Thanks for the advice, Jeff, but no thanks.

I recently bumped into an interview to Jeff Goldblum by GQ from earlier this year. The interview touches the topic of ageing, and it is stuffed with the usual, stale popular wisdom and myths about it. Unfortunately, as things stand, the opinion of celebrities seems to have more weight than that of scientists, and if Goldblum says we should not fight the ageing process, there’s a chance a ton of people will just nod approvingly without even knowing what ‘fight the ageing process’ really means. For this reason, I feel I should say something about some parts of the interview.

If I have a mantra in my life, if I aspire to anything, it’s to learn from nature and be part of nature—and do the best with the nature I have.“Use what exists,” my acting teacher, Sandy Meisner, used to say. That means many things, but one of the things it can mean is not fighting the aging process.

[…]

My hair used to be dark, and now it’s salt-and-pepper. I like the way it looks. Luckily it’s still mostly there, so this is easy for me to say, but I would hope that if I lose my hair, I’ll just roll with it. I’ve also never used Botox, never had plastic surgery. I think when nature changes your face—especially if you live a clean life—your body is designed so it all looks right together. When you try to be youthful, it only makes you look older.

Jeff seems to be an illustrious victim of a common misunderstanding, namely that fighting ageing equals hiding its most superficial aspects. You’re not fighting ageing by dying your hair. You can’t address the underlying causes that make it go salt and pepper (and eventually grey) with a lick of fresh paint. More importantly, your hair goes gray because your follicles are running out of stem cells, and while grey hair isn’t a health hazard, lack of stem cells is. As you age, you keep losing stem cells left and right, not just in your follicles. In turn, this leads to all kinds of health problems. The fact you look like crap when you’re old is just the tip of the iceberg, a minor consequence of the same problems that cause your health to go south on you.

Cosmetic treatments are not a way of fighting ageing. Fighting ageing means using biotechnologies to bring your body’s functionality back to the same level as when you were biologically young. We don’t want to be youthful because it’s cool, or to be able to act like teenagers again, or to avoid responsibility, or for any other crazy reasons people may think; we want to be biologically youthful because it’s healthy. People really need to get over it.

Besides, if Jeff Goldblum likes his hair salt-and-pepper, that’s good for him. This doesn’t mean everyone must or will like it. Heck, some people don’t like their natural hair colour when they’re 20 or 30—what’s wrong with changing it? And what’s wrong with wanting your hair to stay on your head? Why should you ‘roll’ with baldness? ‘Roll with it’ is just a short-hand for ‘I can’t do anything about it, so there’s no point in stressing about it.’ However, this does not mean we can’t or shouldn’t attempt doing anything about it. If we had just been content to to the best with the nature we have, bacterial infections would still be a big deal.

Put me in front of a raging bull and I’ll crap my pants like anybody, but in general I’m excited by the fleeting nature of what we are. There’s something romantic and poetic and certainly educational in it. The flower goes up and it goes down. The apple gets ripe and then it withers, and that’s what we’re all meant to do. It can only clarify, deepen, and enhance our moments on earth—and help us understand what the hell we’re doing here and how we can best live.

Our fleeting nature is a strange thing to get excited about. Call me crazy, but if two people came to me and said, respectively,

I’m so excited about the possibility of being forever biologically young and healthy, and live long into the future to see all the discoveries we’ll make and changes there will be!

and

I’m so excited about the fact I’ll wither day by day, get more and more sick as years go by, and eventually die ill, crippled, and perhaps even disabled and demented!

I’d definitely think the first person has a good reason to be excited, and the second’s got something wrong with their head. Of course, nobody would really say anything like the second sentence, but that’s exactly what euphemisms and sugarcoatings like ‘fleeting nature’, ‘walk in the sunset’, ‘the flower goes up and down’, and ‘the apple gets ripe and withers’ stand for.

And then there’s the romanticism bit. I mean, did he explain why our fleeting nature is so romantic/educational/wonderful/whatever? Nope, he did not. He didn’t explain any of his claims. In fact, I’ve heard tons of people making similar claims and seen tons of people nodding approvingly at them, but I’ve never heard any argument to back the claims up. They haven been repeated over and over so many times that they became conventional wisdom, even though there isn’t the tiniest shred of wisdom in them. You know what they say—if you repeat a lie long enough, it’ll become true.

Anyway, let’s not lose the thread of the argument here. A direct consequence of our ‘romantic’ fleeting nature is that all people who love each other will end up losing their loved ones, and more often than not in the case of age-related death, powerlessly watching them wither and die in pain. In my humble opinion, this comes across more as a tragic story than a romantic one, but I guess this is a minor detail you generally notice only when the tragedy happens to you.

Moving on. Apparently, what we’re all ‘meant to do’ is ripen first, and wither then. ‘Meant’ by whom? You need some kind of intelligent agent deciding what you’re meant to do, because nothing has any meaning before an observer attributes one to it—and no, nature doesn’t count as an intelligent agent. Personally, I prefer to decide for myself what I’m meant to do, rather than assume I’m meant to rot.

Finally, since Jeff didn’t bother elaborating on it, I can only try and guess why on earth our fleeting nature would be a way to enhance our moments in the world and help us understand our purpose; given the originality of his arguments thus far, I suppose the ‘reason’ must be this.

Great actor and all, but I’d think twice before taking his life advice.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s