Bats have echolocation to navigate through space, but what is it called when beings navigate according to time?
When we open a door for the first time, it seems like a novel event. The grip on the door handle, the required turn, the pushing (or pulling) that we have to investigate the hinges to figure out. And then the lean. But open enough doors and they begin to seem commonplace. To some neuroscientists, consciousness in its entirety follows this pathway, where intensive and new experiences play out in the frontal lobe, only to become habit and flow into the back of the brain once enough time has passed. This is a bayesian hierarchical model for the brain.
But what happens when the past you knew to be the case is no longer there anymore?
America’s change has occurred with relatively little difference in terms of direct and violent conflict. That is not so for the characters in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, where Poland became the jumping off point for World War II. From there, the Cold War did its work to battle for the hearts and minds of Polish and Czech citizens. Janina declares that, being old, much of the world they knew is non-existent, a sort of echolocation sent out with no response. Imagining Janina and Oddball as bats who cannot navigate with the rest of the flight makes much more sense in this context.
For Janina, the situation is getting worse. She continues to insinuate herself into the cases, and with Innerd’s body found decomposing in the forest after several months, it is another link to her past. In these two chapters, she has sent two letters to the police about her theories, and the police have yet to respond. She has camping equipment and shovels in the back of her car. Oddball wonders why she has so much in her car, and Janina shrugs it off as a need to be self reliant. But can we be so sure?
We’re allowed to see into Oddball’s past, one where the explicit cruelties of his parents seem foreign to us. His traditional name was a direct jab at Oddball’s mother for her language barrier, while his father descended more and more underground (literally). Little surprise that his son now has an interest in mushroom picking, so much so that he is involved in a society of mushroom pickers that is having a ball to start the season.
Janina goes to a meeting of the mushroom people and the president arrives, a man who “is used to getting attention”. His past has only been one of success, and being the center of a committee begets more leadership of yet more committees. Like neural pathways, we sort of become that which we already are. What starts with genetics continues with habits and ends with memories.
This does not always have to be the case. Robert Frost “took the road less traveled by” indicating that at some level we have some awareness of the kind of person we are. Some who excel at the violin want only to paint, and so they will sacrifice their opportunity for the New York Philharmonic for local impressionism on canvas. Who knows what we use to sublimate our past traumas?
But at the end of the day, if we are lucky enough to become old, we are eventually forgotten. America is particularly bad at emphasizing the youth of our country, to such an extent that we have an infantilizing of the middle ages. With little direct influence over our workplaces, and little social mobility to build for ourselves the careers we would like, we tend to pacify our tastes. Tokarczuk’s “Testosterone Autism” is rampant here in our men, who thought that at some point in their life their memories and thinking would be desired. But now they’re 50, and nobody cares.
Like the demeaning statements to Oddball and Janina, the old of anyplace I suppose do not carry the weight in society they used to. Old wisdom holds little sway in the era of high-speed internet. With the proliferation of cameras and the image, good looks can change opinions more than time-proven advice. The scientific community has explained cognitive decline to the alarm of any intellectual, to such an extent that its implications became a very real threat to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
And now in the United States, our old are paying a price for the COVID-19 pandemic they should never have had to pay. And according to Stephen Elledge at Harvard Medical School, the estimated amount of years lost, years, in life due to the coronavirus pandemic amounts to 2,500,000.
There is information and there is wisdom, and while we seem obsessed with the former, perhaps we should be considering the latter. Wisdom is our echolocation. It is a marriage of knowledge and time.