JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 451
Beginning life with the final kiss of a Shakespearean comedy is far more complex than it is interesting. The ordeal of Benjamin Button, a current movie based on the 1922 short story by Scott Fitzgerald (found in his collection Tales of the Jazz Age), presents some very curious aspects of the physics of life--especially if it is more than just Mr. Button who gets to live their life out again in reverse. It also isn't a very wide genre of literature, so far as I know. Another good example of a life lived backwards is the book Time's Arrow, by Martin Amis, who tells the story of a problematic character named Tod T. Friendly. ("Tod T. Friendly" is also "Todt Friendly" or "death friendly, taking a piece of his name from German, which evidently Mr. Friendly was.) On the other hand, the novel Stuart, a Life Lived Backwards doesn't make the cut, as Stuart does live his life forwards. Christopher Homm, (homme?) written by C.H. Sissons in 1965, tells the story of the title character backwards, though his life is lived forwards as well.
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The idea of the future, or the having of a future, seems like it should be an ancient idea, and it is--though it isn't necessarily a universal idea. Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Mayans embraced the idea of vast distances of time; early Christian faith, o the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have a great future, what with time ending at Judgment Day. Hinduism and Buddhism have a sense of the future, though there is some very problematic circularity involved with it. The true scientist bits about the concrete possibilities of vast amounts of time extending into the millennia are found in Charles Lyell (Principles of Geology) who in 1830 took up some earlier work and made it possible to think of the age of the earth in terms of millions of years. Charles Darwin was also a cultivator of the past and possible future, as was Hermann von Helmholtz, who predicted the ultimate age of the sun, meaning that time's arrow had the possibility of being hundreds of millions of years long. These were startling, epochal ideas, and all came within a period of thirty years, creating for the world a fluidity of scientific thought such as had never been seen. The future came to life in the hands of novelists like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, not to mention the fabulous worlds of Robert Heinlein (who launched his terrific series of articles on the history of the future in the March 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction--just a month after John W. Campbell had evidently coined the term in the same magazine. I can't leave this without mentioning Edward Bellamy, a great trailblazer in this area of thought, and his work Looking Backwards, which was a view of a socialist utopia live din the year 2000 by an 1887 man who had fallen into a 113-year-long sleep.
But the difficult part of multiple people living their lives backwards comes in the multiplicity of changes that would be caused by two actors adjusting their behavior for the "future" based on lives they had already "lived". I can't imagine the implications of the "butterfly effect" when spread across a broader spectrum than just Mr. Button.
I haven't seen the movie, but I have now read the Fitzgerald story, and the idea is very disturbing, like coming out of Alzheimer’s to climb right back in again. The worst of it seems t take place not at the end of the reverse life, but right before--Mr. Button enters Harvard as a genius sportsman with his years of expertise and learning already under his belt--four years later, though, as a senior, he is struggling, his brain and mind slipping away, his knowledge restricted to that of a 16-year old boy. And it just gets worse from there, though his ability to distinguish his diminishing capacity grows dimmer and dimmer, thankfully, the closer he comes to his cradle grave. Its a difficult story to read.
(In a cursory look I don't see anything interesti9ng with anything read backwards in Mr. Button's story.)