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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Atelic activities

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

I think I have come across this before, but it struck me anew when I was listening to Keiran Setiya's Midlife: A Philosophical Guide.

Before I launch into telic and atelic activities, a note: my midlife crisis is not a midlife crisis. It's an existential crisis and it started in about 1996 - oh, the year after my mother died - and is ongoing. For me, death is not an issue. I have no fear of death. There will be no me suffering, losing out on pleasure, regretting decisions or the failure to complete projects as I will be dead and will not exist. Of course I am afraid of pain, disability and the like, but not of death. Nor do I think that I death is bad as it does mean I will miss out on stuff - which is meant to be the rational reason for thinking that death is bad - because right now I am not missing out (except by choice, temperament or proclivity) and when I am dead, there's no me not doing the stuff I could do. It seems to me irrational to mourn what no-one could have done in an alternative future where I had not died. At some point, I will be dead. That's it. And I won't be using the earth's resources. Yay.

Nor do I feel sad about my regrets. I rather wish I had done the DPhil back in the day - but how can I really be sad about a counter-factual existence about which I know nothing? I regret a lot of things, but I don't feel sad or anxious about them. There's nothing I can do about them.

My state is that I do think life is at base meaningless... no, I think that the meaning in life is that a living being is part of evolution and evolution is a generative process of working out how more varied and more complex lives and living communities can exist, or rather, co-exist. As my generation and those three or four before and two or three ahead are doing nothing to enhance this process on a general level - it's not just about bloody humans - then I feel that human life is, on the whole, bad.


The atelic thing offers some consolation for even me.

So, this could be seen as a a telic activity in that it has an end: building barriers.

So could this: doing a survey of a possibly ancient woodland.

What makes an activity telic is that it is aimed at a specific goal and then is over: the barrier is built or the survey is done.

Many of our achievements are like this: get a degree, get married, do the laundry, make soup, write a book.

If you see them as things to tick off, then once they are done, one is left empty. While doing them, one is focused on the end.

A typical atelic activity is listening to music. The pleasure is not ion the completion but in the listening.

Now, one can transfer this to the "tasks". And, in fact, I enjoyed "making" the barrier and being in the wood. The finished thing was in a way not the point. Or not the main point.

I even get this at work. I enjoy battling with a script. Work is great when I can focus on and enjoy the process. This is harder if I feel I am stressed, not good enough, in competition with a colleague, bored by the subject matter, lacking respect for the project. In those cases, the work is telic - a thing to tick off the list.

I often turn my atelic activities - painting, blogging, even feeding the crows - as a thing I "have to do" and thus a chore I have to tick off the list. When I have the time to just be with the activity, to engage, to lose myself and my schedule, the activities regain their rightful value in my life.

Today, when I fed the crows, they were active and intriguing. The Free-Flying Crow was zooming about upsetting the Divines and the Braves and the Flyings too. But it became almost a party, with everyone showing off and enjoying the breeze as well as chasing off the intruder. The park-sky was a crow display. I stood there watching for I don't know how long. And it didn't matter. I was just being and witnessing: a mind made aware of how crows turn a telic activity into one that is gloriously atelic.

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Apr 22, 2023

New words to me. Well said. Good examples.

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