If Youth Knew, If Age Could 7 — The Nature of Nature in the Nature of Time
Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), and Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020).
Here we talk about the time of our lives and in life.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How does the perception of time change — ahem — over time? When it comes to this particular realization, how does this change the subjective perception of others of a younger cohort in terms of their experience of the passing of time? What seems like the nature of nature in the nature of changing perceptions of time? Why is a life plan important — at some point, eventually — for the integration of one’s youthful past with their middle and later years of — in normal circumstances — expected lifespan?
Dr. Herb Silverman: Your questions make me think of “September Song,” which begins, “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September.” The song is a metaphor for one year serving as a person’s life span from birth to death. (If you want to hear the song on YouTube, I recommend the Willie Nelson version.)
Our perceptions of time do change as we age. When I was young a day seemed quite long, but now, at 77, when night comes I wonder why the day has seemed so short. I’m happy to still be here and I plan to make each of my remaining days meaningful. I feel that I have so much to do and so little time. I’m fortunate to have a life partner like Sharon, which brings me to more lyrics from the September Song, “Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few. September, November. And these few precious days, I’ll spend with you. These precious days, I’ll spend with you.”
You mention expected lifespan, but that only represents a statistical average. We assume younger people will live many more years than older people, and they should plan accordingly, but one never knows. Some good strategies likely to increase lifespan, whether young or old, include eating healthy, exercising regularly, having close friends, avoiding tobacco, not drinking in excess, reducing stress, regular check-ups, and getting enough sleep. Young people can often get away with ignoring some of these strategies, but it will likely catch up with you later in life and you may regret some of your youthful bad habits.
A life plan is certainly more important for younger people than for older people because it’s a good idea to plan for what is expected to be a long future. Think about what you want to achieve in life and then how to go about accomplishing it. You need to be flexible, because your goals might change. Regardless, getting a good education is important because it will probably provide skills for whatever career path you choose. Education is also helpful when looking for the kind of work you really enjoy, rather than just taking a job to make money.
Engaging politically when you are young can be more beneficial than when you are old, because many of the issues currently being discussed are more likely to affect the young. Presently, the primary issue is climate change, which is affecting people now and will become more problematic in the future. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden is a good role model. Other issues in which young people should become active include healthcare, education, religious freedom, immigration, racism, sexism, terrorism, gun safety, and free speech. Oh, and make sure you vote.
If you are young, you should assume you will live for many more years, and plan accordingly. This means doing what you can to prepare for a comfortable retirement. You can think about what hobbies you might want to pursue when you have more leisure time. You also want to have enough money to enjoy a comfortable retirement, which could last a long time if you are healthy and lucky. When I was young, I didn’t really think much about saving for retirement. Fortunately, my academic institutions required that some of my salary be set aside to invest in my retirement. That, along with a pension and social security when I retired, helped to eliminate financial worries for me.
Here’s something we all need to realize: Life is a sexually transmitted disease with a 100% mortality rate. Yes, we are all going to die someday. We are fragile creatures who have been dying from the moment we were born into a universe that has no purpose. There is no purpose of life, so we all need to find purposes in life. There’s no need to delude ourselves into thinking that we will have an afterlife, so we ought to decide what we want to accomplish in this, our one and only, life. Sometimes those choices and their repercussions live longer than we do. We hope to impact future generations in a positive way.
Finally, planning a life is a weighty subject, one worth considering and reconsidering as long as our limited life allows. Also, remember that you need to have fun and enjoy life, and laugh as often as possible.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Silverman.
Image Credit: Herb Silverman.