"A Philosophical Look at the Midlife Crisis" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Kieran Setiya
6:20PM Sep 29, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein, host of why philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode we're talking with Kieran Satya and taking a philosophical look at midlife crises. The students at the University of North Dakota are depressed. I'm convinced of it. They do all the things that college students are supposed to do. They write papers, drink form, study groups have sex, but they lack a sense of ownership over their education. Classes happen to them, not through them. I think I know why. Unlike generations of college students before them, they've been told that college is solely about getting a job solely. College has always been vocational. But past students have had more existential justifications to balance out their learning. There's very little of that at UMD. their education is not concerned with self exploration or the history of human creativity. Its students are not encouraged to be revolutionary, artistic, or even nonconformist. Instead, they're told that everything they do will be evaluated by unnamed future employers and reminded over and over again, that all of their activities are simply accessories to their resume. They're expected to conform to a standard that fits every possible employer they might encounter. My students are depressed because they have no present. They live solely for the future. And as awful as it sounds. For many of them, the only time they get to be in the moment is when they're intoxicated, and UMD. Students drink a lot. The future, as we older folks know, comes quickly, the possibility that our lives could be otherwise diminishes and the more obligations we incur, the more we have to stay the course. So we envy the young with their options, their energy, their ability to sleep through the night without having to pee. we revisit the past and wonder how things could be different. I fear that my students will spend all of their time planning a future only to find themselves lamenting the past. I'm afraid they'll never experience the present that they'll never get to choose. Meaning is something we impose on our lives. When we are young. Parents, teachers and schools provide that meaning for us. But as we get older, we become ever more responsible for creating it ourselves. When you define success so narrowly it set students up for a despondent future. Now, it's not hard for me to communicate the tragedy of a college student. Without the opportunity to choose it runs counter to everything in the American narrative. When I bring up the phrase midlife crisis, people scoff. They tell jokes about sports cars and trophy wives and Coleman babies. But if young people ought to take bird's eye views of their own lives, why should those of us in our 40s and early 50s? Aren't we supposed to be wiser and more experienced? Isn't midlife the ideal time to reassess our goals and justifications? midlife is an inherently philosophical time in both men's and women's lives. When we ask who we are and what we ought to do. We are asking the greatest questions of humanity. But philosophers have remained largely quiet on the subject. They've not adequately articulated the skills we all need to navigate the conflicts that come from reassessing ourselves. Our guest, as we shall see, aims to change that. He would contend I think, that a thoughtfully examine midlife can make the second half of our lives better than the first, it can add newness to our stability and security to our risks, even while we consider what new stable, secure and risky means in the first place. midlife is only a crisis when fear and frustration caused us to jettison all of our old understandings, blinding us to the difference between being adventurous and being self destructive. And this brings me back to my students. If we don't rediscover the human purpose of education, we condemn them, not just to the inevitable periods of reflection and change between the entire life of crisis. You've spent thinking only about the future, a midlife wallowing in what might have been an old age lamenting how little influence they had in their own stories. The poet William Wordsworth once wrote that the child is father of the man. This is true, but it's also incomplete. It is the adult who evaluates the child. Only through maturity do we understand our past? When we laugh at the idea of a midlife crisis, we only ridicule ourselves because ultimately, the human experience can't be bifurcated. We are who we are, and vice versa. UMD my university gets half of that. It recognizes that students will become something but it won't be around to assist the alumni who discover that they might have been someone completely different. If only they had known there were more options. midlife crises are real. They just start at a much earlier age than we like to acknowledge.
And now our guest, our guest, Kiran setiap, teaches philosophy at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of several books, including most recently a self help manual for everyone's struggling through their middle ages, called midlife, a philosophical guide. Kieran, welcome to why.
Hi, jack, thanks for having me.
We've pre recorded the show, so we won't be taking any questions but if you'd like to send us your comments, tweet us at why radio show post a comment on facebook.com slash wire radio show or visit our live chat room at why Radio show.org so here in the the comments that I started the show with were in my wife's words. really depressing. But but but but your book isn't your book is optimistic. It's It's It's full of hope and excitement. When you first start thinking about midlife crises. Did it start out that way? Or were you always just optimistic that there was a way through?
I definitely did not start out particularly optimistic. I mean, the book not surprisingly, comes out of my own midlife experiences of malaise, malaise, in fact, in the context of relative success, so kind of a kind of whiny, firstworldproblems malaise, but but genuine malaise. And I think one thing that helped me was I embraced the label very early, I was very happy to tell my friends, I think I'm having a midlife crisis. And they made fun of me a lot. And I think being being mocked was, and being self mocking about it sort of leavens the initial experience. But so that was fun. But it intellectually, when I, when I started thinking about the kinds of puzzles about being in the middle of a life and the shape of a life that I ended up exploring, my mind was pretty much open, I was curious about how to think about them. And I wanted to see whether the the results of investigating them philosophically we'll be consoling or not. As it turns out, I found some of them helpful, which is why I wanted to write a book to sort of share those ideas with other people. But the optimism sort of came later in the course of discovery, rather than something that I assumed at the outset.
What is it about the phrase midlife crisis that inspires people to laugh? Why is it so cliche, I mean, I have to admit, your book was on my desk for a long time after I got up before I opened it. And I don't know whether it was, I wasn't sure that I was going to take it seriously. Or the fact that I'm 48, probably 47 when I got the book, and I'm in the midst of it, too. So maybe I was scared. And there's this tension between genuine fear and total laugh ability. Why is the phrase itself? Why is the idea so hard to take? Seriously, unless you're in the midst of it?
That's a great question. I mean, I think the stereotype sort of got established in the 70s. And I think that association was has sort of survived and not really been updated, and sort of popular imagination. So the idea is, it's male, it involves sort of stalling in your career, stalling in your marriage, buying a fast car or having an affair. And I'm not entirely sure why that stereotype has been so compelling. But one thing that I found helpful in sort of getting people to think about this more seriously is sort of pointing to some of the more recent research on life satisfaction over time, actually done by economists, which suggests that, that it takes the shape of a kind of view that in general, around the world for men, but also for women. Happiness sort of starts highest in youth, it bottoms out in your 40s and then rises afterwards. And I think, thinking more in terms of a kind of period of relative unhappiness than than the sort of acute crisis is one way to get people to think this isn't a sort of laughable or extreme situation, but a kind of pervasive human phenomenon. So in a way, what I think is that the the crisis as an acute sort of freak out about about midlife maybe is it is a kind of relatively rare phenomenon. The thing that I think we should take seriously and that isn't isn't so laughable is just the sense that in one's 40s life has a kind of particular shape that makes it hard to enjoy and hard to appreciate. And that thinking of it that way i think is one sort of way to push back against the the jokey stereotype.
