My Journey at 50: A Humanist Approach to Science and the Beauty of Life

stella1 It is my 50th birthday this Friday and I was tempted to just let it pass. Another year has gone by and well, it is a beautifully round number – so what does life at the half-century milestone feel like? Against stereotype assumptions of ageing it feels surprisingly more illuminated and energetic than ever. The crazy and wild days are over (I am fairly certain about that) and while I have been travelling across cultures I finally experience the luxury of ‘Being’ (rather than keep on ‘Becoming’). The awareness of one’s mortality appears on the horizon of future life projects. Welcome to middle adulthood! It is a time of peaking productivity where the sun has reached its zenith.

I hunger for peaceful and skilled discourse, the absence of unnecessary negative emotional conflict (tolerance towards nonsense wears off with age), tranquility, focus and productive friendships. Assisting my students to thoroughly understand developmental processes and enjoying the beauty of loving partnership in my private life, is already more than I could ask for. There is no room for pathos though. Permanent, static, non-discourse philosophy and wisdom appear as a futile and foolish business from where I stand.

There have been many twists and turns in my philosophy over the past few years. Critical Theory is still my heritage, humanistic rationalism, but recently I can’t help revising many dearly held beliefs, such as in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development and justice, or Kahneman’s conceptualization of happiness. From a feminist perspective the big Egos, the obsession with the Self and abstract notions of justice make way for a philosophy of warmth, organized caring, social welcome, human development, coherentism, of psychological gardening and its institutional cultivation. Psychosocial laws are built on interconnected probability distributions, not on rigid ideologies. Reality is emergent and concepts are at heart of transient nature. Life was always more Nicolai Hartman than Popper, more Hegel than Kant, more Jung and Adler than Freud, more Maslov and Rogers than Skinner, more Donald Davidson and Bertalanffy than Popper or Heidegger, more Carol Ryff, Ryan & Deci than ‘computational approaches to consciousness’. Don’t get me wrong – I am scientist through and through, but there can be no science without ethics,common sense rooted in pragmatics and courageous social engagement.

We start seeing more clearly what we always knew before since we were teenagers: that the laws of life are about change, about growth, emergence, openness and our readiness and capacity to love and understand.  The beauty is to live life, to connect and merge with others, not merely to observe and measure it. It is just that the older we get, we see life so more clearly through a highly permeable while organized state of mind. Any last advice to the younger ones? Dive into a pool of stars, the world is yours for the taking! Learn how to make yourself happy. Stay hungry to keep on learning. Thinking things over, scholarly reflection is such a pleasure and it is the gutsy decisions that mostly work out. Share the enlightenment you have found with others. Enjoy the ride.

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