I don't know what to mention first: so
work places xxxxxxxxx(my) history
(last revised November 2018)
Stephen and Beth and their two boys are doing well. They live in Ottawa which is far away, so most of our communication is electronic. Beth's parents have moved to the Sunshine Coast, not far from Vancouver, so when we actually meet it tends to be during large family occasions.
Edith and her partner Victoria got married in May 018. Transparently happy people. And they have moved to Vancouver for two years, perhaps longer.
I retired from the university of Alberta in July 2011, and became a part-timer at UBC. I was doing the same amount of classroom teaching that I did at Alberta, and enjoying it. Still, the new life was physically more demanding than the old, because of traveling from downtown to UBC two or three times a week, and to Bowen for long weekends. And because my mobility was steadily declining. So I did no teaching in 013-014, and 014-015. I gave a graduate seminar - on experimental evidence - in the fall of 015. I am sure this is the last teaching I will do. My focus now is entirely on finishing writing projects.
Susanna has won a competition for a very prestigious grant which gives her two years without any teaching or administration. She will use the time to get near to finishing a book on the translation history of Virgil: into many languages and reflecting many cultures
She has a shifting array of bands. For a brief time she was in three, but it in down to one now, in which she plays bass guitar, viola, and upright bass and sings harmony. Plus the Bowen\ community choir.
She spends much of her time at a cabin, not far from our previous house. The plan is that she will live in this small space, and own no more than she can fit in it while I own no more than I can fit in my tiny apartment. And she will sometimes share it with me, and always with numbers of old rescued dogs. She spends some three days a week based in my apartment on the UBC campus while using her office and the library
Old dogs. Toby and SuzyQ who had been with us since they were young died within a few weeks of each other in the fall of 2014, leaving a big hole in Susanna's life. Now it is a series of rescued old dogs. They die, just when she has become attached to them. So there is often grief.
We have left our interesting exotic house (the Fernie Road house on the site home page.). It was no place to get old in and no place for old dogs, and there was always the danger of me falling down the stairs. (Now I am rarely on Bowen.) So we searched for a small flat house on the island. Susanna found it and bought it, and now she and her dogs are based there. Meanwhile, I have sold my apartment in the west end of downtown Vancouver, and moved for three years to an independent living place on the UBC South campus. It is safer for me here, there is help on hand, and I can keep life simple while getting writing done. They will not want me here if my condition progresses to the point where I can no longer transfer from wheelchair to bed to toilet unaided. We'll face that when we come to it.
There's a background to the arrangement. S and I have been together since the middle 90s and have never lived together for longer than a couple of months. Neither likes not to compromise about their space. The nicest instance was the years we spent in New Haven in two very small houses with adjoining yards. (Hers full of dogs, mine free of them.) We'd each work all day in and from our own house, and then in the afternoon phone to settle who was cooking, where, whether we were sharing a bed that night, and where. We found that ideal. So when I retired from Alberta we worried about tampering with the magic formula. The problem is solved by having two places: her little cabin on Bowen and first my little apartment in town, then two places where I can get the help I need. That way we can spend a lot of time together and also have a good degree of independence.
I have a progressive MS which began unusually late in life, when I was 61. It has moved to catch up from its late start, and now I live my life from a wheelchair. (The chair is much safer than poles or a walker. I don't want to take any risk of the fall I had in 2015 which resulted in a month in hospital with a broken hip, followed by a month in rehab. I have to stand for some purposes, though, and this can be scary.) My legs are much more affected than my arms and hands. But the upper limbs are showing signs of trouble, so I do most of my writing using dictation software, which is generally impressive but sometimes fails at a simple task. I sleep a lot, get moving very slowly in the morning, and find what would be normal for most people very tiring. But I'm still thinking, writing, and laughing.
(This was written a couple of years ago. My general attitude has not changed but the progression of the condition has made some things more definite. I have written a note on what it is like — for me — to be at this stage.)
What it is like to be in (what may be) a late stage of MS?
Before I got here I thought the dominant aspect would be lack of muscular control and responsiveness. A kind of paralysis, much as I still imagine ALS. But that misses some central features.
A large part of what is missed is easiest to explain in terms of the medium-term experience of time. It passes very quickly. I keep having to remind myself that events of months ago did not occur yesterday. (It is now June, and yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter where I was remarking on how precocious her baby seems to be. Only much later did I realize that the baby was born five months ago. I had taken it to be only a few weeks.) Before moving to the assisted living place where I am now I spent what seems to me just a few months in an independent living establishment, until I needed more help than they could easily give. But in fact it was 3 1/2 years. This may be part of everyone's experience, but it is more pervasive than I think it to be for other people, certainly than it was not long ago for me. And it happens in the opposite direction too: sometimes an event seems to me buried in the past when in fact it was pretty recent. Both distortions can happen at once: parts of a single event can feel as if they are distant memories and as if they are parts of my current awareness. But the greatest departure from my previous experience is when this temporal weirdness operates not in memory over the longish term but in short term experience. By the end of a day the day's experiences are all jumbled up in apparent pastness, with little relation to their actual order or their actual distances into the past. And, hardest to describe, the specious present – the extended now – has something of this quality, jumbled and unordered.
