past and the future.

With a nod back to my blog last year On Time Travel, instead I propose that the past, the present and the future exist together but just in different states. At the dawn of time, all the potential forms at work today were already present in potential – fire and the wheel; combustion engines and microchips. The world was a puzzle to be unravelled.

If you could stand outside of the fourth dimension, you would see the trajectories of individual actions and sequences. Did you ever see Donny Darko? I’m thinking of that scene where he can see a bubble-type pathway mapped out before him, like he was seeing through time. But also if we could stand outside of the fourth dimension we would observe how eureka moments punctuate this timeline: moments where form is re-constituted. These in a sense represent discontinuities – like another step on a stairway to heaven. In a sense these moments of reconstitution are more important.

As we peer back over our long human history the chains of discoveries – from the subtle to the profound; from artistry to science to emotional intelligence – run all the way through. Whilst civilisation may migrate geographically or take on different identities, wherever there is civilisation, there is discovery (and creativity which I think of as equivalent to discovery). We thus have every reason to believe these chains of discovery will go on and on into the distant future. We are all standing at a staging post on a long road and witnessing a thrilling blossoming of the history of life.

If we can think of the past and the future as being as real as the present, then this chain of discoveries is almost like a curriculum. Like children at school, we’re only part way through the curriculum at any point on the fourth dimension. I think Plato would approve of this idea – knowledge as a process of ‘remembering’ of the eternal forms.

It is like the curriculum moves through people like Shakespeare and Newton, but they are not the same as it. They are ordinary people participating in something immortal, and their parts are written for them as in a play.

There are good evolutionary reasons why we might consider humanity’s progress through time as a gradual and continuous process of discovery. The tribe that first discovers stone tools, or the nation that first masters the art of ocean navigation, gains a competitive advantage and therefore continuity.

As we get older we don’t quite have the luxury to dream about our own lives and what could be, that we might have had when we were young. And perhaps as some of us approach those big milestones we have to come to accept that. But with a reference to my previous blog and that particular idea of generational incompleteness, what if dreams of the individual may be superceded by dreams of our lineage? The attitude is something like: I don’t personally need to realise this dream, we will realise it in time, generationally, and that is something that we can all enjoy vicariously. Anyone who has enjoyed having a dream has already achieved this – when we were dreaming for our selves, our empathy and vicarious enjoyment was of our future self. So why would vicarious enjoyment of the lives of future generations be any less satisfying? Yes we can take actions - that first step in a 1000 miles - to realise a private dream; but we can also take those actions to realise a generational dream, even if we personally never live to see its full blossoming.

The transition from dreaming about self to dreaming about lineage is in a sense equivalent to the parallelism between biological incompleteness and generational incompleteness. It is one roadmap out of what might be called ‘the mid-life crisis’. And a little more romantically, it offers a kind of eternal youth – dreams of what can be that are equally as potent when we are 70 as when we are seventeen.

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