Let me ask a related question from the other side from the taking it very seriously in its impact angle, because we asked for questions before the show. Because we pre recording we sent out our email mentalist and we got a bunch back and half of them asked about the relationship between men and women in midlife crisis. So Martha from Batesville, Arkansas wrote this interesting and detailed email examining the different possibilities for motivations for men and women, the male midlife crisis and she writes that middle life crisis happened because men in their mind haven't lived up to their fantasies, they youth, they choose younger women, or other and this is her phrase dysfunctional Arrested Development solutions instead of giving back to the community, she compares women on the other hand, when they have crisis, because they never had the chance to be what they want it to be. Often they were forced into motherhood or other roles to add insult to injury, and I'll use her words again. This happens right when their own lives are coming together, their husbands blow it apart, they have to pay for college and retirement and million other things. So she asks how men and women's experience in midlife differ, which is, I think, a really important question and key to some of the stuff we're going to talk about. But I actually want to add a second one, which is, like many people she describes men's midlife crisis as inherently negative, and women's as inherently positive a sort of growth opportunity that they never had before. Is this, does this fair? Is this how you you found the literature to represent it? Is there a fundamental difference between the two.
So it's, it's quite hard to say on the basis of sort of the empirical data. So it's definitely true that that when the the sort of stereotypes were being formed in the 70s, there was a period where the majority of women in America didn't go to college. And motherhood was was a sort of Central, defining vocation for many women. Until exclusive vocation. So I think the shape that the stereotypes took in the 70s definitely was very different for men and women, and had a lot for women, it had to do with a kind of empty nest question, what am I going to do now, sort of finding a career in the second half of life having given up a career or not pursued a career in the first half of life, whereas for men, it hadn't had more of the the failing to achieve as much as one might have hoped to achieve? It's hard to know how how much that has changed. I mean, I think the proportion of women who go to college is much higher and the prospect of women having having a what was the stereotypical male midlife crisis has gone up the chance of women pursuing career tracks that leave them feeling I didn't achieve as much as I wanted is now happily more more prevalent. I mean, there are features that are much harder to sort of contrast between men and women, that much harder to change. So that there's the basic sort of biological structure of, of menopause, and the way in which, whether or not to have children, and the role children play in life is a very big parenting is a very big part of many people's adaptation to midlife. And that does take a different shape for men and women in a way that that still persists. But I kind of perversely hope that women are steadily achieving the kinds of freedoms and opportunities in their careers that would enable them to also have the male midlife crisis by a fast car and leave their husbands and so on. So I think that that the contrast may be, may be softening over time. Apart from the sort of underlying biological procreative contrast,
there's a kind of diversity there, right? I'm thinking of all the people who support the idea of of equalizing the draft by drafting women as well. You don't want anyone to die. So there's this sort of this, this this ugliness of wanting women to be drafted? On the other hand, if everyone is drafted, there's this kind of equality. And I think you're saying the same thing, right? If women have the same kind of midlife crisis as men, it suggests that they have the same kind of opportunities and careers,
right. I mean, so not every aspect of the midlife crisis is quite so sort of dependent on having options. Some some things about regret or mortality are completely universal. But I think that the sort of defining experience and having the sense that you had options in youth, and they've been narrowed down, depends on for the contrast on there having been a period in youth where you really felt your options were sufficiently open to experience that contraction. And so if you're, you're growing up under social conditions as a woman that don't give you many options, or you're growing up somewhere in the world where you don't have an array of things that you can do. I think you're going to be unable to experience you're less likely to experience that particular aspect of the midlife crisis. And yes, that's sort of regrettable. I mean, it's, it's a privilege to be able to experience the diminishing of options in the way people do in midlife, because it means you had, you had options to begin with
that universality that that sense of the impending mortality and the degradation of the body. philosophers have never been particularly good about examining the body and they prioritize the mind over the body. James from Pittsburgh asks a related question to Martha's. But I would boil it down to how physiological is this? Is this a response to? You know, my, my body does not do the things that used to do and sometimes I feel like my body is the enemy, rather than my friend and my older friends tell me it's only gonna get worse. Is that is is the midlife physiological in origin? Or is it a psychological interpretation of the physiology?
Again, it's it's hard to be sure, and I think people's experience this does vary a lot. My sense of it is that it's it's, it's the psychological sort of reaction to those physiological changes that constitutes the the sort of crisis, it's how to adapt to the way in which sort of physically one experiences a diminishing of possibility, and the approaching of mortality, and that sort of inevitable illnesses and difficulties that everyone pretty much experiences as they as they get older. So what most interested me as a sort of target for philosophical therapy was how to think about those kinds of changes in one's sort of physical relation to the world. And, you know, there's, there's a limit to how much philosophy can help you with your the directly physical aspects of aging, what it can, at least in principle, or potentially addresses how you think about aging, and how you think about those changes in yourself.
That gets to the core of one of the questions I had, as I was reading the book, and I was thinking about our audience, and that is dis philosophy, offer the tools for emotional change woke up probably about five, six years ago, on the show, we had a guest talking about philosophical therapy, Plato, not Prozac. And, and when I was reading your book, I was thinking of the story from a long time ago, where a woman was reading a letter from from a friend, a guy she knew and, and one pastor, friend of mine asked her, well, what's the letter and she said, He's trying to convince me to be his girlfriend, you can't convince someone to be the girlfriend, right? It just doesn't work. Right? Aristotle struggled with this the role of habit versus knowledge and behavior. Does philosophy offer us the tools to change our emotions about things?
I think with within certain kinds of limits, and in certain kinds of ways it does. I mean, there's an idea about emotion. That is in the background, a lot of my thinking that broadly comes out of stoicism, there's an ancient philosophical movement on which the sort of key idea was that emotions have thoughts or ways of thinking about the world. And it's that that stoic idea is, in fact, one of the key planks in cognitive behavioral therapy. So it's had a kind of significant cultural life as a as a form of therapeutic interaction in which you try to trace down your emotional reactions or negative emotions to cognitive mistakes or ways of thinking that aren't really rational or justified. So a way I think about some, at least of the contributions of philosophy here is that it can do a kind of very abstract cognitive therapy. So where the the cognitive mistakes are not about, you know, your mother, or what someone else meant by a remark they made you earlier today, but about how to think about time how to think about regret, how to think about the value of life, how to think about death, philosophy, by addressing the cognitive underpinning of emotions can make some kind of difference. I do think there are some limits to that. And there are ways to try to respond to them. So actually, a friend I made in the aftermath of writing the book, who's a pastor in Philadelphia said, who's constantly in the position of giving advice or direction to people, I asked him how he, how he occupied that position, because a weird thing about writing a sort of self help book is that I'm telling people what to think or do. And he said, you know, often, often what works and people don't like being told what to do. And people don't respond. There's a kind of problem with argument. That's not just that it's purely cognitive, but also it's too directive. And I think that does work, is what he called an incident but helpful phrase thick description sort of re describing how to see the world in a rich way that allows people to see it differently. And I actually think a lot of what I what I have done philosophically, is sort of a mix of argument and thick description sort of re describing how to think about regret or missing out or death in ways that can change how you feel. That being said, I think sometimes changing how you think the feelings are recalcitrant to that kind of comment. To change and there, it takes more than philosophy to change them. And the one thing we could talk about now we'll come back to or not come back to is at the end of the book, I sort of speculate a bit about the way in which certain kinds of non philosophical or non argumentative activities like meditation, mindfulness meditation, could play a role in helping to sort of emotionally internalize some of the philosophical ideas that I think really can make a difference. And in my case, that really was because just cognitively thinking, I need to live in the present more on trying to understand philosophically formulating an idea of what that would mean, didn't actually enable me by itself to make the kind of emotional shift I wanted. So I experienced firsthand the sense that that there was a limit to how much philosophy could do.
