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The Metafizzical Essays
of Nicholas Hancock

The Poet of Despair

Published by The British Hancock Society
with the permission of the author.

THE GERIATRIC
THEORY
OF RELATIVITY

                                     THE GERIATRIC THEORY OF RELATIVITY


Albert Einstein outlined his special theory of relativity in a paper he published in 1905¹. In 1916 came his general theory². Yet we have had to wait till the year 2007 for the geriatric theory to be unveiled. Scholars remain puzzled by its mysteriously long gestation.
     This is not to say that Hancock’s ideas are entirely original. It is probable that most thinking people over the past hundred thousand years have been aware of the acceleration of time as life draws to its close. However, it is certain that he has seen this effect in a fresh light.
     Whereas Einstein found that time and motion are relative to the observer and that the faster this hypothetical being travels, the slower time progresses, the ageing among us have discovered that the older we are, the faster time appears to travel. Few, though, have stopped to ask why this may be so.
     Hancock posits a neurological cause. Few dead neurones are replaced, and by our mid seventies the brain only retains three quarters of the nerves of our prime. Hancock, not known for his tact, once told his mother this when she was seventy-four – his present age as a matter of fact. So, even if there are no further complications – and there usually are -, our mental potential has already been reduced. But one out of five of us unlucky to live this long suffers either from dementia or from what psychiatrists call mild cognitive impairment - MCI; this is a slowing down and forgetfulness just a little more advanced than you’d expect from ‘normal’ ageing, and quite a few MCIs go on to develop fully blown dementia.
     More generally, nature reduces us to the ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’, operating certain fundamental changes, all of them disagreeable. There’s arterial stiffness, which seriously impedes perfusion and is measurable by sinister pulse wave velocity; with a decrease in the number of nerves, there’s a corresponding reduction in the number of neuronal impulses³. At the same time the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and acetylcholine also decline, thus favouring a less sharp awareness of what is going on. With a reduced blood flow and inflammation, we remain padded, muffled against what is taking place around us.
     This wadding by defective neurones desensitises us to mental events, which are no more than echoes of external ones, thus making it seem to us that they are taking place at a faster rate than in fact they are. (Though who can say what is fact?) And, as the cognitive decline increases, so does this apparent temporal speeding up. At thirty a childhood day seems like an hour, at forty a minute, and by the time we’re seventy or eighty little more than a second, till time seems like a merry-go-round that’s out of control and whirring round at breakneck speed.

1.On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies
2.The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity
3.Beers MH. 1999.