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If you've failed to find me lately, please chalk it up to aging — intermittent retardation, senior moment syndrome, misplaced intentionality, and such. It's a product partly of contrastive pedagogical emulation, the result of an old teacher's miming the odd literary lapses of students. For I've been dealing so much with the gaps, omissions, and non sequiturs of their work that displaced "energies" have quite sapped my own. You know the work.

So I have thought to trade up some today. Happily, my chance comes on my son Suave's birthday, his thirtieth. You may remember Suave from Standing Firm on Ceremony and A Lonerganian Précis — when he married Dr. Saavy — and from Valentine's Day Music and Space and Transcendence in Bach's Fantasia in G — when he was more musical. Nowadays Suave is a law student.

I'm the one aging now, and he wisely explaining — and agreeably so.

What I've in mind is Suave's LSAT essay, which I found last week on my desk. What luck, I thought — ready to reach for a bottle of Geritol, I have found much better "literary medicine." Though I've read thousands of such essays (but only at the pre-freshman level), to find one at the graduate level is welcome relief indeed.

Here's what Suave faced in a key moment of his twenty-somethingness. What do you think you'd write in reply?

THE PROMPT: From a newsletter about the biology of aging:

Aging is not inevitable. If nothing whatsoever influences the processes of aging, how do we explain the millions of people around the world living longer and healthier extended life spans. Demographers predict that the number of people aged 100 or more will increase fifteen-fold, from approximately 145,000 in 1999 to 2.2 million by 2050. Societies of physicians and scientists endorsing anti-aging technologies now exist throughout the world, but the traditional medical establishment continues to argue that there are no methods proven to stop or reverse aging. This is reminiscent of medical pioneers from the past whose innovations and foresight were trivialized or ignored, only to ultimately become accepted.

SUAVE'S ESSAY:

The argument that "aging is not inevitable" relies on an intriguing yet not fully relevant analogy. While great medical innovations have indeed been accepted only after some delay, those innovations have always concerned specific ailments or conditions, never a process so general and universal as aging. This difference in the scope of the analogized situations is not a minor one, and it proves the critical flaw in the newsletter's argument.

It should first be noted that the predicted numbers of those who will live to or past 100 are wholly irrelevant: the delay of the inevitable is not the removal of its inevitability.

Likewise, the fact that certain scientists and physicians are now endorsing anti-aging technologies carries as much in the current argument as that baldness will soon cease to occur.

The argument, then, rests on the analogy presented, and we see its weakness without difficulty.

The key insight counters the dummy premise that "nothing whatsoever influences the process of aging." The argument correctly suggests that this premise is false: our aging is affected by external and/or internal influences. While some of those influences may, indeed, be overcome by new innovations, the existence of innumerable external and internal influences is inescapable.

Why? Because we must live in the world, and we have bodies.

These two basic truths reveal the differences in scope mentioned above which is the critical flaw in the argument. Medicine may be capable of profound insights and innovations into how to heal ailments and lengthen lives. But it cannot remove us from our world of influences and make unnecessary our bodies, which are its subject.

Therefore, the newsletter is wrong: We must inevitably age.

Clear relief, acceptance, understanding, bald wit, and even stylish insight. Agreed?

So, to all you freshmen, Back to the Future!*

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