I do want to talk about meditation, I want to talk about it later. Because I want us to sort of lead up to it the way you do in the book, but also because I have my own experiences with this. But in particular, I want to go back to this phrase that you just use thick descriptions, because I think that a lot of our listeners won't get how controversial that actually is, in the sense that in the 1980s, in response to a bunch of things, but particularly the political philosopher john Rawls, people complained that political philosophers had a thin theory of the self that was too narrowly articulated what it meant to be a person. And in the 80s, they looked for particularly the communitarians. And the feminists look for a thicker theory of the self that includes emotions, that includes community and connections with other people, developing our narrative, there was a time and in the Scottish Enlightenment, when emotions and these kinds of connections were at the forefront, but it got it got eclipsed by Kant and his response to human, we don't have to get into the history. But why is it that philosophy has had such a hard time with such thick descriptions of humanity? or individual does this set us up to fail that are that our ideals of describing People tend towards the universal and the two dimensional as opposed to the thick and the robust?
That's a really interesting, kind of big question about the shape of philosophical reflection about choice and personally reminds me of a philosopher I really love and would recommend to people, Iris Murdoch, who has a book called the sovereignty of good that it's a bit, it's actually, it's one of the philosophy books that I return to most often and find most inspiring, but one of the, it's a little bit hard going, but it anyone could read it and get something out of it. It is its starting point is the idea that even though you know, analytic philosophers in the Anglo American tradition, don't usually think of themselves as existentialists, focusing on human freedom they share with existentialism a kind of picture of human psychology as one of free, unconstrained choice in which your description of the world and what surrounds you is completely neutral, sort of mere factual description that doesn't sort of, by itself, constrain or, or, or determine what you're going to do. And one of our central ideas is that usually choice isn't like that. Usually, how you describe a situation pretty much determines which kinds of choices are going to look eligible and which ones you're going to make. And that if you compare the descriptions of human choice making that philosophers often work with their toy examples, like the trolley problem, which I have the greatest respect for, but you're in a trolley, it's going to hit five people do you turn it to the right, so I'll only hit one person. It's a very thin description of a kind of moral situation. If you turn to novels and descriptions of people's moral dilemmas, the texture of those descriptions is is completely unlike the thin thought experiment. And that kind of figuring out how to describe what situation you're in in that thick away is often, you know, 90% of the problem in figuring out what to do in it.
But want to revisit this in a second. But we do have to take a break. When we get back. I want to look more at this thickness and look at the way that you've divided up lives and how to address them. But first, you're listening to curad Satya and jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life We'll be back right after this.
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You're back with jack Russell Weinstein and Karen sedia on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. And we're talking about the midlife crisis and a philosophical way of understanding it and exploring it and coming to terms with where we are. And it's funny, it made me think of a story that I may have told quite a few years ago on the show, I was a new grad student living in Boston, I was about to go to Boston University was about two weeks before a week before school started. And I went to staples to buy a notebook. And I went to the wall. And there were, I don't know, 50 different kinds of notebooks that were spiral notebooks, there were the black and white composition notebooks. And I just didn't know which one to get. And I stood there. And I, really long time I thought about this, I thought that I kept asking myself, what kind of notebook would a graduate student have, what kind of notebook was will I get that will show that I'm one of them, that isn't going to embarrass me, etc, etc, etc. And after about I probably 10 minutes of trying to figure this out, I said, you know, the heck with it, I'm just gonna buy the cheapest notebook, because that's all I can afford, which is exactly what a grad student would do, because grad students are broke. And so by giving into what was important to me, and not trying to be something, but by being something, I was able to make a good healthy decision that served me well by saving money for the rest of my graduate career. So Karen, I guess I want to ask you this question about robust descriptions about thick theories of the self about Iris Murdoch's comment that is how you describe the situation is also the way this is 95% of the problem. is part of midlife crisis, this fact that we are describing it as a crossroad? Is it is it is it a made up problem. And I don't mean in the sense that we talked about earlier that it's laughed at, but in the sense that isn't an invented crisis, that if we just relaxed and made day to day decisions, based on what we thought was best, we could get the same results without having this crisis moment.
I think it's possible, someone could sort of get through the without a crisis, that way, the hard thing to know, is whether the different ways that could happen, it could be that someone just sort of tacitly without really having to think about it has the right kind of orientation to life and is able to enjoy what they're doing in the present and not feel the pressure of all the things they need to get done. And they just get along fine. Without reflecting on it. It's also possible that sort of getting on with your life would be a way of ignoring a kind of structural problem, or kind of a kind of crisis that's there under the surface that you're not addressing. And I think, I mean, this connects with a kind of question about, you know, whether the unexamined life is not worth living. And, you know, my reaction to that is that Socratic idea that, you know, only only the examined life is worth living has always been ambivalent, because I have many friends who don't spend the amount of time examining their lives, the moral philosophers do seem to be doing quite a lot better with their lives than many moral philosophers. On the other hand, you can't really know whether you're doing well or whether they you're just ignoring a problem with your life without examining it. So you're sort of, you're sort of in the position where in order to know whether you can just ignore this and not worry about it, you have to start investigating it. And my sense is, is that the kinds of things at least that were that were bothering me, were genuine problems that that I could have ignored for longer. But I think in my case, at least, it would have been a mistake to do that, I would have been missing something and just sort of, you know, I would have been sticking my head in the sand if I had not reflected on them.
attentive listeners will notice that there's, there's a difference between the kind of examples that you are using, you keep talking about your own experience, and I keep talking about students or when I was younger, and I think that's because you've had the opportunity to to work through this. And I will admit that that I'm struggling with the questions that you've asked in the book are questions that I'm dealing with literally every day that are on my mind. And so the first one, the first way you frame midlife crisis out of several is by asking, Is this all there is? And it's hard for me to talk about this because, right I have my own public radio show. How can I ask right? How am I happy with this? right but but this is, this is a real question when we are successful and you talk about people who've made mistakes later, or who've had Subject to things they couldn't control. But for those of us who are successful, who have the basic needs, who maybe have fun projects that they want to do, who have a lot of freedom, you know, the academic lifestyle for all I complain about it is really wonderful. Yet I and many people in it sounds like you at a point were experienced, experienced this, this sadness and this emptiness. And so how how do you suggest that philosophy helps us understand how to address and come to terms with the question is this all there is when we've gotten what we've asked for, but it doesn't make us happy.
