This blog has as its tag-line “economics of the hidden” and I have so far left it up to the reader to postulate, or not, as to what the expression might mean. It is also that in the past six months I have been spending more time with a person whom I shall refer to as the cancer patient, than I have been spending time with those dearly intimate to me as friends and family. To my surprise this person – the cancer patient – is still alive in spite of the rather dim medical prognosis. One needs a certain fascination for death and life processes in order to spend precious time with somebody who is not an intimate friend or family member, and who is dealing with such an illness. I am no necromancer or necrophile, but those who are, do fascinate me in some way or another, but then so do people who hang on to life and want to hang on to it at all price.
Yesterday I stormed into the office of an economist colleague because I figured that he would be the one in our institute who could answer quickly some of the questions that I was wrestling with while evaluating a piece or work that has proven to be an unexpected and very revealing challenge. The economist and I do share a critical view of numerology and the abuse of quantitative methods, to say nothing of the sheer ignorance that abounds even in learned circles about statistics. It is perhaps a coincidence, but it was the second time in a week that I found myself ranting about said issue with somebody qualified to rant on it. On the weekend, it was with a mathematician. Our world is statistical and uncertain, and that is perhaps where all the confusion comes from.
The thing is…
that I have found myself again and again repeating the meaning of statistics and prognosis to the cancer patient always being very clear that neither of us could predict who would still be alive at Christmas or see 2009 roll in with all its surprises and adventures. I have often told the cancer patient that if we are meeting, it is because in all likelihood I get more out of our meetings than what can be imagined I do. My meetings with the cancer patient are not about the cancer patient, they are about me. It is a piece of my egoistic and autonomous behaviour. There is a certain freedom and detachment about being clear to the finiteness of life and the certitude of death. It gives me the freedom to ask question of the unspeakable kind and listen to the wisdom of life facing death. Almost without thought or reflection, respect is present and presence is all that there is in the shared moments.
While I have been working like an idiot, mostly because I know no other way of working, it has happened a few times that I have visited or gone on outings with the cancer patient so that I can get out of the office, get some fresh air, and remind myself that life is indeed very transient and that I do have a choice and a will in all of this. So it was that at the end of last year we went to Geneva and I shared an otherwise very hidden part of my life. We shared a cup of tea at a place in Geneva that represents the memories of one adventure that I may never write much about, but that because of its nature, is constantly informing my life.
My life’s rhythm has changed in the past months, between oscillations and perturbations, I do not really recognise the tune of this life. What surprises me is that some elements of the past that I had almost forgotten about are back. I sent a copy of a manuscript to a physics colleague after he requested to have a look at it, and then was stunned by how quickly I got feedback and how our passion for the subject was suddenly totally alive. I found myself arguing with him again, and I found myself receiving precious input. I come to the conclusion that emotions and intellect do mix, and without emotion, it is difficult to inform the rather slow and dispassionate intellect. On the other side, I was pleased that one of his predictions turned out wrong, and that one of my initial assumptions and one that I had long wrestled with, was correct. We discussed this and we are both learning. I for my part am learning to trust my own thinking, something that I am not in the habit of doing, but certainly a discipline that I am interested in entertaining. Then yesterday my economist colleague and I drifted from my original questions and went into a discussion of methodology and processes. Being within a law faculty does colour our discussions of methodology, and all of a sudden, I do find myself in paradise. I am back thinking and writing about critical subjectivity. I like this.
There is a whole jigsaw of relationships in this life of mine, all important, all precious and then there is this whole agency bit and my propensity to egoistical detachment. I am mercurial and remain difficult to grasp, at least to my own self. I have about a dozen unread books near my bed that I wanted to already have read. When on Monday morning I woke up at 4 a.m. in a strange bed and Merlin barked, I missed the books at my bedside.