Yearning for Strange Ideas

"Is it disappointing that “Midlife” arrives at the conclusion that “living in the present” is the solution to middle-aged unhappiness? A little. One might wonder if all that philosophy was really necessary. Setiya has the whole history of thought at his disposal. Drawing on Heidegger, he could have urged middle-aged people to find new ways of “disclosing” the world to themselves, perhaps by acquiring new or deeper skills. Adapting the work of Derek Parfit, he could have argued that selves are less real than we think, and that midlife crises are, therefore, about nothing. With Douglas Hofstadter, he might have concluded that it’s relationships that matter, since the patterns of thought and feeling encoded in our neurons will repeat themselves in the brains of the people we love, like musical echoes. Who knows what other intriguing suggestions Setiya might’ve come up with if he’d pillaged the history of philosophy with abandon? While reading “Midlife,” I yearned for such strange and counterintuitive ideas. But perhaps it’s right that they were missing. There’s something a little midlife-crisis about insisting on an entirely new way of thinking; maybe the answers are just the answers, and are actually quite simple. If that’s the case, then “Midlife” teaches a lesson about midlife: it’s sometimes best to go with the flow."


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