So as you say, there are parts of the book where I talk about how to feel about sort of things that really went wrong in your life. But part of what puzzled me about the midlife experience was that it was possible, and in fact, not uncommon for people who had been relatively successful, to nevertheless, feel that that wasn't that that wasn't making them happy, and that it was consistent with sort of a deep sense of malaise or regret about their life. I mean, there, there are several ways to approach this, and maybe one that's a good way in because it connects back with the idea of thick description or how to describe your life is that for me, and for many people, a midlife is a point of sort of stepping back and realizing that things that you might have wanted to do ambitions you might have had in your life. Now, it's pretty clear, you really won't ever do them. So for me, I knew I wanted to be a poet, that's not going to happen. I, I wanted, at least my dad wanted me to be a doctor, a real doctor, not a not a PhD. And, and I at some point, I wanted that too. And maybe I kind of made a mistake. And I certainly at least I have to acknowledge that that's not going to happen now. And so there's a way in which even if things go well, there's the sense that you still have only one life to lead. And that means missing out on all these other options. And that's one way to think about it is that the bad news is even if things go well, there'll be lives you can't live too bad, on the other hand, is a way of reframing that that I found really helpful, which was to say, Well, yeah, but that's a response to the fact that there are many different valuable things in life and that I and everyone is capable of appreciating more than one of them. And in fact, if you if you What would it be like not to to sort of avoid that inevitable sense of missing out, the only way to do it would be to sort of impoverish the world or impoverish yourself and you're responsive to it to it so much that you don't care about all those different things, and actually on balance, that wouldn't be a desirable way to live. So that's a case of sort of trying to reframe the inevitability of missing out so as to see it as an inevitable side effect of something really good, namely, our capacity to value so many different things. And that was that that's sort of a case where I think, thinking about missing out that way, can that that reframing can help, one to sort of make peace with and come to terms with the fact that yeah, it's it's good to miss out there's a there's a way in which it reflects something I really value and and cherish about life.
Is this a form of celebrating the choices that we've made, as opposed to lamenting the choices that we haven't you spent a fair amount of time talking about, for some people? How, in the face of having children. Even if you could go back and change your life, you wouldn't, because it would mean that your child never existed. And that that, for those of us who have children is just is just it's too much to bear and whatever cost, especially the more moderate costs that we're thinking of now. It's not worth it. And so is are we reframing this to just put the emphasis on celebrating what we've done? Or is it more about the universe of possibilities and sort of appreciating the complexity and the and the, the infinite nature and possibilities within the world we live?
I mean, I think it's both both of those really, I mean, what one revelation or sort of realization I had in thinking through my midlife crisis, which was the basis for trying to think about the midlife crisis in general, was that there were many things going on there like there are many midlife crises I, you know, I was having, you know, five of them at once. And so some of them are, I think are about this, this sort of missing out on alternative lives in a way that's inevitable even if things go well. But there's also the the way in which, inevitably, or unless you're extraordinarily lucky, by the time you're 30 or 40, or 50. There are aspects of your past that you regret and there are things that were you wish hadn't happened to you or wish you hadn't done? And I think sometimes the point about children here that I think is is is about A good starting point for reflection is that even things that at the time were undesirable and that you rightly wish you hadn't done at the time or wish hadn't happened to you at the time, when you see that the future course of your life depended on them in a way that for instance, means you wouldn't have met your partner or you wouldn't have had a kid in the way you didn't. Therefore this very person you love wouldn't exist. It's possible to sort of retrospectively change your attitude, even to things that at the time were bad, and think, well, I can't really regret it now. Or at least I'm a best ambivalent about it. Because if I hadn't made that mistake, or if that hadn't happened to me, Eli, my son wouldn't have been born, he wouldn't be here. And so I think that that is a kind of reframing of one's life retrospectively, that can actually help to change one's feelings, even about things that that were, were misfortunes or mistakes, not just about the inevitable things you miss out on? And one of the questions I was very interested in is how far that goes. Is this something specific to having children? or How far is it just about attach, as you said, sort of celebrating the particularities of what's good in one's life? As opposed to the sort of abstract sense that, well, it could have been better? in ways I don't really know how to articulate?
Well, how far does it go? Because obviously, children are a special case. And a very few things have the, again, existential connection that children do. So how far does this go? Can you do this with anything that you value? Or does it have to be an intense, all encompassing value?
for them that I think is is a really hard and question that I that I was I wanted to grapple with. And one of the case studies that I found really, really pointed and helpful here was that it was Virginia Woolf. So she was someone who was childless, and she constantly sort of compared her life to her sister, Vanessa Bell, who had children. And she's constantly returning in her diaries to the acquire a version of this question about whether her attachment to her novels, to the kind of creative, creative artifacts creative productions that she values can play the role children play, and I think they can play something, they can play a similar role and activities that one values can play a similar role. But it's not exactly the same. I think in the case of children's just the sheer existence, the actuality, of a human life, that calls for a certain kind of affirmation, fix something slightly different is going on when I say, think, even though I might have had a better life, and probably I should have been a doctor, I affirm my life as a philosopher, I don't think it's just, I affirm it, because that's actually what I'm doing. End of story. It's, I think, the source of affirmation, in the case of activities, that one values rather than, say, children whose life one values has to do with the way in which we are responding, rational responsiveness to the specific ways in which a life is good, is more profound than our response to just the thought, well, that would have been better. So for me, it's not just that I think, philosophy is a pretty good life, I feel very grateful to have it, it's that I have a textured sense of what's good about it the ways in which I interact with students or I get to read and think about these profound questions, or I get to have conversations like this. And even if I think, yeah, I should have been a doctor, I don't really have a sense of what's good about that. I just, you know, I guess it would have been good. And so I think it's reasonable to respond very differently to the specifics of what's good than to abstract descriptions of better lives. And so a mistake you can fall into when you step back from your life is just asking, well, is this the best life I could have? Had? Probably not. But is there enough in it when I zoom in and focus on the ways in which it's good to enable me to affirm it? Maybe yes.
