Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older

 

I said I wasn’t going to write about my non-fiction library book reading pile. I also said I probably wasn’t going to write anything on this blog for a bit. Well, here I am doing both. But as Walt Whitman said, ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.  So, you know, just fucking get over it.)’

I just wanted to draw people’s attention to one book I found particularly interesting, this being Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past by the Danish psychologist Douwe Draaisma.  It’s essentially a collection of essays dealing with questions regarding memory such as that which gives the book its title.  Also dealt with are subjects such as photographic memory, déjà vu, why our lives may flash before our eyes before we (almost) die, and why we forget being a baby.

The thing about memory is that by its very nature it’s a subjective experience.  Consequently, there’s not an amazing amount that can be said about it with any certainty.  Perhaps because of this, Draaisma talks around his subject rather than answering his questions directly, examining different possibilities and suggesting as to why one might be more likely than another.

What makes this book truly fascinating are the remarkable examples Draaisma finds of people’s attempts throughout history to preserve their memories.  For example, there’s Richard and Anna Wagner, a married couple who took a photo of themselves enjoying Christmas in the same room, every year from 1900 to 1942.  The slow process of aging, invisible on a day-to-day basis, is all too observable in the series of photos.

Then there’s the case of Willem van den Hull (1778-1858), a most peculiar Dutch gentleman who was a schoolmaster by profession.  Near the end of his life, van den Hull wrote his autobiography, in which he detailed all the personal slights borne him over the course of his life.  These include being caned in front of his own pupils by the school’s headmaster, being mysteriously laughed at by a group of young ladies, and the emotional fall-out that resulted from his eleven year obsession with a young woman who was probably completely unaware of his existence.  If only his life story were to be translated into English, I for one would definitely buy it.

If you’re even remotely interested in psychology, and why we remember (or don’t remember) things the way we do, Draaisma’s book is well worth checking out.  That is, if you can get all the way to a bookshop and still remember how to spell ‘Draaisma’.  Best if you write it down.


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One Response to “Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation – I’m looking forward to reading this.

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