I’d choose a 30 year old body over a 30 year old mind. That’s not because I’m a physical fascist, nor because I believe in some kind of ideal of the body-beautiful being a reflection of my being. On the contrary, I despise the social construction of beauty and the commercial exploitation of the resulting psychology of inadequacy.
There is an assumption inherent within the dichotomous choice that at the age of 90, a 30 year old anything would somehow be a preferable state of being. Why devalue age?
Karen McComb and her team investigated the adaptive value of age in African elephants. They found that “age affects the ability of matriarchs to make ecologically relevant decisions in a domain critical to survival—the assessment of predatory threat“¹. Sensitivity to predator threat increased with age. Human longevity may be similarly adaptive because as social creatures, the greater experience of elders may aid the survival of the entire social group. If this is the case, then why is it that age has ceased to be valued (at least in western societies)? It could be hypothesised that one reason is that social evolution is a faster process than biological evolution. Cedepof reports “Older individuals face career development challenges such as growing health limitations, skills obsolescence….“² Occupational skill sets have rapidly changed since the advent of computerisation and technological progress. The experience of older members of society no longer has relevance in current environments. However, the Cedepof report suggests that age has a value in organisational settings, experience being one facet of merit. Hence, I reject the 30 year old mind; I embrace the continuing development of the one I have. But, I would like the 30 year old body in order to give the mind its fullest expression.
A dualist assumption also resides within the choice of body or mind. Are they separable? Could I have a young mind in an old body or vice-versa? Like Ryle, (in a book whose name I forget – oh dear, must be my ageing mind), who challenged this assumption, I believe the notion contains many flaws. How can a material object, i.e. the body, which can be observed from a third person perspective, which is believed to exist in space, and therefore subject to physical laws, interact with immaterial minds, which are not in space, are not subject to mechanical laws, and are inaccessible to external observation? As Ryle states, the assumption is that of a ghost in a machine. The choice between a younger body or a younger mind is a meaningless one.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m challenging a choice that seems to be so arbitrarily conjured?
Aron et al (1997) created 3 sets of personal questions that strangers could use to establish mutual disclosure about details of their lives and their unobservable minds. Each set of 12 questions increased in their degree of probing intensity. Their results suggest that interpersonal closeness is enhanced by the use of the questions compared to other interactive tasks³. One question in the first set was: “If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?” The New York times, light-heartedly suggested the 36 questions could lead to love. You may ascertain why it took me 49 years to find someone who could cope with my intellectualisation of bipolar questions. Thank goodness for a Verdant mind! But then, older minds may need a completely different set of questions to induce love, given that the sample was comprised entirely of undergraduate psychology students.
So onto another question: “Given the choice of anyone in the world [at least not a dichotomous choice], whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
Why spoil the surprise?
The idea for this post came from The Blacklight Candelabra weekly writing challenge.
The challenge was to ‘forge your own chain”. It entailed writing 10 questions, each with an answer. I based my questions on a selection drawn from Aron et al’s interpersonal closeness study cited above. The post then entailed using the first question in the chain as the post title. The fifth answer is the first sentence of the post. The tenth answer is the last sentence. And the final part of the challenge was to write coherently. You can let me know if this goal was achieved or not!