That's a really compelling way of thinking about the problem that that we are struggling with something we know all of the details, all the layers, all the richness of colors, and and we're comparing it to something that we only know the outlines of, and that's an unfair comparison. And if you ask what it would be like to be a doctor, and a medical student to always be on call for 30 hours at a time to experience a job that where you you save some people's lives, you also watch people die, which hopefully we as teachers will never have to do. It's, it's it becomes a much more, you use the the form, the term commensurable experience, right? But what about meaning that you can there's a common measure, you can you can compare one with the other and when it's when When it's a full color picture and an outline, you can't do that. But what about what about the things where the details are dead ends? You have this quote from Tolstoy, which which I love. You said, Tolstoy writes, Well, fine. So you will be morphing talking about himself. Well, fine. See, you'll be more famous than Google Pushkin, Shakespeare, Moliere, more famous than all of the writers in the world. And so what? Right? This goes back to this question of is this all there is what happens when you look at what you're doing? And you can't see the meaning in it? All right, the previous answer was about exploring the meaning in the details. What happens when you don't have access to that meaning when you just when you face that malaise of so what big deal? Here I am.
It's funny. I mean, I think one of the things that that really puzzled me about the midlife malaise, as I experienced it, as I often saw it described in novels like, you know, Richard Russo's straight man or revolutionary row,
you know, which, by the way, for academics in the audience, if they have not read it, oh, yeah, every time I feel bad about my life, I read straight man. And it makes me laugh uproariously and realize that I'm not special, that it's happening to everybody. But please go,
No, it's a terrific book. And actually, what struck me about about the sort of intellectually puzzling was that often, there is a sort of background recognition that no, it's not all worthless, this is worth doing. It's worth teaching a class, it's worth doing this. And yet somehow that coexists with an emptiness, a harness a sense that, that what's the point of this? So in a way, I feel like Tolstoy's crisis is more intelligible? Because he just thinks nothing matters. It's just nihilistic. And the philosophical treatments for that, I think, are have to do with with asking, Well, what are the arguments against the idea of objective value? How can we make sense of objective value was the the peculiarities of the midlife phenomena that often, there's a kind of acknowledgement that that what you're doing sort of seems worth doing. And yet, there's still something missing. And there are different ways forms that can take one form that I I have written about, and that I found particularly gripping was was john Stuart Mill, who reaches a similar kind of point to the point you quoted and Tolstoy of saying, he has these ambitions to be a social reformer. He was a kind of political philosopher and social activist in 19th century Britain. And he thought to himself, who's about it around 20 years old thought, Well, suppose I managed to make all these reforms. Would I be happy? And he had the same Tolstoy response? No, I wouldn't. And in Mills case, I think what was going on was a kind of excessive focus in his life on problem solving on sort of what I call in the book ameliorative value, just making things better than they would otherwise have been. And there's a kind of limit to that. Because if you're just making things better than they would otherwise have been, you're sort of answering problems that ideally you wouldn't even have to answer. So in as it were, in an ideal world, you wouldn't need to reduce suffering or engage in social reform. So there's a way in which you're engaging in activities that ideally you wouldn't be engaging in. And that I think, is a source of sort of, of malaise, even when the activities are genuinely worthwhile activities of sort of helping people who are in difficult situations. And that that's one kind of way in which I think, the this the Malays, what kind of form it can take, and you don't have to be milled to have this, you know, often around midlife, that sort of pressure of things that need to get done. Because otherwise life will fall apart, becomes intense, and much of your life is taken up with that. And in a way, you're sort of, you're missing out, or there's a risk of missing out on the kinds of things that make life worth living in the first place.
I, I want to follow up with that in a in a minute or two, because you talked about living in the present and the and finding the existential value in in process. And before that, we are going to have to talk about death. Okay, but before that, I want to talk about this, this this outward orientation, because what you're describing, of course, is for male and for others, people who really wanted to help others, but what what if, what if it's, it's about what what Aristotle actually called honor, the praise and the opinion that others have a view and I asked this because we got a question from lawan in Albuquerque, and he asks, If you think that midlife crises are going to be a bigger issue for people who spend more time on their self presentation like on social media and And clearly he's asking about the current younger generation who is very about presenting themselves public display of who they are and what they want of branding as as, as the administrators that universities like to call it. What? Do you think that that there's that that outward orientation? will make things worse? Because you're so dependent on others? Or do you think that in the end? I don't know, it's going to even all out and it's just going to be idiosyncratic. Some people will have it and some people won't.
And I do think there's a real danger there. It's a sort of variant of a kind of danger that's endemic to even sort of the self help project, which is thinking about yourself and thinking, How can I, for instance, make myself happy? or How can in the case of social media, how can I, how am I doing in the eyes of other people
can be sort of counterproductive it can, it can interfere, pursuing your own happiness can interfere with actually investing in other things in a way that would make you happy. And constantly thinking about how what you're doing looks to other people can be a kind of distraction kind of occlude the kind of investment in what you're doing. That would actually enable it to be a source of satisfaction, if you're thinking if you're doing something, merely with an eye to the Instagram post, you're going to do about it later. You're not investing in it, you're not engaging with it in a way that can that will be as immersive and as satisfying as someone who isn't thinking about that. So I do think there's a real risk in the way in which self presentation and sort of mediating one sense of oneself through presentation to others is becoming so endemic. So I guess I'm not sanguine about it sort of working itself out without real effort on the part of individuals and sort of socially for people to push back against the way in which that those technologies are sort of changing their relationship to themselves. And to what they're doing. It's something I worry about, I have it, you know, I have a kid, he's 11 years old, he's just on the cusp of social media activity. And it is it's worrying.
Our daughter is 12. And so she's just a little head and and it changes everything. It's really interesting. And a topic of another conversation. So for you and me and on the radio show, but but one of the things that that it changes is up, someone was telling me I didn't watch it, but someone's telling me about the Super Bowl halftime show with Justin Timberlake. And at what point, he goes into the audience and sings to a specific audience members, and he finds it what looks like a 12 year old boy. And in the middle of, you know, him leaning into the boy and singing, the boy takes out his phone and takes a selfie. Yeah, and then what what the person said was, and I suppose this is up to interpretation, you could see afterwards, the tension in the boy, because part of him wanted to really experience and enjoy what was happening because Justin Timberlake is singing to him at but part of him really just wanted to send that photo out to everybody. You know, he's taking it has to go it has to go now and and there's this, this tension between once he focuses on that it ruins it takes him out of the experience. So how much of dealing with a midlife crisis and how much of life satisfaction is about being in the moment, as opposed to the meta thinking, the thinking about the moment and the reflecting on where the moment fits in and, and all this stuff that as philosophers, we are trained to do so much that it it certainly seeps into our personal lives. We're always looking at it from above. Do you have to walk away from that in order to be more satisfied? Just like the boy should have just not thought about the phone and thought about this once in a lifetime? opportunity?
Yeah, I think there's really something to that I mean, something to the idea that the kind of intellectually oriented self help that involves reflecting and reframing and thinking about your life and considering arguments and involves the kind of focus on yourself that eventually you want to discard that it's sort of a ladder, you'll eventually have to climb up and then have to ideally throw away in order to be immersed in your life in a new way, not constantly sort of rehearsing the sort of philosophical reframing, if you can find one that's making life more satisfying. I mean, I think This specific idea of of sort of being in the present and valuing the the present activity in a way that is attentive and immersive and doesn't involve constantly thinking of how it can play a role in some in some achievable goal, for instance, you know, posting something on Instagram that will get I don't know about instant or they have likes, gets millions of likes, or
they have they have hearts. Same thing.
