Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/04/2011

Facebook, the Chambered Nautilus, and Me

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

I’m something of a social anorexic. That should come as no surprise. No one can write as much as I do on a regular basis and be out living in a social whirl (or, as MS Word corrected when I typoed, “whorl”). That is, if this much writing is in addition to holding a regular job, going to yoga class four or five times a week, and watching ten hours of reruns of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” every week (plus at least one hour of “The Mentalist”—I actually watch Simon Baker, not the show—and “Criminal Minds). Oh, and I play the organ a couple hours almost every day.

Have I designed all of this busy-ness (the majority of which is solitary) to avoid being with people, or am I caught up in pursuits that are solitary by nature? My job involves only 12 hours per week actual f2f interaction with students, but I spend more than 28 additional hours a week in preparation and grading. I could get rid of the TV and stop going to yoga classes, but otherwise things are pretty well set in my routine.

When MS Word gave me “whorl” as the correction for “whork,” I immediately thought of the Chambered Nautilus, the most elegant whorl I know of. It comes as close as anything in nature to the Golden Mean or the Golden Ratio. The Golden Mean results when

a line is divided so that the length of the shorter segment is in the same proportion to that of the longer segment as the length of the longer segment is to the entire line. Mathematically, these ratios are such that the longer segment is 1.618054 times the length of the shorter segment, while the shorter is 0.618054 times the longer  . . . but each is the reciprocal of the other (that is, the number 1 divided by either yields the other). These are the only two numbers that demonstrate this property (1).

This is obviously a special ratio. Unlike regular college students who first learn of the Golden Mean in Art History classes (the Mona Lisa, the Parthenon, and myriad other art and works and architectural wonders exhibit the Golden Mean), I first heard of it in Music History class. Something about Mozart. Or was it Bach?

Jiminy Cricket! Something about these two numbers fits into some musical work by Mozart or Bach. What social anorexic had time to figure that one out? I prefer the Chambered Nautilus. He builds his Golden Mean shell by his own version of social anorexia. He starts out in a tiny shell, and when he outgrows that shell, he builds a larger one on top of it and climbs into the new one. Then he seals off the old one which, full of air, makes him float. He keeps doing this, and somehow he can divide one by .618054 and keep spiraling around 1.618054 making his house a Golden Ratio.  Because the Nautilus’s chambers are sealed off, he lives a perfectly isolated existence—except for floating around using his tentacles to gobble up baby shrimp and other delicacies.

Non sequitur.

In a particularly unscholarly (even anti-scholarly and nasty) article, Margaret Gullan-Whur, attempting to explain why we old folks are so pathetic, says that

attitudes to life are fixed early, and that the attitudes most likely to ensure happiness in later life are flexibility, self-respect, persevering with a personal project and knowing the difference between illness and ageing (2).

So I need to know the difference between illness and ageing (British spelling)? My social anorexia is perhaps an illness, not a part of the ageing process. Or part of the ageing process and not an illness. Or neither one. Simply an aspect of being me?

Jiminy Cricket, I'm old!

Jiminy Cricket, I'm old!

A word about aging. I talk about it probably more than most people my age (66) because no middle-class or academic or healthy American (no baby boomer—which I am NOT) wants to admit that what we thought was old when Eisenhower was President is still old. (I thought Ike was very old when he was elected; he was younger than I am now—63.) I simply want to make sure that I, whether any other 66-year-old does or not, remember that I am a very much different person than I was when I was 36. I have outgrown and sealed off many chambers of my life. The total structure is hardly the “golden” anything, but it is my life.

Enter Facebook.

I’m not a Facebook junkie. I’m on there more than I should be.

But Facebook is perfect for a social anorexic. It allows me entrance into certain aspects of my friends’ and family’s lives and allows me to share a tiny bit of mine. Exactly as much as I want to share. I find it entertaining to share stuff about me and about ideas floating in the chambers of my mind that I should leave sealed off (this posting will, like all of my blogging, be linked to my Wall).

We have a new Golden Ratio. It’s the ratio between feeling alive and living digitally. I don’t know how the ratio is established. Perhaps I’ve given some sociologist an idea for a book.

But I think the Chambered Nautilus has it right. I am a physical being. Contrary to what I once perceived as the common wisdom, the older I get the more aware of and the closer to my physical being I become. I’ve reduced my weight by 45 pounds (30 to go). I’m into this yoga stuff. I noticed last night that my breathing has changed—deepened, slowed, become more restorative.

I’m aging, but most likely not at the end of my life. I’m not yet living in the disability of the oldest old age. But I’m beginning to understand that

life as a mystery concerns also the apprehension of incarnation; that body and soul are one. . . “I am my body.” Being one’s body has a meaning for . . .  living in hope. Incarnation is a necessary condition for hope because it is through the body that we can experience being a self. [Aging] is to be in stillness. . . experiencing . . . the aging body, and still hope and see a future. . . The meaning of being [older] is, then, to transcend the body and the present. It is to welcome mystery. . .(3)

Andrew Wyeth, The Chambered Nautilus

Andrew Wyeth, The Chambered Nautilus

Yes, I am somewhat socially anorexic. Facebook is perfect for that. When I was a kid, I heard a lot in church about being “in but not of this world.” I reject that. Facebook makes the opposite possible, to be “of but not in this world. I reject that, too. The Nautilus and I will go about our business, building our ratios (Golden or not), constructing our chambers. A little Facebook here, a little teaching there. And understanding that my body, not disembodied digitalization, is myself, the necessary condition for hope.
(1) Gedney, Larry. “Nature’s Golden Ratio.” Article #716, Alaska Science Forum. May 20, 1985. Web. 4 Sep 2011.
(2) Gullan-Whur, Margaret.  “Struggling To Be Happy — Even When I’m Old.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 19.1 (2002): 17-30.
(3) Fischer, Regina Santamäki, Astrid Norberg, and Berit Lundman. “I’m on My Way: The Meaning of Being Oldest Old, as Narrated by People Aged 95 and Over.” Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging 19.2 (2007): 3-19.


  1. I will always treasure this moment in the 80s when a friend had me put in for a study at MIT on programmers and personality — they were trying to find out what it was that made computer programmers “tick” and since I was one of the few women he knew who was a software engineer, he was particularly interested in, as he said, having me “skew the data.” One test they did was the MBTI, Myers-Briggs. Much to my amazement, I came up as an “introvert” on this test. I was a manager at MIT. I dealt with people all the time. I organized user groups and conferences.

    My father, being a union organizer, a teacher, a minister, and as part of his minister a civil rights organizer, was so much the extravert, it was nearly branded on him in neon.

    But after I read the definition in the MBTI, it was like something relaxed inside me. An extravert, they said, thrives on interaction — it charges him up, spins him up like a weather system. For an introvert, they can interact, they can be quite socially competent, it’s all good — but the cost is that they must recharge their batteries, in a quiet place, doing quiet things. Reading a book, doing needlework, writing, playing a quiet game (occasionally for me that includes playing computer games that are not at all quiet, but hey…).

    I could do what my father did. It would just take me a lot longer, because I would have to stop and regroup, *all the time.*

    And, by the way, on the nautilus? We had a very fast one pass through here a week ago:

    As the naturalists would say in those documentaries out of Australia, “beautiful, but deadly…”


  2. […] afternoon I was alone. Nothing to stare at but me and the TV. Rerun (they’re ubiquitous) of “The Mentalist.” Tell me you’re not in love with Simon Baker. Almost as goo-goo-eyed over him as over Guy […]



%d bloggers like this: