Don’t phase me, bro


A second nod to Bob Dylan (see Confoundin ): I have to believe that the (my) times are a’ changin. I may not ever qualify as an ageing hippie, unless I truly become a hippie before I age. I’m afraid that the beginning phrases of my recounting of ways that I’ve come close would sound more like some lines from Prufrock.

I once expressed frustration to a philosophy professor that I was feeling trapped in a kind of existential Zeno’s paradox, and that forward movement in my life was seeming to prove inherently impossible. (Any fans of Douglas Hofstadter out there?). The prof offered to sit me down and explain in the space of an hour the simple way out of the original paradox, but he wasn’t speaking my language, as much as we had a mutual respect. I often turned to him when I just needed to vent, but looking back, I think it’s fair to say that he looked upon all of my frustrations and challenges as just phases that I was going through.

The moon goes through phases. Observers from earth never see the far side of it, something to do with how the duration of orbit is the same as the duration of its rotation — and/or something to do with ‘tidal locking’. But although the far side of the moon has been photographed from space, no human being has ever stood on that side of it. In some ways, the Earth’s movement is like the moon’s but on a larger scale. The Earth and its inhabitants also go through phases. Back to Hofstadter, I’d like to think we can choose whether to focus on the recurrent patterns or on the possibility and freedom to change.

Before encountering today’s prompt, I had already planned on musing on my simultaneous cravings for stability and freedom, for ritual habit and variety. Of course these do not represent a paradox and they are not mutually exclusive. But it does feel that way at times. Likewise, I would like to believe that my struggles with depression and other mental health issues are just phases, as are my current challenges to find steady and gainful employment more than 5 years after completing 8 years of post-secondary education. And yet at the same time, there seems to be something inherently impossible about getting from point A to point B.

I’d like to believe that my life can be about the journey, not the destination, so that there really is no ‘point B’ for me to achieve. In which case, I could also dispense with the false destinations that are ‘half-way there’.

I’ve written elsewhere about the difference between historical thinking and becoming trapped by the belief that the patterns of history are inevitable. We’re seeing this debate play out in the current American election (disclaimer: I don’t pretend to have more than an outsider’s perspective, and my particular sympathies for one candidate are only circumstantial), between the opposing theories of incremental and revolutionary change. If I could persuade political candidates of all countries and parties to read Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, and then of course all of Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher and Bach, I am convinced the world would be a better place.

I have to believe that change is possible, for myself and for the world, despite the recurring phases (or pendulum swings) that our global villages endure, and despite that I have been going through some of my own phases recurrently since childhood. I WILL find a way out of my existential and mental habits. At the same time:

At their most docile setting, phasers (and phases) are set to stun. Don’t phase me, bro. Even if I were to receive a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, and even if even the best medications could only offset the extreme symptoms so that I was still destined to go back and forth in my mood swings, I would still be searching for real forward movement.


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