So yeah, so So I do think that that's new and distinctive source have a way of sort of turning activity sort of immersion in what's going on right now and valuing what's going on right now into a means to an achievable project that has a definite product, which in a way is, is the exact reverse of the kind of the main, therapeutic, emotional, conceptual shift that for me has been part of coming to terms with with midlife and coming to terms with the ways in which my orientation to things was wrong, which was that I was making things that I was exactly making things that whose value should be more about the the ongoing process into projects. So that the more ways we have to do that, the more precarious our sort of grip on the value of what we're doing really is.
You make this distinction in the book between teallach and eight Tilak activities. I wonder if you'd define that and explain that distinction, because I think it really articulate very well the kind of thing that you're talking about.
Yeah, so this this is this is a distinction where the terminology comes from linguists talking about verbs, and I've sort of transposed it to the activities that the verbs pick out. Tila can at least come from the Greek word Telos, which means no goal. And the idea is that teallach activities are the ones that are directed at a terminal point, they're going to final goal, like, could be as simple as walking home or reading Anna Karenina, or getting a promotion at work or having a kid. And that those activities have the structure where the aim of dissatisfaction that's in the future, not the present. And the moment you achieve it, it's in the past, it's over with, so that they have this sort of risk of seeming hollow in the present. And they also have a self subversive character. Because in engaging with a T like activity, pursuing a project aiming to achieve a goal, you're engaging with something that if it's a source of meaning for you, your engagement with it will extinguish it, I mean, it will kick it out of your life, you'll sort of kill it off. Whereas 80 like activities are activities that don't aim at Terminal state. So as well, as you know, having a kid, there's just sort of the ongoing activity of parenting or activities, like hanging out with your friends, or just listening to music, where there's no specific point at which they aim at which they're exhausted and overwhelmed. And at like activities, are ones that they they're not self subversive and engaging with them, you're not exhausting something you value. And they don't have this problem that satisfactions always in the future or the past. Because if you if you want to be chatting to your friends, and that's what you're doing, then you have what you value right now. I mean, it's realized in the present as much as it can be realized. And so a shift that I think is really important to make a midlife or maybe earlier if you want to prevent my kind of midlife crisis is not investing too much value or exclusive value in teallach activities or projects or achievements or accomplishments. But instead, properly appreciating the value of the sort of ongoing at like process of what you're doing. And I think that shift is both important and difficult. And going back to what we were just talking about, I think, sort of turning moments in which you're immersed into ways of producing something like an Instagram post is the opposite of the kind of shift that I think we really need to make in order to to prevent the the midlife malaise, the sense of hollowness in the presence that I was experiencing and sort of struggle with.
I'm learning to play piano I've had been for a few years, I'm very slow. And every time I sit down and try to decipher the music, because I learned when I was older than the last five years, it's hard, it's incredibly hard. And I know that it's never going to stop no matter how good I get. playing the piano is always going to be hard because there's always a way to improve or to focus on the emotional content of a piece or to understand the relationship between the chord structure and and, and, and, and all the musical aspects. And this strikes me as an example of something that you're talking about. I am not trying to play the piano because I want to say it I've done that and moved on. I do it because it's always more and all I can do, I can't focus on it, and I can only focus on what I'm doing. And there is something really satisfying about that. Although, at the same time, why would I want to put myself through that kind of pain and suffering of being so angry at myself for not being able to do this? And, and there is right? I guess what I'm asking is, so many of the Tilak acted at the at like activities, that the activities that aren't goal oriented, involve struggling and effort, but yet they're meaningful anyway. So how does the pleasure of something as compared to the flow of something, the effort of something the Aristotle claims that happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue of reason, meaning that Happy Happiness is is it doing not a feeling as I was telling my students, how much of this being in the moment is focusing on the doing not the feeling? And how much of it is about putting your identity and your efforts into it, as opposed to just feeling the pleasure? Whether it's passively or or? Just in the moment? What? I'm not sure that I've been clear in the question, but but what's the balance between effort? And what we get from the effort even for at like activities, like playing the piano?
Yeah, that's really interesting, actually. I mean, it's interesting probably because to me, partly because one kind of reactions, I think, some misconception to the idea that we should focus on 80 like activities, like listening to music, going for a walk spending time with friends, when we actually put some time into sort of downplaying projects to like activities, when we actually people sometimes have is, you're saying we should all just kick back and do nothing, and just, you know, relax. And I think you're right that whilst, I mean, there are at like, activities like going for a stroll, wandering around, hang chatting with your friends that that aren't effortful or needn't be effortful. Many at like, activities are hard, being a teallach is not the same as being sort of relaxing and easy. And so many of the at least activities we really value. So for me, thinking about philosophy is painful. And it involves a lot of frustration. And so I don't think it's sort of essential to at least activities that they involve effort in that way, I think there are some that don't. But I think it's probably true that the kinds of activities that are likely to seem meaningful enough to really be a focus of our lives, are going to be ones that are while at LEC also hard and challenging. And I think that's it's good to acknowledge those activities, I think one thing you might worry about in the shift from a sort of teallach orientation to an at the orientation was that you were going to lose out on the sort of the sense of, of genuine, challenging engagement that projects bring. But it's not only projects that bring that even as you're describing it, you know, learning piano without any particular goal, taking priority can involve sort of challenging yourself in a way that feels like it involves personal growth in it involves something really satisfying. So I sort of embrace the idea that at least activities can be difficult, and they're not always accessible. And the fact that you're sort of realized in the present doesn't mean that at any given moment, any one of them is available to you, it may take a lot of work before, you're able to engage in a kind of at work activity that you really, you really value. And so you're not sort of the focus on at work activities doesn't involve neglecting the way in which human achievement in the sense of struggle and effort contribute to having feeling a sense of meaning in your life.
So I promised I'd talked about this earlier. Let's go from that which we have control over what you're just talking to that which we have no control over the inevitability of death. Certainly we would be neglecting our responsibility, we'd be intellectually dishonest if we didn't acknowledge that part of what the midlife crisis is about is that it's half over. And that in addition to the deterioration of one's body and one's mind, there's the ultimate end the death and death is terrifying for many. There are true believers who think that there is an afterlife, and for them, then death isn't an end. So it avoids that issue to a certain extent. Not to say that very religious people aren't afraid of death as well. But if death is final If our consciousness is gone, if it's just over, well, surely that has, as Heidegger like to talk about a profound effect on who we are as human beings and our identity and the midlife crisis seems like that point in life, when we first come to terms with our mortality. So how does? how did how did you address this question, which is, of course, one of the most essential and difficult questions in the history of questions. How did you deal with this in the self help context?
