Australasian Journal on Ageing review of ‘Aging & Time’

This book, based on a multidisciplinary approach, attempts to provide a definition of time and how time is related to ageing. The primary European researchers who contributed to this volume represent fields ranging from physics to philosophy, biology and psychology, which make this volume interesting and challenging reading.

Beginning with a social science perspective, the article by Baars raises the question of why gerontology has concentrated, and still is concentrating, on calendar time and chronological age as indices of ageing, when other dimensions of time, such as personal experiences and narrative articulation, might be more useful. The concept of regular cycles of human life as part of chronological definitions of life expectancy is challenged, as is the abstract construction of `cohort identity’.

Using a linguistic approach, Dittmann-Kohli introduces the analyses of temporal references in the construction of self- identity. The author gives clear examples and presents the findings related to the difference in self-narratives of young and elderly adults with passion and enthusiasm. Temporal life patterns and identity, as well as subjective temporal perspectives, are examined.

K. Werner Schaie makes another interesting contribution, with the concept of event time and the age-cohort-period model. Schaie explores why psychological and social time also play a role in the subjective passage of time, in particular during the ageing process. Van der Meer offers a cognitive angle on psychological time. Emphasis is placed on the ageing brain and the process of change, which involves a mix of gains, losses and maintenance.

While these contributions from psychology, philosophy and sociology offer enjoyable reading, the contributions from the disciplines of bioengineering, physics and analytical philosophy shift heavily into their scientific domain, and their connection with gerontology is increasingly unclear. Uffink, in his article on `A physicist’s look at gerontology’, states point blank that the little modern physics has to say about ageing has no practical relevance for gerontology. The author then delvesv into laws of thermodynamics and linearity of time. Questions such as whether ageing is due to fundamental laws of physics remain unanswered. In response to Uffink, Yates, who has a bioengineering background, brings the biological clock to the foreground and claims that inanimate objects such as PCs are not complex, whereas living systems are complex and not only carry their history with them but are also goal-directed. Unfortunately, Uffink and Yates get involved in an intellectual debate, with each producing a further article responding to the other’s claims. These `attacks’ use rather emotive language and distract the reader from the actual topic. Finally, an attempt is made by Visser, with a background in mathematics and analytical philosophy, to integrate these two opposing sides, stating that it is unclear how far biological complexity differs from physical complexity, and concluding that there are multilevel explanations for ageing.

In summary, while the contributions from the various disciplines related to social sciences offer a variety of insights into ageing and the perception of time, the contributions from the science domains of physics and mathematics seem to be less relevant reading and wander off into their specialised domains. This is disappointing and unfortunate as it appears that a multidisciplinary approach with respect to human ageing and time cannot successfully incorporate observations from the hard sciences.

— Reviewed by llonka Guse, University of Ballarat