Article #1: Inward Time by Alexis Carrel, M.D.
The declining years of maturity and senescence have little physiological value. They are almost empty of organic and mental changes. They have to be filled with artificial activities. The aging man should neither stop working nor retire. Inaction further impoverishes the content of time. Leisure is even more dangerous for the old than for the young. To those whose forces are declining, appropriate work should be given. But not rest. Neither should physiological processes be stimulated at this moment. It is preferable to hide their slowness under a number of psychological events. If our days are filled with mental and spiritual adventures, they glide much less rapidly. They may even recover the plenitude of those of youth.
… So far, human beings are classified according to their chronological age. Children of the same age are placed in the same class. The date of retirement is also determined by the age of the worker. It is known, however, that the true condition of an individual does not depend on his chronological age. In certain types of occupation, individuals should be grouped according to physiological age. Puberty has been used as a way of classifying children in some New York schools. But there are still no means of
ascertaining at what time a man should be pensioned. Neither is there any general method of measuring the rate of the organic and mental decline of a given individual. However, physiological tests have been developed by which the condition of a flyer can be accurately estimated. Pilots are retired according to their physiological, and not their chronological, age.
Young and old people, although in the same region of space, live in different temporal worlds. We are inexorably separated by age from one another. A mother never succeeds in being a sister to her daughter. It is “impossible” for children to understand their parents, and still less their grandparents. Obviously, the individuals belonging to four successive generations are profoundly heterochronic. An old man and his great-grandson can be complete strangers.
From the concept of physiological time derive certain rules of our action on human beings. Organic and mental developments are not inexorable. They can be modified, in some measure, according to our will, because we are a movement, a succession of superposed patterns in the frame of our identity.
Although man is a closed world, his outside and inside frontiers are open to many physical, chemical, and psychological agents. And those agents are capable of modifying our tissues and our mind. The moment, the mode, and the rhythm of our interventions depend on the structure of physiological time. Our temporal dimension extends chiefly during childhood, when functional processes are most active.
Then, organs and mind are plastic. Their formation can effectively be aided. As organic events happen each day in great numbers, their growing mass can receive such shape as it seems proper to impress permanently upon the individual. The molding of the organism according to a selected pattern must take into account the nature of duration, the constitution of our temporal dimension. Our interventions have to be made in the cadence of inner time. Man is like a viscous liquid flowing into the physical continuum. He cannot instantaneously change his direction. We should not endeavor to modify his mental and structural form by rough procedures, as one shapes a statue of marble by blows of the hammer. Surgical operations alone produce in tissues sudden alterations. And recovery from the quick work of the knife is slow. No profound changes of the body as a whole can be obtained rapidly. Our action must blend with the physiological processes, substratum of inner time, by following their own rhythm.
… A child may be compared to a brook, which follows any change in its bed. The brook persists in its identity inspite of the diversity of its forms. It may become a lake or a torrent. Under the influence of environment, personality may spread and become very thin, or concentrate and acquire great strength. The growth of personality involves a constant trimming of our self. At the beginning of life,
man is endowed with vast potentialities. He is limited in his development only by the extensible frontiers of his ancestral predispositions. But at each instant he has to make a choice. And each choice throws into nothingness one of his potentialities. He has of necessity to select one of the several roads open to the wanderings of his existence, to the exclusion of all others. Thus, he deprives himself of seeing the countries wherein he could have traveled along the other, roads. In our infancy we carry within ourselves numerous virtual beings, who die one by one. In our old age, we are surrounded by an escort of those we could have been, of all our aborted potentialities. Every man is a fluid that becomes solid, a treasure that grows poorer, a history in the making, a personality that is being created. And our progress, or our disintegration, depends on physical, chemical, and physiological factors, on viruses and bacteria, on psychological influences, and, finally, on our own will. We are constantly being made by our environment and by our self. And duration is the very material of organic and mental life, as it means “invention, creation of forms, continual elaboration of the absolutely new.”
… There is a striking contrast between the durability of our body and the transitory character of its elements. Man is composed of a soft, alterable matter, susceptible of disintegrating in a few hours. However, he lasts longer than if made of steel. Not only does he last, but he ceaselessly overcomes the difficulties and dangers of the outside world. He accommodates himself, much better than the other animals do, to the changing conditions of his environment. He persists in living, despite physical, economic, and social upheavals. Such endurance is due to a very particular mode of activity of his tissues and humors. The body seems to mold itself on events. Instead of wearing out, it changes. Our organs always improvise means of meeting every new situation. And these means are such that they tend to give us a maximum duration. The physiological processes, which are the substratum of inner time, always incline in the direction leading to the longest survival of the individual. This strange function, this watchful automatism, makes possible human existence with its specific character. It is called adaptation.
All physiological activities are endowed with the property of being adaptive. Adaptation, therefore, assumes innumerable forms. However, its aspects may be grouped into two categories, intraorganic and extraorganic. Intraorganic adaptation is responsible for the constancy of the organic medium and of the relations of tissues and humors. It determines the correlation of the organs. It brings about the automatic repair of tissues and the cure of diseases. Extraorganic adaptation adjusts the individual to the physical, psychological, and economic world. It allows him to survive in spite of the unfavorable conditions of his environment. Under these two aspects, the adaptive functions are at work during each instant of our whole life. They are the indispensable basis of our duration.
Whatever our sufferings, our joys, and the agitation of the world may be, our organs do not modify their inward rhythm to any great extent. The chemical exchanges of the cells and the humors continue imperturbably. The blood pulsates in the arteries and flows at an almost constant speed in the innumerable capillaries of the tissues. There is an impressive difference between the regularity of the phenomena taking place within our body and the extreme variability of our environment. Our organic states are very steady. But this stability is not equivalent to a condition of rest, or equilibrium. It is due, on the contrary, to the unceasing activity of the entire organism. To maintain the constancy of the blood’s composition and the regularity of its circulation, an immense number of physiological processes are required. The tranquility of the tissues is assured by the converging efforts of all the functional systems. And the more irregular and violent our life, the greater are these efforts. For the brutality of our relations with the cosmic world must never trouble the peace of the cells and humors of our inner world.
As extracted from his major work, Man, the Unknown. Out of Print.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Older People Need Support
- 3. The Path We Travel
- 4. A Contrasting View
- 5. The American Express
- 6. The Hygienic Approach—Case Studies
- Article #1: Inward Time By Alexis Carrel, M.D.
- Article #2: Overnutrition—All About Protein By The Doctors McCarter
- Article #3: Health
- Article #4: Why Exercise?