Yes, I actually think this does connect with the Tila kt like distinction, actually, in the that we were just talking about in that one way in which the sort of inadequacy of my Tilak focus was made vivid to me was the sense that if I worked, if I worked really hard, I might write, you know, 21 papers before I die. And if I didn't work so hard, I might write 18. And the thought that cannot, there can't be the focusing on achievable goals, and how many of them just doesn't make sense of the kind of effort I'm putting in. In order to make sense of it being worth putting in this effort, I have to think of what I'm doing in a Tilak term. So for me, there's actually a connection between the two. I mean, that what I did this is by way of avoiding giving the direct answer to your question, which is how did I deal with this in the book, not entirely successfully? Is the answer. So I talked about, there are two kinds of philosophical strategies for adapting to and sort of changing one's feelings about death, that I think are worth exploring. And for some people can be quite powerful. But don't they honestly don't really work for me. So I think it would be reasonable if you found this consoling. But I I honestly don't. So one is to is this idea that goes back to classical philosophy of sort of comparing the emptiness of post mortem non existence with the emptiness of prenatal non existence, and trying to convince ourselves that if we took a properly, sort of properly took in that symmetry, properly took a kind of temporarily neutral attitude to our lives, we will be no more disturbed by the nothingness after our death than we are by the nothingness before we were born. And I think, for some people, it is possible. And I think it's not unreasonable to approach one's life in that sort of temporally neutral way. And to feel the same way about both. Unfortunately, I think it's also not at all unreasonable not to approach life in that temporary neutral way, and to basically care much more about the future than the past, in a way that makes death much more terrifying than prenatal non existence. And the other kind of therapy that I think is quite again, helpful for some and I find it illuminating, but it doesn't quite cut to the heart of my fear of death, is to think about the way in which sort of wanting not to die, is tantamount to wanting to live forever, and wanting to live forever is is a kind of it will be cool. I mean, it would be like a being like, it would be like being a Greek god or something, it would be a superpower. But normally our reaction to not having superpowers like not being able to fly or which will be cool to or, you know, leap tall buildings in a single bound. Also cool. But normally, our reaction to those things is, well, you know, who gets to do that, it'll be fun, but you don't feel sort of a sense of anxiety, about not having to do those things, at least most of us don't. And if you can sort of reframe immortality in the same way as something that will be cool, but it's it's sort of a superpower that lies beyond sort of human possibility or sort of ordinary human possibility. You might be able to bring yourself to think of it as something that it's a little sad that you can't live forever. But to feel angst about it would be like feeling angst about not being Superman. And again, I think that there will be a reasonable way to respond. And for some people, that response can be quite gripping. Again, it doesn't really work for me, because I don't think my fear of death has to do with wanting this really cool thing, namely, living forever. It has to do with a kind of attachment to myself that's like my attachment to other people. I love that just once that doesn't want them to go out of existence. It's sort of just a more primitive preservative love of of things that that seem to matter. And in the end, I think I don't have a kind of philosophical therapy that exposes that as a misconception. So for me, it's it is one of the this goes back to something we talked about earlier. This is one of the points at which there's a real limit to how much philosophy can do.
Yeah, this feels character illogical to me in the sense that I have friends who at least claim that they're not afraid of death that, that it's nothingness, and they're not going to feel anything. And so what's the difference? The idea of nothingness to me is terrifying. I get really anxious when I think about it. If I think about my loved ones dying and we experiencing it, well, then that's miserable in a different way. But when I think about nothingness, it's I can't imagine short of someone being able to give me the experience of nothingness and show me that it's not scary. I can't imagine any argument. This goes back to really one of my first questions, I can't imagine an argument for not being afraid of nothingness. Because, again, this sense of ownership over oneself of my experience it It upsets me to think about it. I don't know that it did when I was 24. But it certainly does now. And I suppose one of the ways that people deal with this is to see the connectedness of themselves in the universe, right? When you talked about earlier that the temporal neutrality, and you said, think about how post mortem nothingness is, is, is the same in some meaningful way as prenatal mourning, nothingness that you're not upset about things before you were born, you were only upset about things afterwards. And one response to that is to look at these things and say, Well, okay, you're just saying, I'm sick, I'm insignificant. I'm a blip in the universe. And that doesn't seem particularly consoling to me. On the other hand, for some, I suppose it does. But then there's another way, which is to think about the connectedness of oneself, and how one is as an instantiation, of everything. And this is, of course, the Buddhist approach. And you use the Buddhist approach a little bit in the end to talk about meditation and and these tools to help deal with these emotions and these experiences that they were successful in your own life. And I can say that right now. Yoga and eventually leading to meditation has been really helpful for me in some some ways. So what is it about this approach this this Eastern approach, although we'll probably end up talking about Schopenhauer to this Eastern approach of meditation and of oneness and the elimination of the self that assists in this project of dealing with midlife crisis.
Yeah, I mean, it actually, what one way to frame this is to, is to begin with something that doesn't work for me, which is a bit it connects us with what you were just saying, which is that there is a kind of a kind of cognitive therapy for fear of death, that if I could bring myself to believe it might really work, which is the sort of Buddhist idea that sort of no self view that in a sense, it's very hard to grasp or articulate. I don't really exist to begin with, in the way that I thought I did. actually might usually when I try to think about that, it's both hard to understand. And I also, I do wonder if that would, in fact, be consoling, or whether it would just mean that my fear of death would now extend to the present that would be like the the fear of this thing that was going to happen. I just be like, Oh, my God, it's already happened. I already don't exist. This is terrifying. But but I don't really believe that. So the question for me is, is, you know, often, a certain kind of meditation, sort of mindfulness meditation, which you focus on breathing and sound, and your thoughts and so on, can be helpful to people. What, what could be going on there? It could be just, yeah, it has certain calming effects, that will be great. It's soothing. Nothing wrong with that. It could be that it involves some kind of insight into the world. But if you if you don't buy as I don't the metaphysics of Buddhism, there's sort of no self view. What's left what what other insight could there be so so for me, thinking about the contrast between Tillich and at like activities was a way to articulate what might be going on in meditation. That would give it a kind of intellectual justification, it would explain what what you were doing, but it wouldn't involve involve the no self view. And so for me, I think, what I think is going on with when I do it is learning to immerse myself in the moment to appreciate simple at like activities, like breathing or just listening to sounds in a way that quiets and distances myself from the thoughts that are sort of trying to grab onto goals that are sort of trying to hook me with the lore of the teallach. And, and the ideal, which I think is hard to achieve. And I don't think I have achieved would be to take that orientation just into life to be able in engaging in activities in my in my ordinary life with, you know, parenting and shopping and you know, paying the bills and teaching a class To be able to, to, to, not to be meditating while I'm doing it, but to feel like I have the the ability to sort of focus myself on on the the 80, lick activity that I value, and prevent myself from sort of reframing things until it turns. And that, for me is a kind of role that meditation can play.
