Monday, September 09, 2013

Deceiving oneself

In this room, where he used to work in winter, Montaigne wrote on the wall (in Latin):
“In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michael de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.”

Wittgenstein says somewhere that nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. Maybe I walked into this trap, when I wrote at the end of my last blog that “although my body may fail the mind still is as fresh as since I was a child” (but then Schopenhauer walked into the same trap as well). It’s true that I added to this statement “or so I think”. Moreover, since I was talking about a feeling, I couldn’t be wrong. For although a feeling may not be the right one at a certain place or in certain circumstances, it cannot be false. One has a feeling, whether one wants to have it or whether one doesn’t want to have it. In the latter case one can be ashamed about it.
Nevertheless, maybe Montaigne was more to the point when he wrote in the essay “Of age” that the mind does deteriorate, whether one thinks so or whether one doesn’t think so. And he adds “by how much the more it is a disease of no great pain to the sufferer, and of obscure symptoms, so much greater is the danger”. In other words, often you don’t notice it, and then it’s a dangerous phenomenon, like a hidden disease. When one becomes older “[v]ivacity, promptitude, steadiness, and other pieces of us … languish and decay”, so Montaigne. “Anyhow”, I would say. “Sometimes the body first submits to age, sometimes the mind”, Montaigne rightly states, and in the end it is this process that will make that one doesn’t feel young in the mind anymore and that the mental feelings adapt to the condition of the body.
Until fifty or forty years ago or so most sportsmen stopped being active when they were about thirty years old. The idea was not only that above this age the body was not fit enough for top sport any longer, but also that sport was something for the young and that after this age it was time to build up a career. Sport and career couldn’t go together and sport at a later age was “not done” in a certain sense. In case one did continue doing sport (and in fact, there were still a lot of people who did, although not as many as today), doing sport was something that you had to take not too serious or not serious at all.
How much has changed since then. Sport has not only become an important part of the lives of older people, sport at a later age is also stimulated, and no longer it is seen as an activity that is actually not to be taken seriously and that doesn’t fit with a career. Not only has it become clear that sport at a top level can be done past the age of thirty as well, but also how fanatic older sportsmen can be! As if they were twenty years old. And is there something wrong with it? Is there something wrong with feeling younger than you are? Sometimes and maybe often it is. But as often it isn’t. And then, although the body languishes and decays, there is nothing against doing as if the mind doesn’t, even if you are deceiving yourself (or so I think).

No comments: