Monday, July 23, 2012

Updike's Four Life Forces

John Updike once suggested that there are four life forces: Love, Habit, Time and Boredom. This morning's ramble here is the product of habit. I'm not sure I have that much to say, and the proper thing to do when you have nothing to say is to shut your mouth. But then, I digress.

When Updike speaks of love he is referring to passion. Passion is the driver that impels us to make sacrifices in order to accomplish great things. Passion is what makes Olympians, not simply skill. There are plenty of pianists with skill, but it's passion that sets apart the cream from the rest.

Time is another one of those amazing things that has been endlessly debated and dissected. What is time really?

Wikipedia explains it this way: Time is the continuing sequence of events occurring in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future, a measure of the durations and frequencies of events and the intervals between them. Time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars.

Like life itself, we all know what it is but don't always do well at explaining it. That doesn't stop people from trying. Here is an interesting article from Wired magazine titled What Is Time? One Pysicist Hunts for the Ultimate Theory. The article is an interview with Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech. He begins by noting something we all have noticed because it is obvious. The future is different from the past. We remember the past but we don't remember the future. Why? 

There was an album we listened to a long time ago called It's A Beautiful Day and it had a song on it about time. At the time I did not know that the most memorable line was actually a quote from Henry Van Dyke. "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity."

In short, time is perceived differently based on our circumstances. Hence there are some who propose ideas like the notion that time does not exist, it is simply a perception.

The first point, "Time is too slow for those who wait," brings to mind a scene from Immortal Beloved, a film about Beethoven. Beethoven (Gary Oldman) is on his way to a hotel for a tryst with a woman he loves. But it's a rainy night and the wheels on his horse-drawn carriage get stuck in the mud. Time is slipping away and the painful strains of the second movement of his Seventh Symphony fill the theater with his anguish. Eventually, the woman becomes impatient with waiting, and leaves.

Boredom is another of those interesting forces that surprised me when Updike placed it in this list, but it's a real force. Bertrand Russell once observed, "Boredom is... a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it." What strikes me is that last part of this statement. People really do fear boredom. And this may be why some people fear death. What if there really is an afterlife and it was boring? Eternal boredom would truly be hell.

Much more could be said here, but it's time to go to press. Besides, I wouldn't want to bore you with more than you can digest. This is only a blog and I am only sowing seeds, not steaks. Have a great day.

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