You know, it's interesting because we talk about enlightenment in these traditions, and, but what doesn't get a lot of attention is the fact that except in the most ideal circumstances, like sidhartha, becoming Buddha, enlightenment is a momentary thing. And it comes and goes, You are enlightened for a minute, you see a glimpse of of wholeness, but then you go back to life, perhaps change a little bit, Martin Buber and his iron Tao, when he talks about relating with people, as opposed to just experiencing them, that only happens in very special occasions, you have to work for it. And so you can't be fully enlightened or fully present in the calming effects of shopping or or doing these other things. Because that's not the human experience. And so is is, I'll get asked this in a different way. And it's sort of a ridiculous question. I apologize in advance. Um, how much do we have to know? Before we get to the position of being able to do right, this is Aristotle's question of moral intellectual virtues. But, but okay, I've read your book, I found. For the record, I thought it was incredibly interesting and wonderful and powerful, and really touch base with a lot of things that I was thinking. And I recommend it to the to the audience. It's a sophisticated, but a very easy read. And I think people will like it a lot, especially if they're of the age. But I've read the book, I've read a fair amount of the texts that you're talking about. I've done a lot of the things that I'm doing a lot of things that you're talking about, yet I'm still learning, and I don't know that I'm doing any of it. out of habit or unconsciously, it's still a conscious effort. How much do we have to learn before this stuff becomes not just knowledge or insight, or an idea to try, but enough of a way of life? that it actually helps with these things? How long did your midlife crises last? Before you were able to internalize these things?
Well, I I don't think I've internalized them. So my midlife crisis is ongoing. It's a Yeah, it's a it's a long show. It's a work in progress. I mean, I yeah, I think the process of changing one's orientation to life. Sometimes I think some of the things that I talked about in the book, like thinking about how missing out? I, I would not, I would, I'm glad I don't, I would not be glad to miss out on missing out. I'm happy to be missing out. Because I don't want to limit my sense of what matters in the world. That kind of reorientation, I feel like for me made an emotional difference without a lot of struggle. I think the shift to from this sort of more project driven orientation to to trying to live in the present value at like activities is harder. And it is an ongoing struggle. So I'm not sure that there's an answer to the question how long it takes. I mean, one thing to say about that question, which I'm also inclined to ask is, in a way, that way of framing things has the residue of the Tilak orientation, and it's as if at least, I don't put words in your mouth. But sometimes, I think, I think to myself, you know, at what point will I be done with this. But of course, the idea of being done with working on oneself trying to live well, is attempting to sort of reframe something that has to be at LEC, namely, just striving to live well in an ongoing way into a form where it somehow gets finished at some point, as if there were an achievable goal of which you're sort of done with that. And living well can't be like that. And when you tried to think it's when I tried to think that through I think that doesn't make any sense like that. What am I hoping to finish here? It isn't Tilak and I can't think of it as finishable so I can think I can it can go better or worse. I can do it be doing it well or badly. But it it is just going to be an ongoing at lick process for as long as I'm living. And I don't know if that that that's just you know, accepting that and being okay with that as another instance of the very problem you're raising. But at least I it helps me to think it's not a mistake was a sign of something going wrong. For me to be thinking. Man this is taking a lot of time this is this isn't this is this problems are not are not permanently solved. It's part of an ongoing engagement with all Life, I think, yeah, that that's how it has to be.
Almost everyone I know who's become a grandparent, not everyone, but almost everyone has described the experience of being profoundly transformative in a way that they never experienced. And maybe there's something about that maybe there's something about reaching that next stage of life. When your children if you have children have children of their own, that there's There seems to be a grasping of the wholeness and satisfaction in life that folks who really like being grandparents talk about. And I guess ultimately, that has to be the end of this conversation for now. Because your point is well taken, right that the the the the end of the midlife crisis is just the end of midlife, but that working on oneself and seeing new ideas and the new transformations and understanding how changes in life and change in attitude, affects who you are, what you want, what you've done, and how you feel about the past. I guess that's just an ending, and midlife and midlife crises are just another time of life that we can focus on to figure out what it means to be a human being.
I really like that way of putting it and I think there's something really this right, there's a way in which it's, even though it will end, at least If like me, you think death is going to be the end? It will end but it's not completable? I mean, that's exactly what at least that sort of definition of an 80 like activity. So there's a way in which you can't hope to finish it. But I suspect you're right. And I guess I I look forward hopefully to finding these things out that the shape it takes changes as you as you make your way up the the upswing of the U curve of life satisfaction, if you're lucky enough to make it into into older age.
I think that's a great way to end the conversation. And I will say again, that there have been quite a few books, especially recently that have tried to be both philosophy books and self help books. And I think you do it as good if not better than any that I've read. So congratulations. And thank you. It's been it's it's a it's a wonderful and challenging book. But it's a very personal book, both for the reader and the end clearly for the author. So thank you for writing it. Thank you for joining us on why and thank you for sharing your insights.
Thank you so much Jack.
You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein and Kieran Satya on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We'll be back with some more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We were talking with Karen Satya about midlife and the crisis and the philosophical analysis there of you know, it's a hard conversation. First of all, because it's intimate, it's powerful, it's emotional. And those of us who are experiencing it, at least, it's real. And so the idea that it's real and should be attended to is itself, incredibly important. And when that is acknowledged, it makes it easier as opposed to being laughed at. But I think it's also conceptually difficult to because we are so many things. We are so many connections, so many relationships, we are so many possibilities and so many impossibilities and trying to figure out who we are and where we fit in the scheme of things and why we're doing what we're doing involves triangulating so many things, so much information, so many experiences, so many complex emotions. So many wants, fulfilled desires and unfulfilled desires. It's a kind of mathematical equation for lack of a better word that we need computers for that we need advanced long term thinking. Maybe that's why we have novels. Maybe that's why this is a long term discussion over eons. Because It's too big for one person. And yet at the same time, the conclusion, the resolution, the making sense of it all has to be that one person, it has to be personal, you have to commit to the answer in a way that you don't have to commit too much else because it's about ourselves. And it's about our orientation to the world. I don't know how it's gonna turn out for me, I hope it turns out well, I don't know how it's gonna turn out for all of you. I don't know how life is gonna turn out for me, for all of you, for my daughter, and my wife, my friends. I hope it turns out well for everybody. But there is something glorious about the fact that life is rich enough that we can take this time to examine it. There's something very soothing and satisfying about the fact that in the face of all of these uncertainties, we have the skills to focus on them, and ask what the uncertainties mean, we can control these emotions by putting them in front of us and by examining them, not by turning our head, not by walking away, not by denying them, but to placing them on the table and say, Here are my concerns. Let's look at them. Let's talk about them. Let's evaluate them. And let's make this about who we are, and about who we are with. You've been listening to Jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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