My anticipations of the future are generally similar. Sometimes, particularly in the mornings, I feel that I am sinking into a dark pool. And it does not seem unwelcome. And at other times, particularly in the afternoons, I feel that just being alive and experiencing is a good thing and it would be a pity to cut it short. And here also there is a hard-to-describe way in which these competing intuitions – actually I think they are compatible and both right – infiltrate what it feels like to be me at this point in my life. The present is experienced as an arrow pointing towards the future, but the future is confused so the base of the arrow also becomes confused. (I suspect that there is less of a contrast with "normal" experience here, with the peculiarities of past and present, and the way they colour ongoing experience.)
One consequence is a blurring of the line between dream and reality. In waking experience there is a smooth transition between immediate consciousness and short-term memory, so that if A and B are parts of the same momentary present and so are B and C then A and C are also closely linked, and will in fact feel like parts of the same moment. (This is probably exaggerated, but it is how it feels like it feels.) And dream "experience" is much less likely this; it is more jerky so that you can go from one dream to another without joining them, in fact without awareness during a second that a first has occurred just before. But in the shadow of my temporal confusion this contrast becomes fuzzier. Waking moments can be fairly unconnected even when they are neighbours in clock time, and non-neighbouring experiences can blend into one another, even when they are separated by experiences that feel unlinked to them. (Note the caution-words: “feels like”, “can”: I want to exaggerate neither how far my experience goes in this direction nor how different from that of others or mine in the past.)
That is the dominant impression, often being on the edge of experiential incoherence. This is backed up by a cognitive analog. I often feel rather lost in time and space and life, not knowing quite where I am in any of them. Homelessness, but strangely not too uncomfortable.
The experience of unresponsive limbs presents itself to me with a wrapping of this cubist quality. I am not really surprised when I cannot stand or when my hands will not grasp a small object or hold it steadily. And I am surprised, too: alternating with the lack of surprise, as if I was thoroughly used to it, is a constant amazement that I cannot leap out of bed, get dressed all by myself, and cycle down the street. The jumbledness gives more of what it is like for me at this stage than the bare incapacity. It is not like when a limb "goes to sleep" because you have been lying on it. It is more like a dream, perhaps like one with two characters — a frozen-limbed person and an athletic person — while you the dreamer cannot decide which of the two you are.
I think this captures some central and surprising aspects of my experience. I am less confident that they are features of other people's life with the condition. It affects different people very differently, most visibly in terms of what disabilities it hits them with. (Not surprising, given that it is the result of an autoimmune process which sets the body to eat its own nervous system, leaving undetermined which nerve-coverings are fodder for it.) I am not even totally convinced that what I am describing is a result of the MS. All I am sure of is that it began at the same time and has increased as the damn thing has progressed. That leaves open the possibility that it is aging rather than this particular disease. But I don't think so.
I am getting a fair amount of writing done. Hurrying to do things I have long wanted to do while I still can. My work seems to divide into largish fairly ambitious projects in epistemology, taken widely, and on the other hand smaller and more intuitive projects on the boundary between ethics and the philosophy of the emotions. In the first category there is my book on adapting to one's tiny brain, Bounded thinking: intellectual virtues of limitation-management, which appeared with OUP in December 012. There is a book on evidence derived from experiment in the works. I hope to have it finished before too long. (Foretaste here.) Following up some things that became vivid in this project, I am thinking a lot about the relation between probability and possibility. I aim to write a few self-contained pieces on this in the next couple of years. In the second category there is a small book, Emotion and Imagination, which appeared with Polity Press in May 013. Also a number of papers on particular emotions which I think of as a series, the damage project. I have fantasies of pulling this material together in the form of a book for generalists on why religion often facilitates atrocity. And unconnected to either of these strands, there is a very small book against the fashionable idea that humans should colonize other planets, which has now, November 2018, appeared from Polity: Should we Colonize other Planets?. Details about all of these are on my research page. And a textbook written up from notes of the really unusual logic course I gave many times is now available at various places on the web.
Undermining the theme of “big projects in epistemology and small ones on moral emotions”,, I have finished in draft a paper on mathematical knowledge which I aim to polish in the next months. Ambitious to the point of pretentiousness but not particularly long. I do think I have a new angle on this old issue.
I have tried to find a unity in all the disparate things I have done in philosophy, in an essay I am posting only on this site.