In Search Of Lost Time

that which I should have done I did not do


Is life long or short? As I get older I am often amazed by how long it has been since some event happened, as long as it happened when I was an adult, and yet also amazed by how short the time span was between 2 events that happened in my childhood. How could it have been only 5 years between “Groundhog’s Day” and “Rushmore”? How could it be 20 years since “Rushmore”?? I assume this is due to a kind of compression algorithm.  Most of my life is incredibly repetitive. Every day is not exactly the same but its a few routines repeatedly endlessly with occasional differences. The differences can stand out while the repetitions get forgotten. Childhood had more changes and more milestones so more memories stick out.

For example, I know that I’ve had a lot of coffee and I can remember drinking coffee but I can’t remember very many specific instances of drinking coffee further back than a few days. The archetypal experience is retained but the thousands of individual experiences are forgotten. So, in essence the countless hours I’ve spent sipping coffee, doing work or whatever are gone. They made no lasting impression on my brain and the tens of thousands of cups of coffee that I will probably drink in the future will similarly have no effect. I will not gain any further insights into what coffee is like.
Realistically, the vast majority of the rest of my life will be taken up by a small set of mundane activities that will disappear from my mind almost instantly.

I wonder what it would feel like to have had a very long life. I’ve thought about it since reading this post on Lesswrong years ago. Would it feel much different to be 1,0000 than it feels to be 37? There would be more and more things to remember but then would the cutoff for what is worth remembering just get higher until I have no better a recollection of the past I lived through than someone could get by reading a history book?   If I spent most of my life doing the same mundane things over and over would I end up saying things like “I can’t believe Da Vinci died nearly 500 years ago. I feel like I was just talking to that guy.” If most of the memories of life have disappear into a fog, is that the poor man’s version of an infinite life?

If my life kinda sorta stretches back to infinity,  how does a dog’s life do? They are shorter lived but the repetitiveness is much greater. Can a 12 year old dog remember much of anything that happened 7 years ago? If their lives stretch back into the abyss and they have no concept of their own death are they, from their own perspective, immortal?

One way in which life is certainly not infinite is that it ends.  My life will end and there will be some things I wish I had done but did not do.  There are 2 classes of those things. One is the class of things that I could do at any time if I were willing to skip some of the comforting mundane things that I engage in nearly constantly. If I want to see the Taj Mahal I can just go. It would be expensive and upset my family, but they would get over it and I could make up for the expense by drinking a bit less coffee for awhile. If I want to have shredded abs for 1 day of my life I could just snack a bit less every day for a few months and there they would be, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.  It seems that for many of the big things that I claim to want to do, the minor conveniences and mundane activities that I actually spend my time are far more important. After all, if I went to see the Taj Mahal I would always remember that, but after a few years would my memories really be any more clear than the infinite number of images that I can find online? And sure I would feel a sense of accomplishment if I could see them abs for a minute but then that sense would fade as they did and I can’t imagine wanting to be constantly hungry to maintain them.

The other class of things that I will die not having accomplished are the things which are simply beyond my abilities. Maybe if my life really was infinite I would get to India at some point or dedicate myself to fitness for awhile, but would I ever be president? Not if other people still exist. Would I ever win an Oscar or write a bestseller? The odds don’t look good.  Even in the areas where I put a lot of effort my abilities seem to plateau at well below world class, so how could I ever achieve that level in anything where I don’t put a lot of effort? Its fatuous to think that infinite life would mean infinite major accomplishments, or even any major accomplishments.

In the limit of our effectively infinite lives do we approach 100% mundane and 0% spectacular? Is that the best we can do?

One thought on “In Search Of Lost Time”

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