I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?
I am watching the movie “Still Alice”. Alice is a renown professor, teaching linguistics who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers. As she is slipping in and out of the disease, she remarks, “I have always been so defined by my intellect, my language and my articulation” – She could very well be describing me or many others like me who proudly were the identity of intellect and refuse to be defined by material or confined by cultural markers.
As the movie progresses and I watch Alice deteriorating. Her once intense eyes are now vacant. She is visibly disconnected from the world that goes on around her. I am reduced to tears. I remember my maternal Grandfather, a commanding figure in the family, a revolutionary when it came to ideas and non-conformity to tradition, going through the same journey. It started with forgetting details and small incidents. He slowly moved into slipping in and out of reality. Finally he stopped recognising us and shut down.
What really is life if not for the memories or thoughts? But then, is it just the perspective of someone who takes pride in the intellect?
Can the morning sun and first drops of rain bring joy by themselves? Or are we missing the completeness of the experience if we can’t communicate and spread it?
Is it the actual loss of memory that is painful or the memory of the loss?
I can’t tell.
In a philosophical sense then, all what we do to “accomplish” things in life – career, running a marathon, social status are all just to give a form and shape to our own sense of a self.
We do incredible things to keep that sense of self alive.
In the book that the movie is based on, the character of Alice says,”I used to know how the mind handled language, and I could communicate what I knew. I used to be someone who knew a lot. No one asks for my opinion or advice anymore. I miss that. I used to be curious and independent and confident. I miss being sure of things. There’s no peace in being unsure of everything all the time. I miss doing everything easily. I miss being a part of what’s happening. I miss feeling wanted.”
If we could, we would do anything not to reach there.
Because we cannot comprehend a world without words, thoughts, social links, memories. We cannot accept a world where we do not matter.
But does that mean such a world does not exist or if it does exist it would be a drudgery?
I can’t tell.